5 Ways commuting tricks can reclaim days

Average American spends 12 days commuting

By Barb Besteni, Staff writer
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How would you like to add 25 work days to your year? Sound impossible? Maybe, but, if you are like most commuters, maybe not.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans spend an average of 25 minutes a day commuting each way to work. That daily total of 50 minutes doesn't even include traffic jams, detours, errands or any other stops along the way.

Even if you factor in sick days, vacation time and holidays, that still amounts to around 200 hours a year -- or the equivalent of 25 eight-hour work days -- spent getting to and from work. But as we said earlier, that time doesn't have to be considered lost.

Here are a few suggestions to help you reclaim that lost time.

No. 5: Use the radio

Get caught up on the news. Find out how your favorite sports team is doing. Listen to a talk radio show.

Remember that taking your eyes off the road to station surf while driving can lead to an accident. So, stick with one station or wait until you're stopped to change it.

Of course, there's more than talking on the airwaves. In the 1970s, a catchy song by the Carpenters urged us to "sing out loud, sing out strong." Try it in your car. Not only will it help pass the time, it's good for you.

"Studies have linked singing with a lower heart rate, decreased blood pressure and reduced stress," says Patricia Preston-Roberts, a board-certified music therapist in New York City.

So, while everyone else's blood pressure is going up during a traffic jam, you're expanding your lung capacity and having fun.

No. 4: 'Read' a book

Only the most careless commuters would consider actually reading a book on the way to work. Luckily, for everybody on the road, there are such things as audiobooks.

"The only thing I miss about the NYC subways is my reading time," says Bob Shanley, a former New Yorker who now commutes 45 minutes each way from his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to his office in downtown Miami. Shanley, who says he used to read a book a week, now "reads" in the car.

"I never thought I'd enjoy books on CD, but I've gotten very attached to them," he says. "I've gotten some of my friends hooked on the concept, and now we get together every couple of weeks to trade CDs."

Whether you use CDs, a connection to listen to books downloaded to your MP3 player or even the old fashioned books on tape, you'll find the hours melting away.

No. 3: Get things done

You can also use the time in the car to plan your day. Make a mental checklist and prioritize what you want to accomplish, both at work and after your workday is over.

"I even visualize a possible crisis and plan strategies to overcome it," says Tim Gordon, a veterinarian whose days are often interrupted with emergencies.

Some things you can even take care of from the car. You know those people you've been meaning to call but never have the time? Commuting gives you the time. Whether it's your mom, an old college roommate, or a friend you haven't caught up with in a while, somebody is waiting to hear from you.

And if you can't talk to others, talk to yourself. Rehearse that presentation you're about to give, practice asking for a raise, work out problems you've been facing, or give yourself a motivational pep talk.

No. 2: Spiritual growth

"I know it sounds corny, but I talk to God in the car," says Shanley. "I also do life evaluations, goal evaluations and think about the big picture questions like, 'Am I on track with my life? Why am I here? Where am I going?'"

Shanley admits he doesn't always find answers to his questions before his commute is over, but he enjoys adding what he calls a spiritual element to his drive.

"Every time someone cuts me off, instead of getting mad, I send them a blessing and a prayer," he says.

You can also think of your commute as the alone time you've been craving. Welcome it as a time to think, dream and work on your goals. No screaming kids, no nagging spouse, no barking dogs ... just you.

No. 1: Fill your tanks

Breakfast is often said to be the most important meal of the day. But when you're pressed for time, it's one of the first things you neglect to do.

While you don't want to be gobbling down a full meal behind the wheel, swerving from lane to lane as you wrestle with that bowl of cereal or stack of pancakes, you can still fill up without be a hazard to everybody sharing the road.

Prepare something healthy the night before and grab it to go in your car. That way you won't get stuck in the line at the drive-through with everyone else who decided to eat on the road.

Consider some fresh grapes or some raisins. Try a handful of almonds. Perhaps a smoothie you can drink through a straw will sate your appetite. Just about anything healthy and easy to eat while keeping your attention the road and that nasty morning traffic jam will do.

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