Workers’ Average Commute Round-Trip Is 46 Minutes in a Typical Day

The results from the Gallup Organization’s annual Work and Education survey show the average American averages 46 minutes commuting to and from work in a typical day.  If you take out those who work at home, the average increases to 48.1 minutes per day.  However, if you have above-average income and work more than 40 hours a week, your commute is greater than the average, and so is your stress level.  Since the advice “move, earn less, and work fewer hours” doesn’t work, let me instead give you some ideas to make your commute more productive, efficient, and stress-free:

Use the phone. Now I’m one of those people who get aggravated while people are chatting away on their cell phones while driving…generally because they’re not, well, driving. Many people have no idea how slowly they’re going while they’re on the phone. Plus talking on the phone has proven to be unsafe, and many states have passed ordinances against it. Often, you’ll see someone pulled over to the side of the road to make a call.

That being said, you can get a hands-free phone installed, which uses a mounted phone and speakers. Many phones, like the Treo 650, use Bluetooth technology, which allows you to wear a wireless earpiece and talk hands-free. By using these safe options, you can still use your phone to call clients or catch up with friends and family while still keeping your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

Clear your brain. Basically, use your morning commute as a warm up to your day. On the way to work, do whatever helps you focus and arrive at your desk raring to go. For mass transit travelers, that may mean reading the daily paper with a cup of coffee. Drivers may like to listen to news radio for their daily summary.

Bond with your family. While driving together to “away” games or a relative’s house, you can sing songs, quiz your child on his spelling words, play “I spy” or another travel game, or listen to stories. When your eyes are on the road, your child may feel more comfortable than usual bringing up a touchy subject, so be available to just listen as well.

Shift your schedule. If you frequently get stuck in traffic, consider changing your schedule slightly to hit the road slightly before or after the rush, and use the time on either side to organize your day.

Use a voice recorder. I knew a professional speaker who wrote an entire book by talking while driving. She clipped a microphone on to her shirt and talked into a recording device (there are many available). Then she simply had those tapes transcribed, hired an editor to clean it up, and printed it at She has published a book at the rate of about one a year using this method. Other people get voice recorders (Radio Shack sells a good one) with several minutes of tape and dictate their letters while on the go. If you’re blessed enough to have an assistant, he or she can type your letters from the recording. Some cell phones also have recorders built into them, so you can make your to-do list or remind yourself of things as you think of them. Do NOT, under any circumstances, attempt to write while driving unless you’re completely stopped.

Listen to books on tape. My favorite place to eat breakfast is a restaurant called Cracker Barrel…hash brown casserole, grits, and honey ham, baked apples…oh, sorry! The closest one to me is an hour’s drive away, so I don’t get to frequent it often enough because of traffic. But if you’re lucky enough to have one in your hometown or pass a sign for one along the road, STOP. You’ll notice that Cracker Barrel restaurants are always built right off an interstate exit. One of the founders’ core strategies was to make them easy on, easy off from the interstate. You could get to the next one on a tank of gas, refuel, grab a bite, buy what you need (and what you don’t need) in their little store, and get back on the road. Cracker Barrel has also came up with a clever book-on-tape program for frequent travelers. The next time you visit this restaurant, look for the spinning rack of tapes. You can purchase one audio book and, for a nominal fee, trade it in for another, anytime, at any other Cracker Barrel. Or you can get tapes and CDs from your local library before you go on a trip. You’ll notice that your perception of drive time is greatly reduced when you’re listening to an audio book. Your brain gets engaged in the story and time flies by. I have a friend who was planning an international trip, so she listened to French language tapes while in the car. Within three months, she learned enough French to get around nicely while there.

Carpool with your spouse. If you work roughly in the same area, hitch a ride with your sweetie! You can use the extra time each day to talk. While one person drives, the other can take care of miscellaneous family business on the phone. By the time you reach your door, the calls will be done and you can enjoy more quality time together at home.

Take the train instead. If you’re lucky enough to have a great public transportation system, use it! Of course, many professionals are forced into taking commuter trains because of traffic or distance or speed. But many people have told me they live for their train time because they can complete light paperwork, catch up on reading, pay bills, or just nap. By the time they arrive home, they feel rested and can settle into the second shift.

What are some other ways you take advantage of your commute time?



  1. Thanks for the great article. A question: I’m not a commuter, so I’ve not tried mobile conversations, but I always find myself taking notes when talking, either with a current client, potential one, or networking. How do you handle this?

    Also, I just read in a recent Wired article ( that brain research shows that it’s the communication *channel* that determines whether it’s effective (and safe!) to multitask. The scientist quoted says:

    > Think carefully about the requirements of each task . the actual
    > processing needs may not be what you’d expect. Driving a car seems
    > primarily visual, but it also uses the language channel when you
    > read signs, plan routes in your head, and scream expletives. A phone
    > conversation draws on the visual channel as your mind automatically
    > pictures what the caller is telling you. Combining them results in
    > unsafe driving and lousy conversation.

    > When your eyes are on the road, your child may feel more comfortable
    > than usual bringing up a touchy subject

    This is a great point. I find my 7YO daughter is much more open about sharing her day when she’s falling asleep. It’s a great time to listen and hear what’s going on with friends, at school, etc. Thanks!

    > Use a voice recorder.

    I love this idea as well. I use one for dictating notes on books I read (“Leave the Office Earlier” is up next :-), then I outsource the transcription. Of course I have to read the notes later, but it smoothed my reading workflow quite a bit.

    > Listen to books on tape.

    This is another one I don’t do, but believe strongly in. I become a convert after reading Steve Leveen’s book ” Little Guide To Your Well-Read Life.”