How You Can Use Your Long Commute to Your Advantage

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Hate your lengthy commute? You’re not the only one: A recent survey found that nearly half of American employees say that their commuting experience affects their time in the office. But if you use this time to prepare for your workday (instead of, say, reading or playing with your phone), new research suggests, you can actually boost career satisfaction.

A recent Association for Psychological Science blog post looked at a Harvard Business School study examining how commuting behaviors influenced workers’ attitudes toward their professional lives [PDF]. Researchers split 154 volunteer subjects into two groups; members of the control group were instructed by text message to go about their commutes as usual, but to pay close attention to how they spent their journeys. In contrast, a randomly-assigned "goal-directed" group received regular texts instructing them to think about ways to be more productive during their trips into the office. (It said: “Many people find it helpful to make a plan of their work day, or week ahead and reflect on how these plans will help them achieve their long-term personal and career goals. For example, what are the strategies you have for the week to be productive?”)

The study lasted for six weeks. At the end, members of the second group—who had devoted time and energy to focusing on work-related goals during their downtime—reported feeling happier with their jobs, and less stressed out.

The study's findings boil down to this notion: You might not be able to change your long commute, but you can change your mindset. Individuals who dislike traveling to and from work often try to offset negative emotions with fun distractions, like books or music (which are among the best gifts for commuters). But people who focus on their future goals and how they can achieve them will end up feeling more prepared—and far more optimistic—than their peers.

[h/t Science of Us]

This article was originally published in 2016 and has been updated.