Wait Time? Work Time! How to Make Travel Time Pay

1220282_subway_stationI use public transport a lot. And where I live, public transport is notoriously unreliable. This was getting to be quite annoying, since waiting for trains and trams meant wasting precious work time. Or so I thought.

But then one day, standing on a deserted platform having missed my train by seconds (and facing a 70-minute wait for the next one), I decided to take matters into my own hands. I decided to make wait time into work time.

Here are my tips for not wasting the time you might spend in a bus, train or plane terminal, or actually on public transport without decent web access. Carry a compact notebook and pen, and you won’t even need a seat. You can undertake most of these work tasks without power, too.

1. Brainstorming

In my work, there are always new ideas that need to be conceived. But we all have professional problems to solve, or solutions to ponder. Whatever the case, time spent waiting for your next scheduled service can be seen as quality free-thinking time — if you let it!

I often use this time to brainstorm, usually wildly, and jot ideas down for later revision and refinement. This kind of brainstorming has a light, casual feel to it, so I tend to think more freely, and write down less concrete, less thoroughly-thought-out ideas than I might if I was sitting at my desk on “work time”. Interestingly, these casually conceived ideas usually lead to productive  projects — as you might have guessed, the idea of writing this post came to me while I was waiting for a train.

2. Work reading

Carrying a magazine or reference you’ve been meaning to dig into for work? Now’s the time to sit back and take the good advice in. Often, I find it difficult to justify simply sitting down and reading a text — even for work. It just doesn’t feel like “doing.” But if you’re stuck on a bus with no alternative but staring blankly out the window, reading might be a very productive pastime.

These days, I carry a few work-related magazines with me at all times — they’re light and thin, so I can carry more than one, and they provide me with ample food for thought while I’m on public transport.

3. Returning calls

Usually, my travel time occurs before or after a meeting and often I’ve received a call or two while I’ve been in the meeting. Rather than be frustrated that I have to wait forty minutes for the next train to my town, I can use the time productively by returning those calls, scheduling resulting meetings, and noting any to-do items that come out of the discussions.

This task doesn’t require you to have a seat — though you might prefer a quiet, reasonably private spot, so a platform at a station may not be the ideal location from which to return those calls.

4. Voice note-taking

If you’re not into physical note-taking, you might find a voice recorder — or voice recorder app for your phone — an extremely handy addition to your travel kit. Speaking rather than writing notes can be an easy way to track your thoughts and make yourself reminders. Best of all, you only need one spare hand.

Voice recording can be a good way to capture more elusive, less-concrete thoughts, so it can be great for brainstorming, as well as noting reminders, drafting emails and so on. Of course, you might not feel comfortable to do it if you find yourself with a seat-buddy on your public transport option of choice.

5. Responding to email and online communication

This item comes last, because frequently I find myself without web access when I’m waiting for, or traveling on, public transport. But if I do have access, I can make the time worthwhile by checking my email, formulating and sending responses, scheduling tasks in my online calendar, commenting in forums, and so on.

Again, you may be able to do this on a platform or in queue, though if you want to respond to a message with a call, you’ll need a quiet space to do so.

I usually carry a notebook and pen, my phone, and some work-related reading material with me when I’m out and about. This way, whether I have a seat, a traveling companion, or a quiet place, I can use my travel and transit time to my advantage. And for me, this means less travel-induced overtime.

What tricks do you use to ensure your travel time isn’t wasted?


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