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Finding Productivity on the Commute

As you might have noticed it's been a long time since my last post. Work has been incredibly busy over the last few months trying to get new workflows running for the new year, while going out on productions, training staff, late nights and day to day stuff, so finding time for the blog has been difficult. By the time I'm home, all I've been concerned about is having dinner and getting enough sleep to get through the next day. That is until recently, when I started spending my commute more productively. Up until a few weeks ago I used to wake up each day exhausted and just use the train journey as an extra hour and a bit to catch some more sleep. I'm now reading articles, reflecting on my day, and drawing when I can. Here's what I've found works for me:

Stay Disconnected

I used to spend a lot of time on my commute flicking through Flipboard on my phone or iPad reading news articles, scrolling through Twitter and Instagram and scraping through my Facebook to find interesting content. When you're on a train journey that runs through countryside and tunnels, I found that my 3G coverage cuts in and out a lot and if I'm trying to load a page or a video online and I lose my signal, I find myself staring at the signal indicator until I get the 3G back and get annoyed that I have to wait. Being stressed by technology isn't really the best way to start a work day, and it doesn't help when you are trying to unwind after a tough day. Since I realised this, I'm now switching off when on my commutes to have a disconnected 2 hours a day to prepare me for work and to wind me down after a long day. If you can, I recommend switching to Airplane mode on your device and treat your journey like you are on a flight, or if your in a position where you may get important calls during the time you are travelling, think about switching off your data instead. This will stop you from checking up on social media and give you some time to clear your head.

Stop impulsive Googling

If disconnecting completely is too difficult to do, or you need to be online, use some self restraint and avoid using the internet as your instant answer book. Maybe not everyone experiences this but when I'm sitting on the train wondering about something, I will open up my browser and search for it, looking for an answer. For some things this fine, but other times I find myself spending half a train journey searching and reading about things like Raspberry Pi projects or Home Theatre PC set ups (got to say I'm a bit of a geek) and other things I don't really have time for. Instead of searching stuff straight away I won't open up Google but just make a note of what I wanted to search, either in a notebook or in Evernote, so that I have a record of what my thought was for a more sensible time to find out more about it, or just have the thought written down somewhere in case I ever want to go back to it.

Block out the Sounds

One of the big problems I find with commuting on a train is the noise. There's chatty commuters who fit catching up on their whole lives into an hour and a half, the posh voice of the train announces the next stop, the ticket checker, the driver updating you on a-bit-too-frequent delays, and the noise of the train itself. All of these noises together create a soundscape that makes concentration pretty difficult. There are a couple of solutions here:

  • Noise cancelling headphones – Last year I got the chance to borrow a pair of noise cancelling headphones from a friend of mine and used them on the train. I found that a good pair of noise cancelling headphones will get rid of all the unwanted sound and leave you with a quiet environment to get productive with less distractions. Although the headphones I got to borrow were great at cutting out the sound, I found that they weren't very comfortable after a short period of time, which I really felt when I took them off at the end of a 90 minute train journey. The other disadvantage of good noise cancelling headphones is the cost. Last time I looked, which was around the time I borrowed a pair, they were considerably more expensive than standard over the ear headphones on the market. If you do have the budget, or reckon it's a worthy investment, I recommend getting a pair of noise cancelling headphones to help keep you focussed on your commute.
  • Get some great tunes – if you're using noise cancelling headphones or standard ones, you'll want some good music to listen to on your way to and from work. Music is great for motivation and blocking out unwanted sounds. I tend to stick on a Spotify playlist and listen to that on on the journey. The some of playlists they offer in the Discover area are great for listening to on your way to and from work, they even have a Travel category for such a thing, with a few playlists aimed at Commutes. Spotify has a lot to offer for listening while you're keeping busy, but you can always create your own offline playlist, or keep in retro and make mix tape.

Take Some Time Out

It's great being productive on your commute but at the same time you don't want to overdo it. You don't want to work yourself too hard in the morning and then run low on energy and motivation once you get to work. Wearing yourself out on the journey home isn't a great idea either, you'll end up being tired by the time you get home and want to go straight to sleep, which isn't great for your social life, your work/life balance or your mental health. Sometimes its a good to just look out the window, and switch off. Not only do you give yourself some time and space to clear your head, taking your eyes off a screen is good for your eyes. Ultimately, how productive you are on your commute is down to your own motivation, and finding things to do that are practical in the environment you are in. But if you find some key things that you can do, and stick to doing them every journey, they'll soon become habits and you'll find yourself with some extra time that you are spending on the things you want to do. Do you commute? What do you with your journey? If you've got any of your own tips for being productive on your commute, share them in the comments below.