Disha Chhabra launched a parallel career in writing during her commutes. The 35-year-old Bengaluru-based product manager was working in Delhi at the time and would spend a long time travelling to office on the Metro or in a cab. “I finished writing two of my three novels back-to-back during this commute over just two years," she says. Now that her workplace, Amazon, is a 15-minute walk away, she says her writing has suffered. Chhabra almost misses her travel time, a stark departure from how most of us feel about commutes.

Long commuting hours are notorious productivity killers. According to 2016 figures from statistics portal Statista, the average Indian employee spends 44 minutes a day travelling to work. Studies over the years have demonstrated that people with long commutes are more exhausted and less productive, and have lower job satisfaction.

This is an absolute waste of time and energy, and is, without doubt, frustrating. In fact, many physical issues like bad posture and back pain, and mental health issues like stress, can be attributed to long commutes and traffic jams. “It is a fact that people with long transit times suffer from disproportionate pain, stress, obesity and dissatisfaction. It also makes them unhappy and depletes their energy," says Bhakti Thakkar Bauva, consultant clinical psychologist, Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai. “Plus their productivity at work suffers," she adds.

But Chhabra says there is a way to turn this on its head. When you can’t shorten or eliminate your commute, try to make the most of it by doing something worthwhile. “You can temper that frustration by focusing on what you can control—that is how you spend your time during the trip," says Kersi Chavda, psychiatrist, PD Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai. “Even small tweaks can improve your commuting experience, making the journey less gruelling and more enjoyable—particularly if you are taking public transport," he adds.

Research by Jon Jachimowicz at Columbia Business School has shown that people who engage in work-related thinking and planning, and the steps they need to take to achieve their career goals, handle the stresses of a commute or a journey better than those who let their minds wander aimlessly. He found that individuals who resisted temptations that can undermine efforts to achieve longer-term goals (such as checking Facebook instead of doing work) and used the time to engage in work-related prospection and planning fared better.

Bengaluru-based author and product manager Disha Chhabra finished writing two of her three novels while commuting. Photo: Nagesh Polali/Mint
Bengaluru-based author and product manager Disha Chhabra finished writing two of her three novels while commuting. Photo: Nagesh Polali/Mint

Dr Chavda says a long commute can be a good time to transition from home-mode to work-mode. Setting rituals for the commute, like checking and updating the weekly work calendar, is a good idea to save time in office. Answering routine emails is another option. “Or, you can use the time learning something new or updating your knowledge," he says. Bengaluru-based Siddhartha Kotru, a 34-year-old senior program manager at Amazon, does exactly that. He spends most of his 1 hour, 15 minutes travel time (each way in the office cab) catching up on industry articles posted on LinkedIn and questions on Quora. “They help me stay updated and are a great way to solve a lot of work-related queries," he says.

Beyond passive media consumption, you might use the time to learn a new language via audiotape or take up a new hobby, such as knitting or crocheting. According to Bauva one can also write (on your phone/ iPad/diary); it could be a blog, poetry, or daily diary entry. This helps vent feelings, organize thoughts better, reflect and introspect.

You can also engage in relaxing activities that help reduce stress, such as reading a book or listening to music, podcasts or audio books. Delhi-based senior marketing professional Pallavi Walia travels 1.5 hours each way, five days a week to Gurugram. Walia, 36, says she hated this time on the road at first but doesn’t mind it so much now. She uses the time to catch up on movies or shows on Netflix. “I also catch up on pending tasks like paying bills, and ordering stuff for home online so that once I am home, I am able to spend quality time with my family," she says.

You can also use your commute to reach out to others. “Commuting can be a very solitary pursuit and one of the downsides of long travel to and from work is that it can be lonely. That is why this the perfect time to catch up with your mother, your best friend, or just someone you haven’t spoken to for a while, or maybe even a co-commuting stranger," advises Bauva. According to a study by behavioural scientists Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago and Juliana Schroeder of the University of California at Berkeley, even talking to strangers can improve well-being. So, if you take public transportation, consider taking off your headphones and flouting the unwritten rule against chitchat. You can indulge in conversations pertaining to ongoing projects at work. “It can work as a consumer dipstick on what fellow commuters feel about a particular product, besides of course helping them pass time," Bauva says.

Being able to choose sensibly what to do with time leads to greater well-being and productivity and lower levels of stress. So, try to tune out the negatives of commuting and think of it as an opportunity to recharge.

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Work on your well-being

Practise mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness is the act of being in the present. It has an impact on both physical and mental health. Listen to guided mindfulness meditation clips (available on YouTube). This can be done while you are in a cab, train, bus. And it can be done both standing or sitting.

Play engaging games: Play games like chess and sudoku on your phone as these help improve attention and concentration.

Relax: We are all hard-pressed for time and sleep deprived; use the commute time to relax and get a short nap (power nap). It will give you a boost of energy.

—Bhakti Thakkar Bauva, and Kersi Chavda

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