13 Tips to Make the Most of Your Commute

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: May 13, 2012

Grinding Out the Daily Grind

It is the solid white line between work and the rest of your life. The daily two-part trek that either bookends your workday with orderly support or allows it to spill outside of its designated boundaries. Your commute. The most public personal time of your day with equal opportunities for audio inspiration and visual horror, depending on how often you pass random self-groomers and texters in the slow lane. 

Will you arrive at work primed for your 9AM, or deafened by the nonstop chatter of a ride share pal? Will the PM drive be an easy segue into home life or the peak stress of a rocky day? The response range is wide and the choices are yours. But don't worry, we're here to help!

1. Weigh Your Options

Options abound. Choices might include a metro or bus line, a ride share, a solo car or cycling commute, a long walk or any combination of these. Weigh financial benefits and costs against factors such as your need for flexibility and potential for singing along with your mp3 mix when considering public and ride share options.

Convenience and privacy cost money and have environmental impact. How much are they worth? Is the decision you made two years ago valid today?

2. Jump Into the (Car)Pool

Taking the plunge? The car pool experience can range from elevator sterility to the jovial camaraderie of chosen friends, but minus the option to have things your way all the time. So focus instead on details such as who will drive (or will you take turns?). How often will reimbursements be paid and how will amounts be figured and divided? Eating and drinking or library rules? Flexible departures or a wheels up time after which your boarding pass is invalid?

Polite civilities are essential as a ride share is ultimately yet another business transaction minus the weekly specials but with that all important group discount.

3. Take the Bus

Public transportation offers a la carte options unavailable to the car pool rider.

You can select your departure point and time within certain unwavering parameters. If this is your chosen option, maximize its benefits. Purpose the time for relaxing or working. Disembark early and give yourself the gift of a walk. Fresh air is energizing and will heal any olfactory damage caused by ineffective antiperspirants. Minimize your carry on items on a weekly basis. Don’t let a roomy satchel take the place of back seat storage in your car.

4. Fly Solo

If you choose the solo route, lessen stress and promote your mental health with a few key preparations.

Keep up on vehicle maintenance including oil changes, tire rotations and fluid refills. Don’t pull into the garage promising yourself to refill the gas tank before the morning commute unless you’re certain that: you won’t forget; you won’t get stuck waiting at the pump; or you have a tanker toting genie who will do the refuel for you overnight.

As bad as it is to be among the hordes on the highway inching their way to work every day, it beats being stuck on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck. 

5. Keep It Clean

A personal driver would be nice, but the lack of that amenity shouldn’t doom your ride to a less than genteel sort of environment.

A chauffeur wouldn’t allow you to sit amidst empty coffee cups or wrappers. He would enhance your driving commute with clean windows and a dashboard that won’t present a sneezing hazard when sudden braking dislodges the dust. He would know that you will smell like your car and not allow you to ride within the aroma of last night’s pizza or last week’s gym clothes. 

He would also wear a nifty little cap but that might mess up your hair.

6. Make "Road Rage" Fun

If you deal with a gargantuan amount of gridlock on a daily basis, you’ve probably encountered more than a few idiot drivers. You know, the ones who drive your blood pressure through the roof when they flip you the bird even though they’re the ones who cut you off. You’ve no doubt called them every name in the English language, right?

Well how about swearing at them in another language? Your lengthy commute is the perfect time to grab an audio book and begin learning a new language. Think of it as a chance to turn road rage into something positive. Other drivers will literally have to pardon your French.

7. Communicate

iPods, tablets and our smartphones are great. You can listen to music, the news and even play games during your commute (no games if you’re driving!). But as our technology has advanced, the amount of human interaction is on the decline for most of us. So how about using this time to – wait for it – actually talk to the people around us??

If you’re driving yourself then use the cell phone to finally return your mom’s call. She’ll be impressed you’re up so early and thrilled that you remembered her first thing in the morning. And reiterating that you STILL aren’t seeing anyone will make traffic gridlock seem less significant to your overall discomfort.

8. Take a Meeting

Free up your lunch hour for an actual lunch break by knocking off the occasional meeting during your morning or afternoon commute.

Admittedly, a teleconference won’t be as effective for projects requiring online collaboration, but for simple brainstorming or general discussion why not listen to the concerns of a favored client rather than those plaguing car ads that linger in the air like burnt toast?

