Nobody likes the morning commute (unless you’re working from home). The US Census Bureau calculates the average travel time to work in the United at 25.4 minutes. NPR has a pretty cool map which shows the average commute time in your neighborhood. Not surprisingly, those of us living in the outer boroughs of NYC clock in a 30+ minute commute. San Francisco and Washington DC don’t look that friendly either. Chances are pretty good that you work in a metropolitan area as well.
Of course, it’s not just the length of the commute that can make it a deflating experience. Packed subways and buses give commuters little breathing space, make it hard to relax and almost impossible to be productive. You could be waiting 15 minutes for a train in New York during rush hour and have no idea when the next one is arriving, because the MTA has yet to get around to installing real-time arrival estimate in over track displays. Or you could be riding the Washington Metro in the midst of its midlife crises.
How Many Hours Do Your Spend Commuting?
Despite the slog, a commute takes up a considerable part of your 168 hours each week. A reasonable commute could eat up 5 hours a week.
|Commute Time||Weekly Hours||Monthly Hours||Yearly Hours|
|30 minutes||5 hours||21 hours||250 hours|
|45 minutes||7.5 hours||31.5 hours||360 hours|
|60 minutes||10 hours||42 hours||500 hours|
Yikes, with even a 30 minute commute you are burning up over 250 hours a year commuting. As lawyers, we measure things using the billable hour and it’s alarming to see that I am unintentionally adding an entire 250 hour month to my working year.
Ideas for A More Productive Commute
Besides moving closer to work, what can you do to make your commute more productive? I’ve laid out some of my tactics below. Most involve learning how to better use your phone, which after all is a pretty amazing full-fledged computer.
Zone Out. You see this on the subway all the time. People staring into space, not doing anything, just trying to make it from point A to point B. If you’re lucky enough to be sitting down, this might be somewhat restful. I consider the millions of people I see playing Candy Crush each day in this category. We can do better.
Decompressing to Music. I consider this a nice step up from zoning out. Sometimes a little music can put you in the right mood, whether that’s powering up on your way to work or powering down on your way home. Spotify’s offline listening feature for premium subscribers makes it easy to mark albums or playlists available offline (i.e. downloaded on to your phone). The downloads happen in the background. Listening to music is not a bad way to pass the time and get your mind in the right place.
Podcasts. Moving up the mental engagement scale, podcasts offer great free content. If you’re not yet on the podcast bandwagon, I suggest you try a few. My favorite app to manage podcasts is Overcast by Marco Arment. I like The Tim Ferris Show, Serial, Planet Money, Esquire Classic Podcast and Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin. I’m also a fan of shows by Gimlet Media.
CLEs. Have you considered completing your CLE requirements during your commute? Didn’t realize you could earn CLEs while on the go? In New York, once you are out of your first two years, lawyers are eligible to earn CLEs in non-live settings. If your firm has an account with the Practicing Law Institute (PLI) – and I’m willing to bet they do – you can download mp3s and listen to them on the commute. PLI has a mobile app that allows for offline listening (i.e. underground on a subway). Thanks to the pause/play feature, you don’t need to complete the course in one session. You can finish them at your convenience.
Online Courses. In the same vein, the online education space has exploded in recent years. Many providers allow you to download the course for viewing/listening offline. Over the years, I’ve found a lot of great courses that can be helpful in both your personal and professional life. Another benefit is that I am able to reimburse expenses related to the professional courses (up to a limit, of course), so I max out that benefit every year and load up with helpful courses. Check out Udemy for interesting online courses and then download the app once you’ve purchased a few.
Reading. I have to be in the right mood to enjoy reading on the train, but if you read via Kindle (or Kindle app) I’ve found the iPhone Kindle app to be enjoyable. It also does a stellar job at keeping in sync between your phone and Kindle. It’s easy to open up the app and get a few pages of reading done anywhere I’m with my phone. The changes sync back to my iPad, which is where I read most of my books. Until recently it had never occurred to me to read on my iPhone, as I assumed the screen would be too small, but it works quite well.
Answering Emails / Planning Your Day. Another favorite use of commuting time is answering simple emails and planning my day. Even though I do not have access to WiFi, I like to process my inbox in the morning or evening, archiving old email and responding to any messages that do not require much length. Sent messages queue in the outgoing mailbox and will send once I get above ground without any further action on my part.
Time Entries. Time entries are awful. I haven’t met a lawyer enjoys them. Everyone knows that it’s best to do your time entries as soon as possible, yet nobody wants to spend an extra minute entering their time. I hope you’ve come up with a good system for keeping track of your time. If needed, I sometimes complete time entries on the subway during my commute. I do this by recording the bits of text that I will use in the eventual time entry on my phone for further processing later. It doesn’t hurt to take five minutes during the commute to do a mental scan of actions items worked on during the day and offload them into a text document for cleaning up later.
Listen to Articles On Pocket. Pocket is a great “read it later” application that allows you to save and collect the various articles you come across throughout the day for later reading. The app also supports a Talk-To-Text function that reads the article to you. It’s not that bad and a good way to get through articles that you have been saving to read but haven’t found the time to do so.
Write a First Draft. Often the hardest part of getting any writing done, is putting words to paper. If you’re on a train and have enough space to type something out on your phone, it’s surprisingly effective to just start writing. Most of what you write may not be usable, but there will be some gems and you’ll find it easier to edit a rough draft rather than drafting something from scratch.
Check in with your team. Chances are pretty good that you should be delegating tasks to subordinates, even if you are a first-year associate (think secretaries, paralegals, word processing and office print services). Using your commute to check in with them is a productive way to spend your time. The people on your team can get started on a small project, get a document ready for you to review, prepare the binder you’ve been meaning to prepare, etc.
What about you? What do you do to make your commute productive? Any specific tips for lawyers?