How I shook up my work commute for a week


Instead of wasting time on my work commute, I decided to try something new. Here's what happened.

Editor's note: Could simply adding an enriching or challenging activity – or giving up a bad habit or dependency – really make an impact on your workday? The CareerBuilder writers decided to find out: We each picked one thing to add on or give up for one workweek to see how it affected our workplace productivity, mood and success. We'll be blogging about our experiences throughout the next several weeks (that is, if we make it through the challenge in one piece).

Mornings generally aren't my thing – although since having a daughter six months ago, they've become more "my thing" by default. Still, after showering, chugging coffee and getting an earful of Howard Stern on satellite, sometimes I'm so drained all I want to do once I step foot into the train is zone out (and to NOT smell the armpit of the guy next to me as it rests dangerously close to my face, but you know, sometimes we don't get what we want). Yet, zoning out often consists of staring off into space, browsing the Internet and emails, texting, and doing more useless "checking" of things that really aren't that important. Though I may think this is "relaxing," I often exit my commute feeling restless and more stressed than before.

So, on last week's commute, I decided to try something new. Instead of wasting time on my half an hour commutes to and from work that I'd never get back, what if I tried to better myself by learning something new each day? I did, and here's how it went.

(Note: For variety's sake, and with the aim of enriching myself from a personal and professional perspective, I designated a different "theme" for each day. The full list of what I read or listened to would be a bit long, so below is a highlight or two from each day.)

Monday: Professional Development Focus

I opted to dive right in and focus on professional development first. I've been writing about work-life balance lately, and I had saved a bunch of articles I hadn't yet gotten around to reading yet, so I caught up on topics like "The Workplace Culture Flying Nannies Won't Fix" and "You Really Don't Need to Work So Much." I read up on things like how Jessica Alba built up a $1 billion company. I also found a new love: Business Radio on SiriusXM. The station offers everything from their women@work series to career advice and investing advice, and I've been soaking it up like a sponge.

My take: A business or industry-specific podcast is a great way to brush up on the latest developments in your field or gain some general business acumen. And the work commute is a perfect excuse to actually read all those smartie-pants articles you've bookmarked (and then casually drop some knowledge on your peers while lingering around the break room).

Tuesday: Business and News Focus

My co-workers had recently recommended theSkimm's email newsletter, which sums up news in a really fun, digestible format. After checking this out, I went to The New York Times to browse, and ended up seeing a sign-up option for NYT Now's Morning Briefing emails, which sum up U.S. and world news in a more serious, but still super-digestible way. Score!

As I was catching up on the morning news, I suddenly felt an elbow digging into my side, and I looked over at my headphone-clad seat mate to see him laughing uncontrollably. I tried to peer over at his iPhone screen to see what he was listening to that was so funny, but I couldn't quite make it out (so it will unfortunately forevermore remain a mystery to all of us). It did, however, give me the idea for Wednesday's focus… comedy!

My take: My methods of getting news are often haphazard -- or at least it feels that way as I hop all over the Internet and attempt to make sense of the craziness. Having not one, but two dedicated news feeds delivered to my inbox that perfectly sum up everything I need to know for the day is invaluable to me. Now, this is the first thing I catch up on when I start my commute each day.

Wednesday: Comedy Focus

!s it true that listening to comedy before and after work improves one's mood? I intended to find out. I decided to listen to a few stand-up bits by comedians I liked already (like Aziz Ansari) and ones I hadn't listened to as much (like George Carlin). And I became that person on the train who got a few raised eyebrows, and maybe a glare or two. But I didn't care -- because it felt good to laugh, and because it really transported me into the comedian's world (and away from the day-to-day stresses).

My take: So, can listening to comedy improve one's mood? For me, the answer is a resounding yes. Listening to great comedy can, much like a compelling novel or spoken-word story, take us to another place entirely. And sometimes, that's just what we need. I found that I arrived at work in better spirits and that little things that normally may have gotten under my skin really didn't. And laughing out loud (much like my friendly train neighbor the day before) on the way home helped me to get my mind off all the to-do lists or pressures of the day and feel refreshed when it was time to come home and be with my family, which I have found is vital to maintaining a balanced, happy life.

Thursday: Personal Growth Focus

When it comes to personal organization, I feel like my belongings are in a constant state of disarray. I've heard, and I find to be true, that when your home is organized, it helps YOU feel more organized. Everyone around me seems to be buzzing about "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo, so I bought it the condensed version with the author's "rules," which I didn't realize until after wasn't actually written by her. It was a perfect read for my short window of time, though, and I plan on reading the actual book next (and then tackling home organization head-on).

My take: Looking inward and focusing on improving ourselves, whether it be through better organization, or eating healthier, or learning things as varied as how to play the guitar or how to build confidence in everyday life are great goals -- but they're also easy to put off, saying "I want to do that sometime." Investing in ourselves can be difficult when we're pulled in so many directions, but it's really important to do, and the (relatively uninterrupted) commute is a perfect time for some "me time."

Friday: Leisure Focus

Reading for pleasure is one of my favorite pastimes, but I've convinced myself I'm too busy lately to take on a novel, so real reading keeps getting put on the back burner. For the last day of my experiment, I dug into "What the Lady Wants" by Renee Rosen, a historical novel set around 19th century Chicago and retail titan Marshall Fields -- the current choice of the book club I hadn't yet found the time to attend.

My take: This felt indulgent for me, as I haven't made time to get lost in a book lately that wasn't related to something for my job. I've been a huge reader most all of my life, so making it a priority is really important for me to feel like my life is in balance. Though the work commute provides a limited amount of time to get into a good book, it can give you something to look forward to on your way to and from work. A nice alternative to road rage, no?

Next week's commute – and what I learned

I really liked this experiment, and found that it benefited not only my mind, but my mood, my perspective and my productivity. I no longer felt like I was wasting valuable time twice a day, but instead using an hour each day to better myself personally and professionally. It's hard to balance work and life, and this experiment stressed to me that being busy means I need to work with the time I have in creative ways, because the payoff can be huge. Doing this also made me follow through on some things I've meant to do -- for instance, I finally went to that book club I'd been declining invitations to, and I've been reading more for fun again. I've made my news feeds a daily habit, and reading more about topics I want to write more about, like work-life balance and parental leave, is sparking new ideas for putting pen to paper.

I'm motivated to continue to use my commute time in other interesting ways. Next on the list? I want to learn French with an app like Duolingo, and check out the Hard Core History podcast.

I encourage everyone to try this on their daily commute – whether that commute is by train, or car, or bike – or your own two feet. You may learn something new about yourself, or your career, or life itself. You'll likely be in better spirits. And you'll most certainly feel more refreshed, productive and ready to face the day.

And I encourage that guy with the B.O. to try some deodorant. But you can't win 'em all.