9 ways to make your commute more productive and enjoyable

These days, a lot of my travel is spent on the subway. I keep the Kindle app on my phone and read, or maybe listen to some audio, but often it’s too loud to hear it very well. And the subway really isn’t a good place to do deep thinking or concentrate on a text, because there are so many distractions that pull me out of my train of thought.

However, I LOVE audio as a medium, that’s really the heart of why I created this podcast. It’s such an enjoyable way to get and share information, and it feels much more personal than just the written word. So for that reason, I LOVE my alone time in the car, and also the time I spend walking to my destinations. I have so many good options for things to listen to and when I do that the time just flies by. So, I wanted to share some of those options in hopes of inspiring those of you who currently dread your commute or are just looking for some ways to make it more interesting.

9 ways to make your commute more productive and enjoyable

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This post is based on the latest episode of my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is like a free talk radio show you can listen to online, or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new 10-15 minute episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead. I’d love to hear your thoughts below in the comment section!

1. Podcasts

Podcasts are probably the #1 way I use my time in the car. I use the iCatcher app even though it’s slightly less intuitive than standard podcast players because it gives me the ability to customize every single setting. I subscribe to about 30 different podcasts, and once a week, I spend about 5 minutes going through them to see what’s new. I then download and save the episodes I want to hear to a specific playlist, so when I’m in the car, I just hit play and the app starts working it’s way through every podcast episode in that playlist.

I have a playlist of things my husband and I both like to listen to, and I pull that queue up when we’re in the car together.  I have a playlist of uplifting spiritual and Christian podcasts. I have a playlist of education podcasts, and one for entrepreneurial podcasts. I also have a playlist called Listen First to which I download any new episodes of a podcast that I’m dying to check out right away.

If you’re new to podcasts, start by using the standard podcast player on your phone (Pocket Casts and Stitcher are some alternatives.) Within the app, you can browse podcasts by categories and also keywords. If you want some recommendations, here are 12 of my favorite podcasts for teachers.

2. Audio books

I prefer podcasts to audio books because they’re more conversational and tend to sound less stilted than a narrator reading a book. However, I love that audio books allow you to do a deep dive into a topic with no interruptions.

I usually have a couple of audio books that I’m working through at any given time. They tend to be fairly affordable when you buy the MP3 version through Amazon (rather than the old books on CD model, which were quite expensive.) The benefit of doing it that way is that the audiobooks automatically show up in Amazon’s Audible app, which is a very easy-to-use player.

I ended up buying an Audible subscription which gives you one audio book per month. If you fall behind, as I often do, the credits keep rolling over so you can use them in the future. I’ve found this is a good system because it allows me to select audio books based on what I want to actually listen to and not concern myself with the price–I pay the same amount for my Audible subscription regardless of the audio book’s price. (You can view all the books available through Audible here–please note these are my Amazon affiliate links.)

You can also check with your local public library–they may have audio books you can listen to for free via the Overdrive app.

Another cool idea–if you teach literature to students or otherwise assign them to read specific texts, you can listen to those books in audio form during your commute. In the mornings, this habit will get you in the right state of mind before facilitating class discussions, and in the afternoons, it will help you brainstorm things you want to discuss with students the following day.

3. Online Courses

If you’re taking online courses for continuing education credits, you may find that an audio version of the content is offered. If it isn’t, let the company or university know this is something you’re interested in!

If you’re a frequent Truth for Teachers listener, then you know teachers can get a certificate for up to 104 credit hours for participating in my 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. I started offering members the audio version of the club on a whim about a year ago, and they liked it so much, I now provide EVERY week’s content in audio form so they can listen instead of read if they want. It’s really such a convenient way to learn new information.

Keep in mind that an online course doesn’t necessarily have to be something you do for professional purposes. You can learn a new language, or take business or marketing courses you have an entrepreneurial side job. You can even take a course that focuses on your personal development. These don’t have to be for credits and you don’t have to take any tests–just listen and learn for the fun of it!

4. Brainstorming lesson ideas

The best ideas often come to us while we drive, so it’s a great time to think about activities you want to do with students. One way to do this is by intentionally planning out specific lessons, and record an audio message for yourself so you can write down your thoughts later.

Another way is to listen to things that inspire you to inspire your students. Some teachers like to listen to podcasts on current events or interesting stores which they can use, quote, or reference in class. (For example: Myths and Legends, Fresh Air, Ted Talks and Ted Radio Hour, BBC Global News, This American Life, and Wait, Wait! Don’t Tell Me.)  You may even be able to turn them into writing prompts!

5. Listening to student work

I know a teacher who has students record a 10-minute group discussion once a week about an article they’ve read or a TED talk she assigns. With five classes and five groups in each class, that’s 25 recordings a week, or about four hours of audio which she can easily work through in her lengthy commute. The audio itself isn’t graded apart from a participation grade (discussion also happens through Google Docs, and that part IS graded.)

I can imagine this working in so many different contexts: for example, you could have students record their thoughts via an app in a learning station or centers. Or, at the end of a collaborative activity, have each group record a verbal reflection on their work.

I really like this method because it allows you to deeply analyze students’ thinking. You can get so many great teaching ideas, follow up points, and discussion prompts from listening in on kids’ conversations at a time when you’re free to really focus on the kids and not in charge of managing the whole classroom.

