in Life Optimization

Don’t have enough time? Get a commute

You keeping saying you don’t have enough time to read, or write, or learn a new language? You’re sooo busy with all of those incredibly important things that take up every single minute of your crowded schedule. I’ll bet your busyness comes from things that are all urgent, but not important, but going into that is a whole different article.

I have the solution – move farther away from your work. Get a commute. Now I know what your efficient self is saying. “Commutes are dead time! Why purposely introduce two huge chunks of time where I can’t get anything done into every day?!” That’s the catch – you only think you cannot get anything done.

Commute time is a blessing in disguise – since its unavoidable, you cannot escape it, and thus cannot shirk it on a lazy day. It’s what Maneesh calls “The Odysseus method”, or precommitment  – remember when he tied himself to the mast and told his sailors to never untie him as they sailed past the falsely seductive Sirens? He manipulated his environment so that success was inevitable, and you can do the same to accomplish your goals. Here, you manipulate your daily schedule to include stretches of time without internet that you must fill up – perfect for reading, writing, or repetitive language drills.

If you take public transportation to work, the solution is simple – do that thing you want to do but ‘don’t have enough time for’ on the bus. Read a book, write on your computer (it’s not that hard, even with the bumps and stops). Or learn a language in the way you see fit – I have been using the Duolingo app on all my commutes. Duolingo is a perfect fit because it penalizes you if you do not do at least one exercise every day (my commute is daily, done), and it is composed of basic repetitive exercises that are hard to focus on when you have something better to do (I can’t do anything else on the bus, so its easy to stay focused). As the weeks go by, the exercises add up, and after several months I understand that it’s quite easy to get to reading fluency this way, although conversational is an entirely different animal.

If you drive yourself to work, listen to audiobooks, try out dictation software, or use the Pimsleur method of language learning. These activities are even more methodical and difficult to focus on, but here that is perfect – you’re supposing to be looking at the road anyway. Yet if you stick with one such program, the days will add up, and eventually you will finish a book, write a draft, or know all the verb conjugations in a new language.

Take away the swoosh and you’ve got a perfect personal mantra

It’s the power of ‘every damn day’ without the ability to compromise. This is the strength of the commute – you cannot get out of it, and due to lack of internet it makes it much easier to focus on things that normally appear boring and repetitive when compared with the shiny brightness of the the Web.

In past years I prided myself on having a commute of less that 15 minutes that was entirely composed of high cognitive load time (biking). Now I have a 35 minute commute, with 10 minutes of high cognitive load (biking) and 25 minutes of long, yet low cognitive load time (sitting on a shuttle). Since I moved, I’ve finished several new books, averaged 600 words a sitting when I write, and gotten to level 10 in Portuguese in Duolingo. Those are all things that I could have feasibly done on my own time at home, but home is where all the excuses are. It’s very easy for these things to fall by the wayside there. Not so on the bus – there’s nothing else to do.

So think about introducing a commute into your life. It isn’t always possible, and of course a commute of longer than 45 minutes starts getting lifestyle – restrictive. But a correctly adjusted one will introduce 2 unavoidable chunks of time into every day that are just long enough for you to make progress on those big things you’ve never had the time to get around to. It’s perfect for the important things that aren’t urgent – that  get pushed aside in favor of the things whose deadlines are nearing. Focus on the deadlines at home – your commute is sacred.

  • Siena Witte

    Yes! I wholeheartedly agree. I get so much shit done on my commutes. Especially flights. Last week, I was traveling via plane for a total of 10 hours and I managed to: read 30% of a new book on my Kindle, clear my entire Pocket queue, write 2 500+ word blog posts, and a 6 page paper. Enforced down time is a powerful thing.