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Three Ways Commuting Can Enhance your Creativity

If you have a commute longer than 15 minutes, you’ve probably dreamed about living within walking distance.

Maybe you’ve added up the hours you’d save in a week if you didn’t have to drive or take the subway. Maybe you’ve resented your job for demanding even more of your time that could otherwise be spent pursuing other interests. Maybe you’d prefer to be exercising, grocery shopping, or spending time with your children instead of commuting. We’ve all been there.

But did you know that there’s a silver lining to commuting?

Photo Credit: CC By Slightly Everything

Photo Credit: CC By Slightly Everything

The damaging effects of commuting were recently profiled in the New York Times:

Millions of Americans like her pay dearly for their dependence on automobiles, losing hours a day that would be better spent exercising, socializing with family and friends, preparing home-cooked meals or simply getting enough sleep. The resulting costs to both physical and mental health are hardly trivial.

Although commuting can have negative repercussions on our minds and bodies, there’s a silver lining, and it starts with changing your outlook.

Why Complaining Stifles Your Productivity

Commuting is a reality for many of us. It’s easier to complain and wish our circumstances were different, but scrunching your shoulders while you drive, or allowing yourself to be bitter while holding your arm on a pole in the subway isn’t serving your creative life. In fact, it does just the opposite, because a negative attitude can deplete your mental energy.

Instead, view this time as something you can control.

Start by allowing yourself the space to acknowledge your circumstances. Is it ideal? Probably not. Should you spend your waking hours dwelling on it? Probably not. Making peace with your daily commute is the first step in controlling how you spend the precious time.

Next, make a plan. There are a variety of ways commuting can serve you creatively, you just need to shift your mindset to embrace this time as a tool.

Stop using the word can’t. I can’t paint on my commute. I can’t sketch on my commute. I can’t write on my commute. This might be true, but there are many things you can do, so ask yourself this question:

What can I accomplish during my commute that I wouldn’t have space for otherwise?

How to be Creative on a Commute

Although a commute doesn’t allow you to sit at your desk or work in your studio, it does offer certain advantages. An hour-long bus ride is quiet time perfect for reading. A thirty mile drive is free of distractions from your home life, perfect for problem solving.

Here are a few ways to make your commute work for you.

1. Education.  Don’t be idle during your commute. Put a book on tape into your car’s stereo, listen to a podcast, or learn a new language. If you’re not driving, read!

2. Problem solving. When you’re in a creative rut or stalled on your latest project, it helps to distance yourself. Stepping away physically and using your commute time to think through obstacles can often lead to insights that will keep you motivated over the long-term.

3. Daydreaming. When we’re sitting at a desk or meeting with clients all day, we don’t have time to let our minds wander. Commuting is an ideal space for this kind of thinking to to take place. Without the distractions of email, meetings, or the phone ringing, this is your time to think big, brainstorm a new project, and set intentions for your day.

Regardless of your circumstance, it always helps to stay positive. Being intentional about your commute will reframe what’s possible during the hours you spend on the road. You might be surprised at what can be accomplished!

If you’re a commuter, I’d love to hear your strategies for staying creative on the road. Share your thoughts in the comments.

About Nicole Gulotta

Nicole Gulotta is a writer, blogger, content developer, community builder, and good food advocate. She is currently eating her way through Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband and French bulldog. Twitter: @nicolegulotta Blog: Eat This Poem

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  • Charles Ray

    I live in a Maryland suburb of Washington, DC, with a one-hour rail commute into town. I carry a journal and sketchbook with me and use the hour to either do character sketches and notes in my journal, or actual sketches in the sketchbook. Several characters that are in my novels were born during those commutes.

    • Nicole Gulotta

      Charles, you’re a perfect example of how leveraging a commute has benefited your creative life. Sounds like you’ve been really productive!

  • katina vaselopulos

    Great post Nicole! And sorry I haven’t made it to your blog for a while. Life catches up with me and demands my time. Anyway, I am not commuting daily but when I drive I often have an audio book or look around with the intention to catch something that will spark my creativity. Also, I never go to a doctor’s appointment without my journal or a book, often not using either, as I might find something interesting to read there.

    • Nicole Gulotta

      Hi Katina, I’m the same way–there’s always a book or magazine in my purse for appointments. No sense in sitting idle! Have a happy Thanksgiving.

  • Julia Kelly

    I live in New York City, so I take the subway and bus on my commute. I carry a notebook with me at all times and am often scribbling my way through the boroughs. I often treat my 40 minutes on a train and bus as a word sprint. You can get a surprising amount done those in short bursts of time.

    • Nicole Gulotta

      Love that approach Julia! I drive 30 miles each way, so I spend a lot of time problem solving and brainstorming, but if I took the subway I’d definitely use that as writing time.

  • Hi Nichole,
    Those are great tips. I don’t commute, but they’re still great tips for boosting creativity. I love listening to podcasts when I’m outside. Daydreaming is always a great way to boost creativity. I think that as adults we need to set aside more time for that. It came so much more naturally as a child.

    • Nicole Gulotta

      I agree Stacy–it’s so much harder to find this precious time as an adult.

  • Anna Zech

    I liked this post a lot. Great help! Every weekend I go home by train… it takes about four hours. So a lot of time to to something useful. Next time I will try some of your tips 🙂 Thank you