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How To Maximize Your Work Commute

Regardless of how you choose to use your to and from work commutes, the following can help you make the most of your travel time.

Workin' Girl

When I first received the job offer for my current full-time job, I was hesitant to accept. This commute was much longer than the seven-to-ten-minute commute I was used to. I now had to travel down two interstates to get to work. Now, I know this has nothing on the folks who take two subways, three buses, and walk four blocks to get to their jobs, however, living in New Haven, CT, it's an annoying idea to swallow. Was I really about to do this?

Yes. I was. I did.

I quit the job that was around the corner from my house and accepted an offer for a job I had to drive through three towns to which to get. It was the best job decision I made. Not just because of the position, but because the increased commute time made me even more productive. My new travel time helped maximize my productivity; by forcing me to wake up earlier and journey further, I ended up having more time on my hands. Time I learned how to manage during my commute.

So, how do I maximize my commute times to be more productive? We've become a society of multi-tasking, which is a wonderful thing for making the most of my new commute time. Recognizing that my ride to work could be used for more than just the commute changed everything about that journey. Instead of just listening to music, I began utilizing silence to think, brainstorm, and set my day up for success.

Once I mastered the art of safely multi-tasking, I decided to break my commutes into the two different journeys — one to work, and the other from work. Each commute allows me to maximize my productivity in two very different ways. On my way to work, I do things that help set the precedence for my day. I prepare myself for the work of the day ahead, and mentally check-in to work mode even before I arrive. I do things like pray, check my emails, and listen to an inspirational podcast that puts me in the mood to grind the day out. On my journey home from work, I unwind and fully check-out — refusing to bring anything from work home with me. I process the day, mentally review any pending items, and release any stressors that may affect any post-work activities. This is how I manage a healthy work-life balance.

Regardless of how you choose to use your to and from work commutes, the following can help you make the most of your travel time.

Pray.

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While I make it a point to pray before even leaving the house, sometimes I just can't get to it. On those mornings, I drive to work in silence and dedicate the entire commute to prayer. I express gratitude for the job I'm traveling to, express gratefulness for God's consistent guidance, and thank Him for all He's done thus far. I then begin to ask Him to guide my day and to handle all the battles that may come my way. Starting my day in this way keeps me centered for all that may come when I enter the office. It reminds me to focus on God through every obstacle the day may bring, and it gives me the peace I need to begin each day productively and purposefully.

Check Emails.

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Checking my emails on the way to work helps me eliminate anxiety. I don't typically enjoy going into anything completely blind. By checking my inbox before I arrive to work, I'm aware of the fires I may experience walking in the door; it gives me a great head-start to some of the interactions and problem-solving I'd have to focus on. It also gives me a great starting point for what I need to conquer first – allowing me to make my mental to-do list.

Create your To-Do list.

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There's no reason you must wait until you get to work to start identifying what you must do. Thinking about the pending items on my way to work helps me to focus in on my day's top priorities before I get weighed down with the priorities of others. During my morning commute, I make a mental to-do list of items that must be completed on that day (for the sake of my own mental wellbeing). I usually settle on 3-4 tasks, which leaves enough space on the list for interruptions and last-minute emergencies. Doing so gives me a wonderful starting place and allows me to hit the ground running when I arrive to work – that is, after I make my morning tea.

Reflect.

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Reflecting can be you assessing your morning mood, setting intentions, or just thinking critically about what's going on in your personal life. Using your commute time to reflect is a wonderful opportunity to process how you feel and determine how you plan to show up for yourself on any given day. It also allows you to get your mind right before having to deal with pesky coworkers or daunting job tasks. Typically, I use my morning reflection time for intention setting and my evening reflection time to affirm what I've done in my 8-hours of work. This helps me to start my day deliberately, and to end it with positivity.

Listen to a Podcast/Audiobook or Read a Relevant Article.

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They say it's important to spend at least five hours per week learning something new. Podcasts and articles are one of the many ways I do so. Dedicating my 20-30 minute commute to consuming educational content, ensures that I'm making the most of my travel time, and not completely slacking on my self-work. Whether you tune in to your favorite podcast, listen to an audiobook, or read a new article on your favorite site, fitting in a form of education and entertainment is imperative – especially on the days you feel you don't have the time to do either.

Check in on Your Side Projects.

This is particularly useful for those dedicated to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Utilizing your commute time to check in on freelance projects allows you to tackle some of the more mundane tasks before you get home and 'clock in' to your second source of income. Make your last-minute phone calls, respond to quick e-mails, check on the status of pending items, and brainstorm for your next project before you even arrive home. Doing so helps to cut down on the time you spend doing this work and frees up some home time to actually enjoy…home.

Decompress.

Critical to ensuring you leave your work at work, decompressing is the post-work version of reflecting. Decompressing allows you to process what happened in the day and allows you to think about the pending items that you didn't get a chance to complete. It gives you one last moment to unload your thoughts from work, so you don't bring it home with you. It's a great opportunity to vent to yourself about the day's struggles, reflect on the new things you learned today, and allows you to affirm the work you did.

Phone a Friend.

If you're anything like me, after a long day of work the last thing you want to do when you get home is talk to anyone for at least 30 minutes. Using your commute time to check on your friends and share your latest frustrations is a good way to ensure your home time can be dedicated to your at-home routines. It's also a great way to nurture your relationships without them getting lost in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. Whether it's cooking, spending time with your children or spouse, or simply taking a shower and relaxing, marking off these non-work items during your commute home can free up some space in your hectic schedule for actual you-time at home. I use my after work commute in the best way I can to ensure that once I get home, my time will be my time.

Regardless of what your commuting situation is like, there have been quite a few things I've learned on my fantastic voyages to and from work. In the past year and a half, I've learned how to make the most of my commute and maximize my productivity doing so. Mixing my work commutes with professional productivity, relationship building, and self-care ensures that I have a balanced routine long before the day is over.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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