What do you do on your commute to work? One look around my full-to-the-brim train carriage during the week tells me what most people do, heads bent, frantically tapping on phones – at a little past 8am they are already lost in pre-work emails. This tap, tap, tapping goes on in a seemingly unbreakable cycle – a recent poll said we spend an average of 16 minutes per day shifting through work emails, equating to an hour and a half each week on this task alone.
I admit that even I rarely spend my train journey looking out the window, collecting my thoughts as I once did. Now it’s work (usually followed by mild anxiety if I think too long about my mounting task list). I scarcely do anything for myself in the mornings other than scroll through newsfeeds and unread emails, and according to research, doing either won’t make you feel any better.
As a team of psychology researchers recently explained in Harvard Business Review, the key to a pleasant pre-office journey isn’t just finding ways to fill the time — instead, it’s much more beneficial to chang the way you think about the time. A commute can be something you have to endure; a daunting stay-out-of-my-personal-space task in your day or it can be what the researchers call a “pocket of freedom” (a term they borrowed from Jon Jachimowicz):
“Think of it as an opportunity to pursue your passions.” In other words, truly think about doing something that brings you enjoyment as opposed to your boss. Learn something new. Try a trivia app, start learning the language you told yourself you’d be fluent in by now, listen to a podcast or read a book that you know you’ll love.
After all, stacks upon stacks of research prove that downtime is not just essential, but it replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and boosts productivity and creativity, which means you and your workday will be more productive.
So, for 25 and a half minutes, on average, you can be the master of your early-morning or early-evening fate, make sure you decide to do something you savour, rather than a thankless task that’s to be endured. It doesn’t quite make us feel sorry for those that get to walk to work, but it’s as close as we’ll get to feeling smug about 6am starts all the same.