I used to dread the commute to and from work — that strange window of time where you're neither here nor there. My time was spent gazing out of the window longing to be able to conjure up some productive activities for commuting. In my previous job it took me 40 minutes on the train to get to and from work each day and I would often spend my time in the mornings and evenings attempting not to fall asleep. After settling into the job, it soon dawned on me over the span of a work week, my commute would accumulate to over six and a half hours of nothingness. I would complain to anyone that would listen that I had no time for myself to do things that made me happy and by the time I got home I was too exhausted to even attempt my mental checklist of jobs I had to do, let alone watch a movie or go out for dinner. Something had to change.
So I took matters into my own hands and tried to make my life a little happier and easier. First off I tried to prioritize the jobs I needed to do, or parts of my routine that could be completed on my commute. Once I slotted these in, I could then add in activities that I found fun or relaxing. It was truly a life changing moment when I realized what you can achieve during a commute.
1. Get Your Caffeine Fix
It was a happy day when I figured out that I could have an extra 10 minutes in bed just by taking my tea on the train. There is nothing you can do about your commute, it will (usually) always take the same amount of time each day, so why not have a relaxing cup of coffee or tea on your journey when you have nothing else better to do? It beats choking on a super hot latte when you're running late and spilling it all down your blouse.
I don't mean you have to buy a Starbucks everyday (as you may soon find yourself with considerably less disposable income,) but rather take your coffee on the go with you. I have a KeepCup which saved me valuable time on a morning. As a tea drinker, each morning I would put the kettle on when I was almost ready to leave the house, brew my tea whilst making my packed lunch, add my milk, and go.
2. Do Your Makeup
Some people may not like the idea of doing their makeup in public, but I am not one of these people and when commuting, I valued my sleep and free time more than I did worrying about what other commuters thought of me. If you're worried about people looking at you, try to find an empty corner of your subway car or if you take the train or the bus, you could sit by yourself and duck down behind the seat a little. Chances are though, your fellow commuters are too tired or preoccupied with their own thoughts and/or the funny cat video on their phone to care about a nearby woman doing her makeup.
Now hear me out! Work may seem like the last thing you want to do when you've just finished for the day but trust me on this one. I used to get material to read and make notes on so I could progress and learn new things on the job; I would often be given this to do on an evening before the next day or to complete within a couple of days. I could have left this until I got home, which would have been another item added to my never ending to do list. However, I knew that if I just got myself a strong cup of tea and got on with it, I could usually have it done by the time we pulled into my station. Then I would have the whole evening to myself without any work looming over my head.
4. Stay On Top Of Your Finances
Internet banking is such a miraculous thing — so take advantage of it! Make sure you have your money out of your savings and in your checking account in time for rent day and know when your bills are due. I make a list each month in my diary of all my outgoings and expenses, including money for fun stuff, then once I have spent this allocated money on bills or whatever, I tick it off my list. IMO this is a great way of staying on top of your money. However for those who prefer apps, there are plenty you can use to your advantage.
The "Pocket Expense" app by Appxy is a great way to quickly and easily see the balances of your different accounts, plus it has a budget management tool and an alert feature to remind you when your bills are coming [out] UP. If you want to keep it simple and you need a budget planner, then try "My Budgets" which helps you to see where and what you spend your money on and if you're a more visual person, you can even view your expenditure as a graph. For people who feel they have trouble managing their money, the "SpendToday" app helps you to set a daily budget and allows you to see a future forecast of how your spending now will affect your budget later. Oh, and all of these work offline, so you can update them during your commute no matter how you travel.
5. Make Productive Lists
I am a serial list maker. I make lists for everything and it helps me feel in control of my life, even if I don't quite manage to check everything off by the end of the day. Use your commute to make productive lists such as the groceries you need to buy when you get home, a holiday gift list, or, if your life is really hectic, a list of jobs to do when you get home or at work during the week.
If you're a fan of technology there are an array of apps you can use to do this. One that I rely on quite a lot is the very straightforward "Shopping List Free." I input all of my groceries into the app and it creates a little list complete with check points for me to tick off. If you're more of a pen and paper kind of gal, there's so much beautiful stationary out there which you can take advantage of, such as the extremely useful and often comedic notepads of Knock Knock.
6. Learn A New Language
There are some incredible language apps out there, [If you (metaphorically) pop across to your phone's app store you should see a variety of different apps that will help you to learn languages in different ways – considering, of course, that you have a modern phone that'll teach you a plethora of languages for free (although there are sometimes additional costs for upgrades or once you get past a certain learning point) ranging from Spanish to German to British Sign Language.
"Duolingo" helps users learn an array of languages from Portuguese to Swedish by helping the user progress through blocks of lessons. It won Apple's 2013 App of the Year and it's easy to see why; it's really simple to use, it's downright fun, and it's free. "British Sign Language – Finger Spelling" is another great free app and it helps users learn the basics of BSL fingerspelling. One user said in their review of the app that within an hour they had learnt the alphabet by heart and now he and his partner can hold basic conversations. For commuters who are driving or prefer to listen as they learn, rather than use an app, why not try a podcast to download onto your phone? There are so many to choose from such as "World Learner Chinese" or "Learn French by Podcast."
If you have a stressful job or you want to feel more in tune with yourself after a busy day of putting other people's needs before your own, you could learn how to meditate. There are plenty of podcasts that can help you achieve inner peace or alternatively you can listen to some guided meditation on YouTube. I love meditating at the start of my day as I feel like it refreshes me — almost like I am wiping my spiritual slate clean each time I do it. The "Mindfulness App" works offline after you download, so you can reach your zen even on the subway with no cell service.
8. Catch Up
Whether this be a chat with your colleague with whom you need to discuss a meeting, your doctor to arrange an appointment, or your mom to plan your grandpa's surprise birthday party, as long as your commute comes with cell service you can use your commuting time to make all of those phone calls you have been making a mental list of and finally get your life organized. This activity is best suited for anyone who walks or drives to work as trying to organize important events on your cell on a jam packed train or bus is very tricky and could come across as a little rude. Obviously if you're driving, you'll need to use a hands free option.
9. Do Your Shopping
In most big cities, you can have groceries delivered to your door by a selection of large supermarkets. You can either use their grocery shopping websites or their apps. Once you've finished your shopping you book a slot for when the food will come, so you could get it delivered before or after work the next day. This has saved me so much time and effort.
If there aren't any grocery stores near you that deliver, you can always do other types of shopping that you need to do but don't have time for. As an example, you could do all of your holiday shopping on the commute home, any last minute birthday present shopping, or you can look at new dresses for a special night out or an upcoming party. Online shopping is a gift from the heavens, so use it wisely.