Ah the dreaded commute. Research shows that across the globe, people commute an average of 38 minutes each way—but for some of us, this can well and truly extend to 60 minutes plus (looking at you, Sydney traffic). Whether you drive, catch the train or get the bus, there’s no denying that long work commutes absolutely suck, despite it being a chance to listen to the latest podcasts, enjoy a coffee, or, if you’re taking public transport, get on top of some life admin, read a book or even nap. But, as this new study conducted by Harvard Business School suggests, a long commute can actually lead to a more productive day—if you do it right. The reason for this? Researchers propose that commutes serve as a transition between home and work roles—and, because employees hold no defined role during this time, lengthy commutes keep employees in limbo between their home and work roles for longer, which gives rise to aversively experienced role ambiguity. Integrating theories of boundary work, self-control, and work-family conflict, the three-part study looked at the correlation between how people are impacted by their travel times and what they do throughout them. The study found that employees who engage in “role-clarifying prospection” are less likely to be negatively affected by lengthy commutes to work.
Role-clarifying prospection, according to the study, refers to “taking time to get yourself into a mental space in which you are more capable of the tasks and goals ahead of you, not one that allows you to temporarily escape from them.” The study further discovered that employees with higher levels of self-control are more likely to engage in role-clarifying prospection, and employees who experience higher levels of work-family conflict are more likely to benefit from role-clarifying prospection. Jon Michael Jachimowicz, an incoming Assistant Professor at Harvard Business School and one of the researchers on the report, told Forbes that “the best way to capitalize on your commute time is to set goals, strategize, and focus on the day ahead.” The issue raised here is that many people use it as a window of time to allow themselves to mentally escape the stress of their day, rather than actively prepare for it. “Although commuting is typically seen as an undesirable part of the workday, our theory and results point to the benefits of using it as an opportunity for transitioning into a different role,” the researchers state.
Want to make the most out of your commute? Get in the zone by tuning in to an inspiring podcast, try journaling, listen to a guided meditation or simply just be with your own thoughts—whatever helps set you up for a more productive and successful day.