WELLNESS
09/30/2016 10:58 am ET Updated Sep 30, 2016

The Case For The Power Commute Is Stronger Than You'd Think

Your commute can actually make your life better if you know how to use it.
Compassionate Eye Foundation/Steven Errico via Getty Images

What kind of commuter are you? The Napper? The Newspaper Reader? The Angry Birds Player? So many of us are trying to figure out how to make our commutes shorter, thinking that’s what will make it less miserable. 

But don’t sign a new lease on a slightly closer apartment just yet. 

Preliminary research shows that if you use your commute as an opportunity to relax, think purposefully and prepare for the workday ahead, you’ll emerge from the subway less stressed than if you listened to music or read a book, according to the Association for Psychological Science. 

Doctoral student Jon Jachimowicz of Columbia Business School and Julia Lee of Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan “challenge the widespread assumption that lengthy commutes are bad for job-related outcomes for all employees” in a new working paper.  

The study authors gathered 154 working adults in the United Kingdom and randomly split them into two groups. One group received a text message at 8:30 a.m. every Monday with instructions for engaging in goal-setting thought exercises during their commute. The other group received a morning text to spend their commute as usual, such as reading a book or listening to music. Commute times ranged from half an hour to two hours. 

After six weeks, Jachimowicz and Lee found that individuals who engaged in “future reflection” ― meaning they used the time to set workday or personal goals ― felt less stressed and happier with their jobs than the group that commuted as usual, who showed no benefits at all. 

This is not to say that if you’d simply rather use your commute time to chill and zone out, you shouldn’t. It’s important to unplug from the workplace and let your mind wander, and other activities, like journaling, also carry proven benefits.

But the study is just evidence that for some, using downtime is a good opportunity to get prepared mentally for the day or week ahead. It might even make you more optimistic, according to the study. 

We say commute in the way that makes you feel best. Maybe a to-do list on the way to work, Kindle on the way home? Best of both worlds! 

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