Here we are, in midsummer already. People are spending even more time out on the roads than at other times of year. The good news is that the weather is better; the bad news is, there are more vehicles going the same direction you are, making for delays and longer commutes.

It's understandable that a lot of people complain about their commutes to and from work, appointments, or client meetings. I don't. It's not that I like being cut off in traffic or sitting at stoplights; it's just that I have learned to see the time I spend driving as an opportunity.

A recent AAA survey says the average American adult drives 17,600 minutes--that's almost 300 hours--every year. Plus, for two-thirds of that time, that average person is alone in the car. Here's the challenge: How, as this "average person," do you make all that time a positive experience?

Here are four guidelines to go above and beyond with those 17,600 minutes and make as many of them as possible into transformative moments. Like so much in life, you can upgrade the way you look at this necessary part of modern life if you will look at it with creativity, optimism, and the willingness to think outside the box.

1. Make This Your No-Screen Time

The temptation is great these days to stay as hooked in to screens and smartphone access while driving as while at a desk. Maybe, with the rise of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and seven-inch touchscreens in your car, it's even pretty safe. (Great minds disagree on that one.) That's not the point. You are already staring at screens for way too much of your day. Avoid doing it while you drive, and you are already gaining a net increase in how much time you spend looking at the real world directly through your own eyes, and without bright, shiny, clicky distractions to your thought process.

2. Take Your Brain for a Drive, Too

Experts say our brains have a whole different, more creative life while we are asleep. It's there that a lot of our anxieties, problems, and challenges get worked out or explored. Problem: Wake up, and we have lost touch with what was going on while we snored. The National Institutes of Health say we spend two hours or so every night in active dreaming.

Wouldn't you like to add, say, about 17,600 minutes a year to that total? Let your brain roam while you're driving. Not so much that you stop focusing on driving, but you're intelligent, if you're reading this, so I know your brain can handle it--especially if you follow my Rule #1 and shut off the screens. Let your time behind the wheel be crazy-idea time. Allow yourself to ask every What if? and How about? question you don't let yourself "waste" time on during the day.

Follow your dreams down the wildest paths. J.K. Rowling came up with the Harry Potter books while stuck on a delayed commuter train. Those books made her a billionaire and a thought leader. What's going on in your head that you aren't listening to (yet)?

3. Bond with the People in Your Life

Suppose we're talking about the other third of your driving life (according to the AAA numbers), the time you have a passenger riding with you. Is that person an employee or a colleague? Here's your opportunity to brainstorm, postmortem, or (gasp) be quiet and listen to that person without interruptions. (Make him or her turn off the screens, too. That request might lead to your first interesting exchange of ideas, but it will pay off.)

Is that person your spouse, child, or other loved one? Here's the chance to talk about delicate subjects without interruptions and--especially with teenagers--without having to look at each other, which is just what you might need to make an important topic bearable.

4. Sign On for Some Audio Mentorship

For longer drives, an excellent way to maximize your time is to listen to a podcast or audiobook that has something valuable to teach you. There are many good options. Might I suggest The Radical Leap: A Personal Lesson in Extreme Leadership on Audible Audio?

Published on: Jul 5, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.