Commuting by subway or bus? Get off early and do a walk and talk. Keep that essential client focus but don’t forget your surroundings. Walking into a street sign mid sentence will not impress. 

9. Kill Two Birds with One Commute

Lock down that overwhelmed feeling and make it work for you.

Even pasta has its creative limits and while fruit juice on breakfast cereal isn’t a crisis, it won’t build anticipation for the family dinner. The grocery and hardware store have to happen. Save gas, time and personal energy by organizing errands by day. Compress. Compile. And map it out.

Make Monday and Thursday grocery stops. Hit the garden store Tuesday, and look -- the gym is just next door! Vary your route to hit hot spots en route. Efficiency is empowering and you’ll get better service if you shop before the morph from corporate to comfy frumpy casual.

10. Take the Scenic Route

Even without the excuse of a milk emergency, altering your daily route is guaranteed to freshen your outlook.

While the shortest distance might shave five or ten minutes from your drive, chances are it’s the direct route for many others as well, making it a fume filled display of humanity at its social worst. So aim up. Give yourself a tree-lined street or river view. See? There is more to life than tomorrow morning’s video presentation and the leaky water heater in your basement. Inspire yourself so that you can grow your ability to inspire others.

Carpooling? Vary the order or location of pickup points. 

11. Safety First

Your superior skills and catlike reflexes won’t save you from bumping a suddenly stopped car if you’re doing a quick glance to see how auto correct might have further enhanced your witty text message. And yes, you might have grabbed the shirt with the ink stain, but is this bumper to bumper moment really the best time to satisfy your curiosity? 

Be mindful when on the road. Cut down on reactions and choose the safer action instead. Forgo instant gratifications in favor of wisdom and the traffic laws. Besides, you’ll need to stay alert to avoid getting bumped by some guy sending a cell phone picture to his girlfriend.

12. Be Prepared

Carry at least the driving basics -- jumper cables, a flashlight, a first aid kit and water. Add kitty litter, a blanket and a shovel for snow emergencies if winter looms. Wet wipes and bandages will eventually be used whether riding in your briefcase on a bus or sitting in your glove box. 

To be clear, we’re talking about keeping basic essentials at the ready, not hauling a trailer to ward off doomsday. And don’t be the damsel in distress flashing hazards in an intersection. Know how to change your flat tire. Even better, know how to pull over and be a good Samaritan when the occasion presents.

13. Free Your Mind

Sudden temperature drops, pop up storms and the blare of an early alarm rarely generate positive reactions.

Abrupt events often feel like an imposition to the status quo. So take those first 10 minutes in the car or on the bus to make a mental transition from home in the morning and from your job in the evening. Give those first 10 minutes to unfinished business or simply linger in a warm moment. As your drive creates distance, ease into the next part of your day or night.

Don’t pop those fuzzy slippers onto your feet until after you pull in the driveway, but feel free to think about them.

You Have to Own Your Commute

Whether your job is just down the block or a backbreaking drive across state, unless you work from home, commuting is part of your every workday. Unavoidable maybe, but highly customizable. So order it up the way you do your skinny decaf mocha latte. Make it work by making it yours. 

Start with an excellent attitude. If you look for the loons, you’ll always find them bearing down in your rear view mirror. Open up instead to opportunities and your time on the road will never be wasted. Think, enjoy and look for reasons to smile. Relish those sunrises.

And as long as you remain within posted speed limits, the journey is yours.

Recommended Reading

We know long commutes can be tough. So we asked a few Salary.com employees with lengthy commutes what gets them through it. Here are some of their recommendations:

  • The Salary Talk Podcast Series: Oh c'mon, you know we had to throw this one in there. But seriously, it's filled with top-notch authors giving you free advice. Each one is 25-30 minutes long, perfect to pass the time & improve yourself.
  • Star Wars -- The Complete Trilogy: Yup, we're geeks. But we grew up on Star Wars & this is a full cast of characters keeping you involved and bringing the story to life even without a TV.
  • Game of Thrones: OK fine -- we're HUGE geeks. But not only is this series by George R.R. Martin fantastic (and currently an HBO series), the books are also very long. Which means even the super commuters will be happily occupied for weeks on end.
  • Learn in Your Car French -- The Complete Language Course: Because sometimes swearing at fellow commuters in English just isn't enough.
  • The Hunger Games: Listen to it during your commute and then go see the new hit movie in theaters!