9 tips to commute like you mean it {productivity}

What do you do with the time it takes you to travel between home and work? Or going into town? For most people it is simply a means of getting from point A to point B, and little thought or productivity goes into it.

Yet it is by now well-known that your commuting time offers a vast treasure of opportunities for your day to pack more punch. Your choice: you can zone out in traffic – whether you use a car or public transport – or you can engage in a meaningful way.

For me, public transport is fortunately a fantastic option – and a welcome one! – and I prefer it because it frees me up to focus on other things while getting to my destination. These suggestions work best for that. Many of them can still be adapted for using your own transport as well – always of course bearing in mind that safety and alertness come first.

  1. Educate yourself: Read a book (if you use public transport and are one of those lucky folk who can read in a moving vehicle) or listen to an audio book. Those minutes add up when you use them to educate yourself! If you spend an hour on the road five days of the week, can you imagine how much you will have empowered yourself by the end of a year!?
  2. Plan & review: Use the time to plan your day if you are going into the office, or review your day when you go home. The advantage of this is that you walk into the office knowing what you want to achieve that day, and you walk into your home having already processed the stresses of the work day. Make a voice recording for yourself if you need to.
  3. Pray: Use your commute for prayer time. Yes, you can’t go as deeply into intercession as you would have if you were in your inner room, and this is not meant to replace that private time. As an addition to that time of worship on your knees, though, commuting prayer time offers marvellous scope for bringing the concerns of all your loved ones and the world to God. Or simply talking to Him, the way your kids used to talk to you when they were small and sitting in the back of the car. When I was driving more regularly, prayer time was one of the two things which kept me from road rage.
  4. Listen to music: I mean, really listen. This is the other thing which kept me calm in traffic. For me, spiritual music worked most especially well. But there are days you really just need that immersion into classical music or some good 80s music or the Beach Boys. Whatever you can immerse yourself in and which touches your spirit. If you want to make a challenge out of it, then set yourself the goal to listen to everything Chopin has ever composed, or Nickelback, or Hans Zimmer … whatever floats your boat!
  5. Create: If you are creatively minded, your commute can even be a time in which you work on stories or blog posts or Toastmasters speeches. Even if you can’t take notes, running through a first or second draft in your mind will mean that once you are at your desk, it will flow so much easier out of your pen.
  6. Memorize: This goes for practising that Toastmasters speech or work presentation you have to give, and also for learning a language or Scripture verse. Whether you are doing it out loud alone in your car or sotto voce on the train, this is one of the best stretches of dedicated time you are going to find to hone your skills. Why not make use of it instead of having to fit it into your day later?
  7. Meditate: Using public transport, this is one of the times I know I can dedicate to a short 20 or 30 minute meditation. There are so many guided meditation apps for Android and iPhone that it is the easiest thing in the world to pop in your head phones, close your eyes, and just become mindful and fall back into yourself.
  8. Notice: Remember when you used to play I Spy With My Little Eye on those long holiday trips as a kid? Have you ever set yourself the goal to notice something new on your trip to the store or to the office every day?
  9. Relax: Sometimes you need to create a little bit of space in your day, too, and the greatest gift you can give yourself is to not follow any of these suggestions, but simply relax, simply BE.

How do you use all the time you spend travelling?

Art by the wonderful Pascal Campion

Art by the wonderful Pascal Campion

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piggybacking {productivity}

Last week I wrote about viewing tasks as full cycles.

Once you have that skill under your belt, there is an additional way in which this can benefit you: by expanding the cycle.

Adding an additional small task into a cycle is one of the easiest ways to build good habits. It is called piggybacking. You take something you want to make into a habit and piggyback it onto an already established habit.

Let’s use making a cup of tea as an example of what a full cycle plus piggyback add-on would look like:

  • Fill kettle, put teabag, sugar and spoon into cup
  • Boil water 
  • Pour water, steep
  • Remove teabag, add milk
  • Place milk back into fridge, spoon into sink, throw teabag away
  • Enjoy tea
  • Rinse cup and put into dishwasher

That is what constitutes a full cycle for tea-making, for me. The diamonds mark the two opportunities in this cycle to add something into it if you want to build a stronger habit. While the water is boiling, you have a few minutes at your disposal where you are probably just hanging around in the kitchen. This is the ideal window for a piggyback addition to the cycle. It could be wiping a counter, decluttering a shelf in the fridge, doing 10 wall push-ups, memorizing a verse of Scripture or a new word in a language you are learning. Or perhaps this is the time you take to connect with someone via a short note from your phone or tablet. The options are as varied as your imagination, needs and goals.

