By Lyndsey Hall
January is traditionally a month of new starts, and some of you may even be starting new jobs; with longer, more tedious commutes.
The average worker spends 54 minutes commuting each day, and according to the Office for National Statistics, “feelings of happiness, life satisfaction and the sense that one’s activities are worthwhile all decrease with every successive minute of travel to work”. That’s a pretty long winded way of saying commuting is bad for you.
But, unless your boss is willing to let you work from home, or you decide to up and leave the 9-to-5 altogether in favour of working for yourself, then unfortunately you’re stuck with your daily journey to the office.
So, here is our guide to making the most of your commute:
If you travel by car…
If you drive to work (and 59% of you do), you’ll already know the sweet joy of listening to whatever you want on the radio and singing along at the top of your lungs. You can’t do that on public transport – without getting verbally abused, anyway. The other benefit to driving is the ability to take personal or confidential phone calls – via your hands-free, of course – and not having to worry about everyone staring at you because you sat in the ‘Quiet Zone’ again, or whether a colleague, client or competitor might overhear something they shouldn’t.
Whilst driving can be stressful and road-rage inducing at times (read: rush hour) it also gives you the flexibility to stop off on your way home; at the gym, for a loaf of bread or to visit a friend. It also means you can nip off to lunch meetings at the drop of a hat, without worrying about which bus route gets you nearest to the restaurant; although, city centre parking is no picnic.
Make the most of it:
Car share – Help the environment and your pocket at the same time! You won’t be the only one paying for petrol every day, and you might even become best friends for life with your new carpool companion (I’m picturing James Corden and Adele). The only thing better than belting out a Mariah Carey classic in the car is making it a duet! (Or if Mariah isn’t your thing, your buddy can play the air guitar while you rock out on the steering wheel drums).
Learn a language – Speaking a foreign language is on most people’s bucket list, and it can be a huge advantage in the business world, whatever your career of choice. There are loads of apps, audiobooks and CDs to choose from, and hundreds of languages that you could try. And you don’t have to be embarrassed about repeating phrases out loud when you’re alone in your car. So, if your company has an office in Madrid, why not learn some basic Spanish and wow your boss on your next conference call?
If you travel by bus…
Buses are great for getting around town – they’re cheap, frequent, and better for the environment than driving. Plus, if everyone who drives to work took the bus there would be much less traffic and we’d all arrive quicker! However, they’re not ideal for commuting if you work further afield. According to the ONS, bus journeys of more than 30 minutes are the commuting option that make us most unhappy. 7.2% of working people in England and Wales travel by bus or coach to work, meaning that a large number of people are potentially arriving to work in a very bad mood, which is not the best way to start your day.
The potential positives of bus travel are often negated at peak times too; you will probably be left standing unless your stop is one of the first on the route, and you need a core of steel to read a book whilst standing up on a bus (I’ve tried). The loud noise of the engine coupled with chatter from your fellow travellers makes phone conversation impossible; and the constant jostling makes typing emails quite tricky. But they’re relatively quick (hello, bus lanes!), cheap and environmentally friendly, so if your journey is quite short then this could be the best option for you.
Make the most of it:
Listen to audiobooks – Admit it, you’ve got a stack of unread business books on your desk that has been staring at you for months. Well, why not download the audiobooks to your phone and listen through your headphones during your commute? You’ll gain tonnes of knowledge and inspiration, and you won’t waste a single minute of your day; what’s not to love?
TED Talks – There are so many fantastic TED Talks that you might find it difficult to choose, but you definitely won’t struggle to find something relevant to you. With topics ranging from physics to social media to finding true happiness, there’s bound to be something you will find useful or entertaining – usually both. They tend to be between 10 and 20 minutes in length, so you might manage to squeeze a couple of talks in per journey; which is a bonus in my book.
If you travel by train…
The number one perk of train travel is Wi-Fi (number two is the food trolley, just FYI). Some carriers offer free internet, and some only give 15 minutes free and then charge an arm and a leg for an hour; which is perfect if you are only travelling a short distance, but if you live in the North and work in London you probably begrudge the daily expense.
Fortunately, David Cameron has announced a £50m investment in wireless connectivity for four of the big train operators, using money paid in fines by National Rail for late running of services. Unfortunately, this won’t come into effect until 2017, so you’ll have to go without your morning latte until then.
According to the ONS, 5% of people take the train to work – and they all get the same one at the same time! (Or does it just feel that way?) To avoid as much stress and anxiety as possible it’s always best to book a seat, preferably a window seat so you can plug your charger in.
Make the most of it:
Get a head start – Booked a seat? Check. Got your laptop? Check. Able to connect to your desktop remotely? Check. Then why not get a head start on your day and log on before you even arrive? If you work flexible hours, you could even take a later train when the majority of commuters are already ensconced at their desks, and make the most of the quieter train to nab a table so you can get a start on your emails or that big presentation.
Relax – If your journey is particularly long, you could avoid the crush by taking an earlier train and catching up on sleep on your way to work. Don’t forget to set an alarm so you don’t miss your stop, and maybe pack a neck pillow in your laptop bag to avoid arriving at work with a serious crick in your neck. Alternatively, download a meditation app and pop your headphones in, there’s nothing like an hour of mindfulness to combat a stressful commute and leave you feeling ready for your day.
If you travel by bike…
Cycling combines all the active awareness of driving with the feel-good factor of public transport. Whilst a little (OK, a lot) more arduous than driving, it does, however, allow you to cut to the front of long traffic queues; making journeys with heavy congestion or several sets of traffic lights that bit quicker. The downside to cycling is the requisite gear – fluorescent lycra isn’t flattering on anyone – and the potential for arriving at work looking (and smelling) like you just cycled 10 miles. Because, you did. If you’re lucky enough to work somewhere with showers, or in walking distance of a gym, then this could be the one for you.
On the upside, not only is cycling great for achieving your fitness goals, it is also a heck of a lot cheaper than driving or taking public transport, and, along with walking, is the best possible option for protecting the environment.
Make the most of it:
Get a fitness tracker – Made a New Year’s resolution to get healthy? Get on your bike! Fitbit, Jawbone and other fitness trackers will tell you how far you’ve gone, how many calories you have burned and what your heartrate was at each stage of your journey. Download the app and you can even monitor your sleep quality and receive notifications to remind you to drink more water. Not only could this help improve your fitness and sleep quality, but physical activity is fantastic for boosting mood and overall sense of wellbeing.
Enjoy it – When you’re cycling, there’s no opportunity to multitask; you can’t even put your headphones in, because you need to hear what’s going on around you. So, make the most of having to be really present for your journey. Enjoy the views, whether it’s rolling hills and chocolate box cottages, or modern architecture and stylish pedestrians; try to find something beautiful in each journey. Notice the weather, your surroundings, and how you are feeling; both physically and emotionally (a little hippie, perhaps, but great for your sense of wellbeing). You’ll arrive at your desk feeling positive and ready to start your day, rather than stressed and anxious, desperate for a caffeine hit.
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