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5 ways you can harness your commute to boost your work-life balance

Tuesday 27 September 2016

In the past decade, the number of people travelling for more than two hours to and from work has gone up by 72% [1] – but that doesn’t need to feel like extra working time. Instead, it can actually be an opportunity to improve your work-life balance and your wellbeing. Sarah Graham asks the experts for their lifestyle tips.

  • Pay attention to the present moment.
  • Give your body and mind a good workout.
  • Reap the benefits of planning ahead.
Lady wearing headphones while waiting for the train

It turns out that someone who travels 45 minutes each way to work will spend two years of their life commuting – so it’s all about making the most of it [2]. With National Work Life Week coming up from 3-7 October 2016, now is the perfect opportunity to redress your work-life balance – and what better time to do it than during your commute? [3]


Be mindful of the world around you

1. Breathe easy

Practicing mindful breathing exercises for as little as 15 minutes a day can increase your productivity and decision-making at work, reduce stress, and improve your work-life balance, according to a recent study that was conducted by researchers at INSEAD and The Wharton School [4].

‘Mindfulness is about paying attention to the good things you encounter, and training your mind to be in the present moment by focusing on your breathing,’ explains Alexa Frey from The Mindfulness Project (@LondonMindful). ‘When you notice your mind wandering to that meeting you're going to have later, you bring it back to the present moment.’

If you’re yet to master your mindfulness, why not download one of the many apps for iPhone and Android, such as The Mindfulness App or Headspace, to get started?

2. Explore your route

It's really easy to get stuck in the rut of your daily routine, but research conducted at the University of California suggests that exploring and staying curious about the world around you could help preserve your memory [5]. You might even find a route to work that’s quicker, or less crowded.

‘The trick is to try and feel more in control of your commute,’ says Andy Gibson, ‘Head Gardener’ at social enterprise Mindapples (@Mindapples). ‘Mixing up your thinking is good for creativity and stimulating your mind – but it’s also more tiring. If you’ve got a relatively easy day, take a bit longer and walk a different route.’

Don’t forget that we live in a sharing society, so if you do discover something cool on your new commute, why not snap and share on social? The Instagram hashtag #lookupclub is full of posts of awesome spots around the world. Alternatively, share your route with other commuters on mapmywalk.com[6].

To further boost your wellbeing, include green spaces in your commute, too, as evidence suggests that spending time in nature lowers stress levels and reduces the symptoms of depression and anxiety [7].


Exercise your mind and body

3. Distract yourself now; concentrate later

‘One of the frustrations with commuting could be that you're wasting time that you could otherwise put to a better use,’ observes the Mental Health Foundation’s (@MentalHealth) James Harris. ‘One way of dealing with [this] is to take back ownership of that time and try to use it as constructively as possible.’

Read a book, listen to a new album or podcast, or even learn a new language or skill during your commute – modern technology makes all of these distractions more accessible than ever. Podcasts in particular are hugely popular, with more than a billion podcast subscriptions on iTunes alone [8].

The iTunes Podcasts app makes finding your favourite podcasts even easier. You can stream or download podcasts, put alerts on your phone so you don’t miss the latest episodes of your preferred series, and even play them through your car’s speakers using CarPlay [9].

If you want a bit of auditory, hands-free work-life balancing, then listen to music before work. Listening to background music before taking on your tasks can boost your memory, improve your attention and help you to complete tasks, according to research conducted by psychologists at Cardiff Metropolitan University [10].

4. Stretch your body; stretch your time

Walking or cycling to work has been proven to improve your wellbeing by the Centre for Diet and Activity Research – and while it might not be possible for your entire commute, even just stretching in the car, cycling to the station, or walking to a slightly farther-away bus stop could have a positive impact [11].

‘Movement is a potent anti-depressant and mood booster, and an upright posture with an open chest and erect spine helps you feel a sense of uplift,’ says psychologist and fitness coach Suzy Reading (@SuzyReading).

Walking just an hour a day can help lengthen your life, says the National Cancer Institute, and you also get the added mental benefits of spending time in nature [12].


Plan the day ahead

5. Get incentivised

If your company offers a cycle to work or car-pool scheme to make your commuting life easier, get involved – it could save you time and money.

Otherwise, using your time on public transport to set goals for the day ahead can help to improve your job satisfaction and your commute, according to a recent paper published by the Harvard Business School [13].

‘If you can set a good, realistic, motivating goal it gives you direction and a clear focus,’ says David Brudö, CEO of goal-setting and mood-tracking app Remente (@Rementecorp).

‘Plan your day each morning, using the ‘Most Important Task’ (MIT) principle,’ continues David. ‘Prioritise the thing that’s weighing on your shoulders, that you’re procrastinating [about], and do it first. Getting it out of the way will give you a sense of accomplishment, and reduce your stress and anxiety.’


Maximise your commute’s potential

Complaining about the commute doesn’t need to be part of the standard office chat with these productive, health-boosting and stress-busting tips. So give your work-life balance a boost by taking control and making the best of your commuting time.

For more health articles, follow Sarah Graham (@SarahGraham7) or any of the people above on Twitter.


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