When the job is right, commuting is one of those things you might think doesn’t really matter that much—until it does. Time is a fleeting thing, and when you spend a significant chunk of it doing the same thing day in and day out, your average commute time really begins to add up: just over 27 minutes each way for the average American, according to data from the United States Census Bureau. But, about a decade ago, the workforce’s average commute time was around two minutes shorter. Doesn’t seem like a huge difference, right? WRONG! That’s almost an additional 20 minutes each week you probably spend idling on the highway, instead of doing what you want to do. Sound like your commute? Try these 8 mental tricks to make traffic go by faster to make those 20 minutes feel like two.
That’s not to say average commute times are homogenous across the United States; South Dakotans only spend about 17 minutes getting to work, but for New Yorkers, that figure skyrockets to over 33 minutes (but these aren’t even close to the worst place to commute from in the United States). A variety of factors affect the average commute time by state: infrastructure, public transportation, and seemingly the most relevant—population density. If you look at this map of population density by state and this one of average commute time by state, you’ll notice they’re nearly identical. The more people trying to move about a designated area, the more congestion.
How long of a commute is too long?
Well, one study from Brown University attached a chronometric price tag. For each minute you spend commuting, the tradeoff is 0.0257 minutes in exercise time, 0.037 minutes in food preparation time, and 0.2205 minutes in sleep time—all things essential in determining your quality of life. So, if you’re one of the many Americans with an average commute time of 27 minutes, that’s about seven minutes in exercise time, ten minutes in food preparation time, and 60 minutes of sleep you’re sacrificing each week to your commute alone, all in addition to the time you spend in transit already.
How can you make the best of your commute?
A laundry list of obvious answers exists for this one: read, listen to music or audiobooks you like, eat breakfast, answer emails, catch up with loved ones on the phone, do a crossword puzzle, or just go into your own head for a bit. In fact, this might be the single best way to make a long commute go by in a flash.
However, to really enhance the quality of your drive, it might be best to change how you commute. First of all, if you’re commuting solo by car, spending your evening sitting on the interstate complaining about the traffic, we hate to break it to you, but you are the traffic. Look into carpooling or public transportation if it’s available to you. Along with minimizing traffic and your carbon footprint, these two methods combat one of the biggest killers associated with commuting: a lack of social contact. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives found that people hate commuting essentially as much as they hate working. Yet, it also found that when subjects are accompanied by someone on their commute—like in a carpool or on the bus—it rises to midlevel enjoyment, near chatting on the phone or napping.
Before you start plotting to make your commute more efficient and worthwhile, check out where you live to get a handle on your average commute time.
Alabama: 24. 7 minutes
Alaska: 18.8 minutes
Arizona: 25.3 minutes
New Hampshire: 27.3
New Jersey: 31.7
New Mexico: 22.1
New York: 33.3
North Carolina: 24.5
North Dakota: 17.1
Rhode Island: 24.8
South Carolina: 24.6
South Dakota: 17.0
West Virginia: 25.8