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Make your commute count: 5 ways to make transit time productive

Know Your Value spoke to successful businesswomen across the country about how they make the most of their time going to and from work.
Image: Smiling young African woman listening to music on the subway
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Whether you go by car, train, bus, bike or foot, commuters spend an average of 26 minutes each way getting to and from work. That’s over four hours of valuable time each week. What can you possibly accomplish while traveling to work? It turns out, quite a bit.

Rather than spending your commute scrolling through social media or complaining about traffic, you might want to consider shifting gears. Think of your daily commute as uninterrupted time to get things done.

Take a look at some of the strategies successful businesswomen across the country use to make their commuting time more productive:

Prep and plan

Sarah Goolsby, owner of ctowncycle, a spin studio, in Charlestown, Mass., uses her 35- to 90-minute commute to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. “I run through all the things I forgot about the day before,” she said. “And I make voice notes to take care of those tasks.” She also listens to her class playlist and plans out her sessions so she can arrive at the studio prepared for the day.

Sarah Goolsby, owner of ctowncycle in Charlestown, Mass.,Lucie Wicker Photography.

Christina Kmiec, a vice president of international finance for a large manufacturing company in Chicago views her daily 25-minute journey on the Metra commuter train as an extension of her workday. She uses her morning commute to prep for the day ahead, and she uses her evening commute to finish the tasks she didn’t complete at the office. “I have my laptop open, and I can look at the calendar to see what the day is like, answer work emails, pay bills and review finances,” she said.

Take care of business

Kmiec occasionally makes conference calls while traveling, and she’s not alone. “I save up phone calls to make during my commute,” said Mackenzie Lesher, owner of The Spotted Cow, a vintage store in Martinez, Calif. Working ahead to create a list of calls to tackle during her commute helps target exactly what needs to be done. “You nonstop obsess about all the things you need to do all day long,” Lesher said. “A commute can crowd that noise out and help you focus.”

Mahnaz Baghaei, the owner of iSmile Dental Care in Union, New Jersey.Kris Kensel

Mahnaz Baghaei, owner of iSmile Dental Care in Union, New Jersey, drives 30 to 45 minutes a day. In the mornings, she cues up phone numbers to complete tasks that “you don’t want to busy your day with,” like arranging travel or following up on billing issues. When she commutes with her husband, a co-owner of the business, they tackle those calls together, and they also take care of family decision-making.

Get personal

Goolsby and Baghaei both take advantage of commuting time to catch up with family by phone. Goolsby, a new mom, said, “Making personal calls feels so meaningful. It’s something I don’t take time to do otherwise.” When driving alone, Baghaei makes sure the numbers she wants to dial are readily accessible so she can use her phone safely while navigating the often confusing and busy roads surrounding New York City. “The hardest thing,” she noted, “is struggling to find things on my phone while driving.”

Mackenzie Lesher, owner of The Spotted Cow, a vintage store in Martinez, Calif.Vince Niles

In addition to connecting with friends and family, Lesher makes calls for her volunteer position on the board of her children’s independent school. She saves precious minutes of family time by tackling these small tasks during her commute.

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Listen and learn

Heather Kress, senior legal counsel for a chemical company in Houston, listens to podcasts on her extra-long commute. She drives an average of 40 minutes one way, and she travels to Lake Charles—2.5 hours each way—for business meetings twice a month. She enjoys podcasts like Aaron Mahnke’s “Unobscured and Lore” that expand her view of history and involve her in “other people’s stories.” These types of podcasts, she said, “give me the ability to focus on something that’s outside of work that’s still super interesting to me.”

Lesher listens to business-related podcasts, like “Freakonomics,” which gives her insight into retail trends. And she has been pleasantly surprised by how much she loves the Audible app. “Having kids, I’ve fallen out of the reading habit,” Lesher said. “My commute has helped me rediscover the joy of reading.”

Heather Kress, a senior legal counsel for a chemical company in Houston.J Kress

Reflect and relax

Many of the women mentioned that their commute is some of the only time they have to spend alone during the day. “Driving alone can be very therapeutic,” laughed Baghaei. “Nobody bothers you when you’re in your own little corner of the world.”

Both Kress and Goolsby described their commute as “a mental break.” Kress said that her evening commute feels like “decompression from the day.” Goolsby added, “It’s my only me time. You can’t text, look at email, or try to do it all.” Their cars have become a place to recharge more than just their phones.