And likewise, while the tea is steeping, you have another small window of opportunity to piggyback a bonus habit onto the cycle. Taking vitamins, taking out the trash, taking something out of the freezer for dinner, updating your shopping list, whatever you can fit into that small window that needs to become a habit.

If you continue focusing on this, soon it will become completely natural for you to make that part of the tea cycle. Or wherever you see the opportunity to creatively make your day and your life easier. I find it easier to keep the bathroom clean since I have resolved to clean something small whenever I go in there. Instead of spending a dedicated amount of time on bathroom cleaning, whenever I visit the restroom I do one small thing: brushing the toilet, wiping the mirror, wiping the counters or windowsill. It means that the bathroom always stays under control and because the whole cleaning routine is broken up into small, widely distributed tasks, it does a lot to keep me free from overwhelm.

Need another example of this skill? Resolve to never leave your car without removing trash or (whatever does not belong there) from it. And when you have nothing left that needs removing, there is still the option to quickly wipe a rag over your dashboard or one of your windows at a time. I even do this while waiting at the stop light. This constitutes a major victory for someone who used to have a car that needed to be hidden from everybody I knew because it was such a dump!

Once you mind starts working in this way, the world opens up to you: you find ways and means to make so much of your day easier and more productive. And that, to me, is just one of the greatest joys possible!

What can you piggyback onto an existing full cycle habit?

Artist unknown

Artist: Leonard Leslie Brooke

full cycle {productivity}

Recently I encountered a stellar piece of advice that has transformed my productivity in exponential leaps and bounds:

Determine the full cycle of a task and don’t stop until you’ve completed it.

It is that simple! Often we don’t have a clear image in our mind of what the complete task actually should be. Let me give a few examples of how this works:

  • Laundry: The full cycle of laundry is only completed once those clean clothes have all been put away. You’re not done when the washing machine is done. Or the dryer. Or the clothes are all (clean) in a hamper. You’re done when everything has been put away.
  • Writing a report: The full cycle needs to include research, typing, editing and proofreading (yes, folks, that’s an important part of it!), and submission before the deadline. It’s not done before that.
  • Travelling: The full cycle is only completed once you have unpacked and put away your luggage and your clothes are in the dirty hamper. For the more organized among us this may go even further and include putting together a packing list for the next journey.
  • That empty toilet roll: No, you can’t just leave it like that. If you used the last square of paper, you have already activated the cycle and you need to complete it. And that doesn’t mean you can just put a new roll on top of the bathroom counter. You are only done when you have put the new roll into the toilet paper holder and disposed of the cardboard core. (This is applicable to anything you finish: the paper in the office photocopier or printer, the milk in the fridge, a light bulb that has gone out, fuel in your car – once something is finished, the cycle has been activated and needs to be completed.)
  • Going to the doctor: The full cycle only ends once you have paid the doctor, gotten the medication from the pharmacy, paid the pharmacist, and – if need be – put reminders in your phone or calendar for when to actually take the medication.
  • Using equipment: Whether you are mowing the lawn, crafting, putting up a picture, taking photographs, making dinner, the rule is the same: the cycle is only completed once you have put away everything again.

Almost everything we touch in our lives consists of cycles. And the beautiful thing is that, as we grow, those cycles grow, too. You can start with a short cycle, and as you become more au fait in this, add on to it.

It has been truly empowering for me to realize this, especially since I can get a bit distracted sometimes, touching and going, and forgetting what I had been busy with. Or just not plain thinking. But I can tell you from the toilet paper situation in my and friends’ homes that clearly I am not the only one who needs this epiphany.

Viewing tasks in terms of full cycles brings with it the immense reward of a feeling of freedom and completeness. There is deep satisfaction in knowing you’re done with this one thing. It has been taken care of, all the loose ends have been tied up, you are free to move on to the next step.

For me, that means there is one less process that is open in my brain, slowing down my processing speed. I can use that released space for something more important. And next time I come into the bathroom and see the toilet paper, I think: ‘Yep! Nailed it!’

It’s the little things that make the biggest difference!