If you're like most business professionals, you're always mining for new pieces of time to use to get your work done, or improve your productivity. There are only 24 hours a day, but you have to believe that at least a few of those hours can be better used to help you get more done.
Instead of trying to push yourself harder or sacrifice more of your personal time for your career, consider using your daily commute as an opportunity to fit more work into the day. Most Americans drive 20 minutes or more, one way, to get to their jobs, meaning a significant amount of time is usually available to be productive. Obviously, it's not a good idea to work and drive at the same time, but if you can maximize your daily commute, you could have an extra three hours--at least--every week to work with.
1. Listen to podcasts, webinars, or audiobooks. Whether you ride the bus or drive a car to work, you can use your commute time to catch up on audio news, or get a high-level overview of a recent webinar. Most webinars offer a free download of the session afterward, and you can easily strip the audio portion and listen to it later. You can also download audiobooks and listen to them on your way in--try listening to books that are relevant to your industry, if available, or books that can improve your professional repertoire.
One of the downsides of this strategy is that you won't have much opportunity to take notes, especially if you're driving. But if your listening material is a secondary priority, and not a primary one, you could fit in an extra three hours of reading time without cutting into the rest of your schedule.
2. Hold teleconferences or debriefings. Catching up on communication is one of the most time-consuming portions of the day. Meetings usually draw in at least several employees for half an hour or more, stifling productivity. If you're comfortable using a hands-free set in your car, try holding a meeting while you're en route.
If you usually have meetings first thing in the morning or right before you leave work, your commute could theoretically eliminate the meeting entirely--in advance. Phone conversations aren't as effective as face-to-face meetings, but if you aren't doing anything else during your commute, you might as well use the time for something.
3. Catch up on your voicemails. Communication isn't exclusively limited to meetings, however. Provided you have a hands-free connection or are commuting in a way other than driving, you can review your most recent voicemails on your way into work, and possibly return phone calls as well. If you can implement this strategy efficiently, you'll have more flexibility to take phone calls at your discretion in the office; if you're heads-down on a complex task, you can ignore a phone call and continue working uninterrupted with the knowledge that you'll be able to return the phone call at the end of the day, or the next morning.
4. Carpool. Carpooling isn't for everyone, but if you live close to several of your coworkers, you can all save time by driving together. For example, if there are five of you carpooling together, each individual can take up driving responsibilities one day a week--that frees up four days a week for everyone, which can be used to work while along for the ride. For an average commuter, that means almost three hours of extra work time every week, plus you'll only be driving 20 percent of your usual time, so you'll save on gas money, too.
Carpooling offers another means of increasing productivity, especially if you all work closely together. It serves as an opportunity to meet and discuss things face-to-face without tying yourselves up in a board room during traditional work hours.
5. Bring a tablet or laptop on public transportation. If you take the bus or a similar form of transportation into work, bring a laptop or a tablet along and get some work done while you're riding. Depending on the amount of personal space you have, you can set up a mini work station and get a head start on some of the tasks you have for the day. That might mean catching up on your emails, taking out a handful of small, no-brainer tasks as a kind of warmup to your workday, or starting to brainstorm about a bigger project.
The only downside to switching to public transportation is the sacrifice of timing and reliability. If your ordinary driving route takes 20 minutes, your bus route might take 40. But think of it this way; instead of spending 40 minutes doing nothing, you'll be spending 80 minutes getting work done. For most commuters, that means a net gain in productivity.
6. Plan your day. Regardless of whether you use public transportation or drive directly, you can use your commuting time to plan your day out. Check your emails before you leave so you have a decent idea of the tasks that await you, but spend your drive-in time figuring out what you want to accomplish for the day, and how you're going to go about it.
Voice memos are perfect for this. If you're trying to outline your day in advance, use a voice memo to record your plan directly (and hands-free), and refer to it later as you start your official workday. At the end of the day, you can use a similar strategy to wind down, reflecting on what you accomplished as well as what got away from you. You can simultaneously address any issues that interfered with your productivity and plan to tackle those remaining challenges the next day.
7. Bicycle. Biking to work may seem like a step in the wrong direction. It's a much slower means of transportation than driving, and it ties up your body much more than any other means of transport, leaving you unable to multitask. However, during rush hours in some cities, biking can actually be a faster way to travel, cutting gas costs as well as total commute time. Plus, you won't have to spend additional time exercising; you'll enjoy the productivity-boosting benefits of an adrenaline rush in the morning, and the stress relieving elements of a hard workout on your way back home. You can even use a portable music player to catch up on podcasts or webinars like I mentioned in my first commute optimization strategy.
Not all of these methods will work for every commuter; you may find yourself unable to adapt your commute to alternative means of transportation, or you may find yourself unable to focus on audio while driving. Experiment safely and determine which strategies are right for you. If executed properly, you could save yourself several hours a week.