12 Things Successful People Do on Their Commutes

Updated: Mar. 16, 2022

You could squander time on Facebook, or you could take a tip from how these successful people think.


Can commuting be good for you?

According to a 2012 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, people with longer commutes had higher blood pressure, bigger waistlines, and were less fit than those who worked closer to home. Swedish research from the year before found that couples in which at least one partner commutes long distance are 40 percent more likely to separate than other twosomes. What to do? We turned to time-management guru Laura Vanderkam, author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, and other experts for advice. (Watch out for these signs that your commute is making you sick.)

* This writer has a 120-minute commute each way. She is very grateful for e-books.


They set that day’s goals

In a LinkedIn blog post, Thomas Oppong, author of Building Smarter Habits, notes that successful people begin with the end in mind—they know what they wish to accomplish. “Start your day by working on the projects that inspire you most and you will be more productive and achieve your goal faster whilst minimizing procrastination,” he says.


They make time for personal growth

Instead of defaulting to checking work email, Vanderkam recommends asking yourself, “‘What do I want to accomplish? What can I do now that I’m having trouble making time for elsewhere?’” she says. “Use your commute for personal time.” She frequently hears people miss reading for fun, and recommends audio or e-books. “You can ‘read’ the entire Odyssey in three weeks,” Vanderkam notes.


They use the time as exercise

One Archives of Internal Medicine study a few years ago found that the 16 percent of commuters who walked or biked to work were less likely to be overweight and had healthier levels of blood pressure, triglycerides, and insulin. Work may improve too: In one British study, employees reported being more productive on days they exercised compared to days they didn’t. If you can only swing it once a week, that’s better than never. For rail or bus riders, get off a few stops early for a bonus 15-minute stroll.


They take their time getting from A to B

It sounds counterintuitive—wouldn’t you want your travel time to be as short as possible? Productivity coach Hillary Rettig has a surprisingly different perspective. “When people are commuting, they’re most likely rushing,” she told FastCompany.com, and that act will lower happiness and increase stress. “Leaving early is empowering,” says Rettig. “You have more of a sense of control. For example, you can stop and pick up coffee on the way if you wish. You’ll immediately feel a sense of relief.” (These are the daily habits of naturally productive people.)


They network and socialize

Carpooling isn’t just about saving on gas and tolls. Although scheduling may be challenging, “driving to work with a friend turns wasted time into a date,” says Vanderkam, noting that even a little inconvenience may be worth the mood-boosting effects you’ll reap. If your fellow passenger is a mentor whose brain you can pick, or a colleague you can discuss work projects with, Vanderkam noted on Oprah.com, your commute can even improve your work productivity.


They get smarter

Successful commuters seek mental enrichment from downloaded university coursework; Vanderkam likes the accessible lectures from The Great Courses, which are taught by credentialed college professors. “Language has been around longer than writing. Listening is how we originally learned,” notes Vanderkam, who once listened to most of Shakespeare on a filing job at a reference library. (These are things you should be doing all day long for a better nights rest.)


They actively seek inspiration

Listening to and observing those around you generates ideas that could help your work—especially for creative types. “By simply keeping your eyes and ears open while you travel, you can get a grasp of what people are reading/wearing/listening to,” notes Paul Ellet on the popular Successful Blog, adding that “this kind of rough insight can also help your approach, simply by giving you tips for conversation to break the ice.”


They enhance their romance

No time for date night, or bored with traditional romantic ideas? If you and your partner can drive to work together—and again, it doesn’t have to be every day—then that quiet time helps you two reconnect away from the kids, errands, and housework. (These everyday habits could add five years to your life.)


They bond with their kids

Does your commute start with dropping the children off? Celebrate that time instead of treating it like another To-Do in the daily grind, says Vanderkam. Enjoy having random conversations (when neither of you is on the phone), singing along to the radio, or really listening to them without being distracted by schedules or chores.


They work out the details for the big picture

What’s the next major move coming up in your life? The solitude of a solo car commute is idea for practicing an important presentation or preparing for a tough conversation like negotiating for a raise or trying out answers for tricky job interview questions. “You only get one chance, so carefully rehearse what you want to say,” says Vanderkam. While commuting, you can also think up and articulate responses to potential questions or problems to cut down on surprises.


They plan for inevitable delays

“What makes us stressed is not having a plan,” says Vanderkam, noting that the worst parts of commuting are those out of your control, like traffic or a stalled train. Successful people email an assistant or colleague that they’re running late; if you do, too, it can make you feel less tense and anxious as the minutes tick by. If you’ll be really late, mentally re-prioritize what needs to get done immediately so you can get to it as soon as you reach the office.


They organize the night before

Instead of sprinting to the door in a morning panic (“where are my keys?”), successful people carve out 15 minutes at night to prepare for the next day. Set up breakfast, pack lunches, get your work bag organized, pick out your and your kids’ outfits, and track down your keys. If you leave the house feeling organized and calm, your commute will be smoother, too. Also try these morning habits of successful people.