According to census data released last fall, the average American commute is about 25 minutes. Doesn’t sound so bad, until you think about it this way: That’s more than four hours of driving or riding time per week—and over 200 hours a year!

So, instead of driving yourself crazy listening to the same over-played radio songs, why not add more time to your day by making good use of your commute? Whether you're at the wheel, settled in a seat, or clinging to a subway strap, here are some ideas for using your morning and evening hours more productively.

1. Prepare for the Day Ahead

Headed to an interview, meeting, or presentation? If you’re at the wheel, use your alone time to practice delivering your speech or answering tough questions. Saying things out loud will not only help you hone your delivery and tone, but it will also bolster your confidence.

If you’re not driving, use the time to strategize your next project or get your to-do list ready for the day, so you can hit the ground running once you arrive in the office. Or, tackle some life maintenance items. Plot out your meals for the next week, then write out your food shopping list. (Bonus points if you can hit the grocery store on your walk home.)

 

2. Read or Listen

If you take public transportation or ride in a car or vanpool (and if your stomach can handle it), make a dent in your reading list on your way to work. Need some inspiration? Try your library for a loaner or ebook and work your way through the 100 best books of all time (or check out The Daily Muse’s weekly recommendations).

If you're driving, pop in a CD or plug your iPod into your stereo and listen to a show or lecture. Not sure where to start? Browse NPR’s podcast directory or LibroVox for free audiobooks.

3. Learn a New Skill

There’s probably something on your “to learn” list that you haven’t quite had the time to tackle yet, and four hours a week is plenty of time, especially if you’re on a train. Have you always wanted to learn to crochet? Grab a skein of yarn, print out a tutorial (like this illustrated one from the Craft Yarn Council), and toss a crochet hook into your bag. Hey, you may make a new friend who sees your quest and can offer you hands-on help.

Other skills you can tackle: If you’re riding, boost your brainpower with memory-enhancing apps like Lumosity. And if you’re at the wheel, you can still learn a new language (try FSI Language Courses, public domain mp3 downloads).

4. Get to Know Someone

Stuck waiting at the subway stop? Talk to someone! It might be intimidating to strike up a conversation (especially if you see each other on the same train every day), but give it a try. Some easy conversation starters to look out for: someone reading a book you've read (or want to read), or a common transit stop—or you can always fall back current or local events.

If you’re driving, of course, the only person you could chat up is the guy in the next lane over—so instead, pop in your Bluetooth. Use your commute time to make short calls (that restaurant you’ve been trying to get reservations at) or have those conversations you’d like to limit to a finite amount of time (“Gotta go, Uncle Bill, at work now!”).

5. Catch Up On ZZZs

If you have a long commute, you’re probably waking up early and getting home late. Unless you’re driving, you can use your transit time to sneak in a catnap for some after-five energy. Just make sure to set an alarm on your cell phone or enlist a fellow traveler to watch out for your stop, so you don't overshoot it!

Let us know! How do you pass the time during your morning commute?

Photo courtesy of Mingo Hagen.