Also, the ability to rewind and play back portions of the discussion later in class motivates the kids to participate thoughtfully, as they know you may choose to highlight insightful points they’ve made in the audio recordings.

6. Making phone calls

We all have phone calls that need to be made, so why not get them out of the way in the car so you can relax once you’re home? Program the numbers into your phone before you set out, and use a hands-free device to make the call.

Many teachers use their commute to make parent phone calls, particularly if there are a handful of families they touch base with frequently. You can make positive phone calls home, or even hold informal parent conferences. If you don’t want parents to have your cell phone number, use the Skype app to call them instead.

Another idea for making the most of your commute via phone calls is to create routines for specific personal calls. For example, every Monday afternoon on the way home from work, you give grandma a call and check in on her, or every Tuesday, you and your best friend catch up while you drive. These can give you something to look forward to and enable you to make time for catching up with the people you care about.

7. Voxxing or other asynchronous chat

Personally, I prefer asynchronous communication, and I’m a big fan of Voxer. It works similarly to What’s App, if you’re more familiar with that. You can leave text messages, links, and photos through Voxer, but it’s used primarily for recording audio.

I love Voxer because you can have entire conversations with friends and family members without having to disturb them by calling for something minor. I also like being able to get my whole thought out without being interrupted–it’s amazing how many times I don’t really know what i think or feel about a topic until I start talking, and Voxer allows me to work through a train of thought at my own pace. I can stop when I want, and pick up again a few seconds later to add a bit more. I never have to feel bad about rambling on too long, because the recipient can listen and reply whenever it’s convenient for them, and can play messages on two or three times speed to save time.

I use Voxer in a bunch of different ways. I like it for individual and group chats with friends: we Vox each other when we have a story to tell, mostly. It’s faster than typing, we love to hear each other’s tones and expressions, and it makes us feel more connected than reading a message.

I also use Voxer for education-related group chats, mastermind groups, and topic-focused chats with people who push my thinking. Now that lots of educators are on Voxer, there are all kinds of chats cropping up among people who work in separate schools but have connected via Twitter or conferences. If I have a question about something education-related or just want to discuss something that’s on my heart, I can toss it out the group and hear a wide variety of perspectives from people whose work I admire.

I’ve also used Voxer for book clubs. We each read a chapter a week, and whenever we come across something in the text that speaks to us (or we have a revelation later on in the day), we can just get on Voxer and start reflecting aloud! Then, when we have free time, we can play back each other’s messages and respond. The quality of the discussion is much better than in an online book club where we have to type everything out, check our spelling, re-read to see if it makes sense, and so on. We share more because it’s easier and quicker to do so via audio.

8. Listening to music that sets the right tone

You know that one song that instantly puts a smile on your face every time you hear it? Listen to that right after school. In fact, you can put together an entire playlist of songs that are uplifting to you, and after you’ve mentally processed your day, lose yourself in the song lyrics.

Some teachers like to have a set playlist for gearing up for the day, and one for gearing down. I’ve created playlists for different moods. Try putting together some positive, energizing songs for the mornings or days when you need to get yourself pumped up, and also have one that’s calming and returns you to a peaceful place.

If you don’t want to mess with playlists or you tend to get tired of the same songs, consider getting SiriusXM satellite radio. I don’t have a subscription myself, but we once rented a car with SiriusXM and I couldn’t believe how much more relaxing the drive was when the station consistently played the type of music we wanted to hear and there were no commercial interruptions.

9. Mentally decompressing

Without a habit of releasing stress at the end of the work day, you will mentally carry the burden of every student and every undone task throughout the evening. The decompressing process is essentially your transition between thinking about work, and thinking about everything else in your life.

So if something negative happens during your school day and you find that the thought is still nagging at you when you leave work, practice allowing yourself to think about it for a few minutes and create some kind of mental reframing so you can stop worrying about it. That way, even if you still have school work to do in the evening, you can at least relax in knowing you won’t need to mentally replay a confrontation with a student or rehearse what you want to say in a parent conference the next day. Your mental work of processing the day’s events will be done.

Make it a habit to use your commute home to put mental closure on your day. At the very least, try taking a few deep breaths and telling yourself:

My work today is done. What’s left undone will still be there waiting for me tomorrow, so I don’t have to think about it now. I choose to be satisfied with my efforts today and be fully present in the rest of my life tonight. I will take care of myself, my home, and the people I love. Tomorrow I will wake up energized and ready to go back into the classroom and give 100% to my work.

As you decide which of these nine options to utilize during your commute each day, I encourage you to take just a moment to reflect on what you need: Do you need to gear up for the day ahead? Decompress after a stressful day? Work through some questions or concerns you have about a problem or lesson plan? Have a specific purpose for your commute, and choose your activity according to that purpose.

I encourage you to really make the most of your commute–use it to either get things accomplished, or get yourself in a positive mental state where you’re feeling accomplished, and inspired, and reinvigorated.

Truth for Teachers podcast: a weekly 10 minute talk radio show you can download and take with you wherever you go! A new episode is released each Sunday to get you energized and motivated for the week ahead.

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

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