Arriving Smarter: More Than 15 Ways to Get Busy During Dead Time

Most of us spend at least an hour a day travelling; commuting to work by car, train, bus or flying somewhere for business. It’s time that’s often spent looking out of the window, texting mates or eyeing the cute guy/girl sitting across from you on the train. (Or if you’re travelling to London, wondering whether the leaves on the track are going to delay the train again…)

It’s an hour or more that you should recuperate and use for your own benefits so here are a few suggestions for arriving smarter. [Credit to Christopher S. Penn for the “Arrive Smarter” theme & Tarek for pointing me to it originally.]

Listen to an audio or video podcast

Podcasts vary in quality, style, length and topics, so whatever you want to listen to, you should be able to find it. I tend to opt for a more focused podcast on the journey in; it wakes up the brain, gives some interesting ideas and motivation for the day. On the way home, I prefer the freestyle and slightly silly podcasts, which are sometimes informative, but always lighthearted.

  • TEDTalks video podcasts: TED offers some great food for thoughts from some fascinating people all over the world. Pick a topic you feel has little to do with your day job or industry and just listen. Some notable speakers for me have been Jill Bolte Taylor, Ze Frank and a number of people who spoke about creativity, imagination & education. [TEDTalks iTunes link]
  • BBC Radio 4 World of Business podcast
  • Heidi Miller’s Diary of a Shameless Self-Promoter: Brits tend to be much too self-deprecating and rubbish at self-promotion, so this one’s for you, my lovely limeys! Heidi’s podcasts cover a range of topics relating to promoting your business, yourself, and smart networking. [DSSP iTunes link]
  • Look for audio readings of Cory Doctorow‘s books, it’s always good to listen to.
  • Poke around the Podcasts section in the iTunes store and let me know what discoveries you make!

Tip: If you’re an iPhone/iPod user, set it to automatically sync a few “most recent unplayed” podcasts through the options in the “Podcasts” tab in iTunes. That way, you’ll always have fresh stuff to listen to even if you haven’t had the time to pick podcasts manually before travelling.

Pick a book that will help you towards your goals this year

If you’ve picked a themeword for 2009, to help you drive your year forward, browse the web for a list of a few books, ebooks or research papers that will get you closer to your objectives. Or just pick a book to make you think, laugh or cry!

Here are some of mine, to accompany my themeword “Impact” for 2009.

  • Tara Hunt‘s The Whuffie Factor, which will be published soon is on my must-read list
  • Cory Doctorow’s Down & Out in the Magic Kingdom is half holiday fiction, half social critique. I’ve already read it but definitely recommend it.
  • Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational is proving to be a good read on why and how we take certain actions, and how we may think we’re rational, we’re in fact predictably working on emotions or subconscious cues.
  • If you’re a productivity buff, you’ll know this guy, but if you’re new to it, you might enjoy Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Work Week. Or Leo Babauta’s The Power of Less (which will be available soon in the UK)
  • Sitting on my bookshelf for far too long is Charlene Li’s Groundswell is much overdue to be read.

Keep offline reading material handy on your computer

If you’re the type who uses a laptop on the commute in, you may not always have the luxury of an Internet connection so when you find interesting PDF ebooks, stick them in a “To read” folder on your desktop to dig into when you’ve next got some spare time.

Alternatively, if you’re into that dead tree printing stuff,  carry a hard copy if you really must, but use the reverse side of paper you used before, or recycle the paper later by either giving it to someone else you feel would benefit or by chucking it in the recycling bin.

A few great ebooks:

  • Leo Babauta from Zen Habits (same guy as above) recently published an ebook called Thriving on Less, which is rather appropriate in this year where much of our usual habits need to be re-examined to avoid excessive spending and keep us afloat through tough times.
  • 37 Signals’ Getting Real: While I don’t really go for the 37S Koolaid, I must admit it contains some great tips for working with small teams and producing quality apps.
  • Seth Godin’s Flipping the Funnel may be nearly 3 years old but it remains very relevant. Seth has created a number of ebooks over the years, so why not browse his site and download a few?
  • Chris Brogan wrote Using the Social Web to Find Work is highly relevant in this era of job uncertainty. A worthwhile read.
  • Finally, not so much an eBook but rather a Slideshare presentation you can download: Chrystie Corns, Social Marketing Manager at created a cracking presentation giving insight into what it’s like to tweet, blog and use social networks for a living.

Make a conscious effort to relax

Not interested in any of the above and prefer to snooze or stare out the window on your way into work? That’s fine, in fact, it’s great! Your brain needs that restful time. But let’s do a deal, if you’re going to go for zen, do it well.

In other words, don’t let the train’s delay, the elbow in the ribs, the loud guy on his phone or the snow wrecking havoc piss you off. Take a deep breath and admire the glint of the sun on the buildings. Smile at strangers. Just enjoy the mental time off.

[Image: Birdbath’s Piccadilly Filly (or 50 Things you never knew about London Underground) on Flickr, Creative Commons license]

8 thoughts on “Arriving Smarter: More Than 15 Ways to Get Busy During Dead Time

  1. Dan W

    I find instapaper on the iPhone to be perfect for the commute. It lets me read offline articles from the web that I’ve saved to read later.

    When people tweet links during the day I save them to instapaper instead of getting distracted. I can then catch up during the commute.

  2. Tompl

    I tend to carry a pad with me everywhere because I learned long ago that my wild imagination and ideas were prone to drifting away if not chained into reality, briefly anchored for further pondering.

    If I have nothing to do my mind just drives forward with plans, things I could be writing, things I could be drawing or making. You make some good suggestions for using the time to educate and prepare yourself for tasks ahead.

    A good article for reminding people that every minute is precious, there is no excuse to be bored on a train/bus, trying to look interested in mundane advertising so as to avoid eye contact with strangers.

  3. Laura

    Haha! That’s my picture! Staring into the mid distance on the Piccadilly line…
    I’ve downloaded Thriving on Less, now I just need to overcome the wobbly eyeball sensation of reading on transport and I’m all set 🙂

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  5. Heidi Miller

    Thanks for the link love! I do love using travel time for podcasts; in fact, it’s the only time I listen to them–in the car or on the train. And for some reason, I only read books in airports or in airplanes. Fortunately, I’ve been traveling a lot, so I’m nearly done with Hot, Flat and Crowded.

    Do you have a Shelfari account? Great for sharing ongoing book recommendations. And hey, we should have a Shelfari for podcasts, shouldn’t we?

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