It’s time to hack your commute. The average commute in the United States is about 25 minutes according to the US census bureau. That’s 50 minutes a day that can be potentially leveraged to move you forward. And 8% of Americans travel over an hour each way to get to work!
Assuming you commute to work 260 days a year and your commute takes you 25 minutes each way, that‘s 216 hours of commuting every year! 216! If you compressed all this commuting into 40 hours a week, it would involve over 5 weeks of just sitting in a car. Clearly this is a huge opportunity to command your time. Let’s consider three specific ways you can hack your commute.
- Eliminate it – The first and most obvious approach is to eliminate the commute in the first place. Could you work from home instead? It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing decision either. When I took my latest job I negotiated to work from home a couple days a week. So I’m still in the office a few days a week for in person interactions, but I save a couple hours every week by avoiding the commute altogether. Or, if you live in a city with bad rush hour congestion, perhaps you could arrange to work from home early in the morning and late in the afternoon to avoid the morning and evening rush hours. I personally come in an hour earlier than the rest of the office so that traffic congestion isn’t an issue for me.
- Public Transit – Another way to avoid losing time in the car is to consider public transit instead. Even if the public transit option takes longer, if you can take your laptop and work from the road it can ultimately add time to your day. A friend of mine commutes from New Jersey to New York city each day, and the hour he spends each day working from the train counts toward his 8 hour day. So he only spends 6 hours in the office and he ultimately loses no time with his commute.
- Multithread it – Many of us don’t have a boss or a position that is friendly to doing remote work. And few workers have good public transit options. But that doesn’t mean the time on our commute can’t be productive. It’s easy to get in the habit of listening to morning radio shows on the drive to work. But beyond entertainment, what do you get out of it? How does listening to a radio show add value to your life? Advertising, fleeting news blurbs, politics, sports, etc. These are entertaining, sure, but to become an outlier developer, one must diligently cut the noise from life. If you must commute, this is a huge opportunity to expand your mind with quality, focused content that’s specific to your goals.
And thankfully, the barriers to entry for excellent, value added content while on the road have never been lower. If you have a phone or media player and some cheap headphones, you have all you need to improve your knowledge while on the road. There’s a huge variety of programming related podcasts to choose from such as Herding Code, This Developer’s Life, and Software Engineering Radio. And there’s a massive list of other technical podcast options that’s kept updated on StackOverflow.
However, learning fundamental skills outside of programming is also very useful. Your local library likely offers a huge selection of books on CD you can check out and enjoy on your commute. Keep in mind that learning marketable skills and new ways of thinking outside of programming is a great way to be a well-rounded developer and innovative thinker. With that in mind, here are ten excellent books that work great in audiobook form. I highly recommend these titles for developers:
- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
The concept of a minimum viable product that Eric lays out so clearly here could totally change the way you think about writing software in the future. Lean Startup will help you think about software as a business and help cure you from wasting time and money by overbuilding solutions.
- How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Developers are stereo-typically known for having lousy people skills. This is of course an unfair characterization, but increases interpersonal skills can really set you apart. No single book has had a bigger impact on improving my interpersonal skills than this one. Don’t let the title fool you. This is a phenomenal tool for improving your interactions with others.
- The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Tim Ferriss
While Tim is a polarizing figure and the title is pie in the sky, there’s no denying that Tim knows how to hack life and manage time. He presents a variety of novel techniques for reworking your life to have more freedom by cutting noise in creative ways and delegating everything you can so you can focus on your core strengths.
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
This book exposed a variety of bad habits I was either totally unaware of or completely ignoring. You are what you do every day, so it makes sense to spend some time thinking about your habits and their impact on who you are and what you’ll become. This book will change how you’re spending your time for the better. So a listen is absolutely time well spent.
- The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor
Shawn presents fascinating evidence of the power of being happy. It’s absolutely a choice. And as Shawn clearly describes, being optimistic provides a massive advantage for learning, dedication, and health.
- Linchpin: Are You Indispensable by Seth Godin
Seth has written so many excellent books that it’s hard to pick one, but Linchpin is a brilliant and inspring book that seeks to replace the limited, factory mindset taught in schools with the brave, risk taking approach of shipping art.
- Speak to Win: How to Present with Power in Any Situation by Brian Tracy
I believe everyone should speak. It enhances your skills in all kinds of communications beyond the stage. Brian Tracy lays out many excellent tips for becoming an engaging speaker.
- Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Fields
Jonathan’s book helped encourage me start speaking at conferences. Our fear of uncertainty is a prison that illogically keeps us stuck at the status quo.
- Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
If you’ve ever wondered why some days you’re motivated and other days you’re not, here’s your book. Daniel clearly outlines what motivates us – and what doesn’t. These findings will help you change what you’re doing, and how you frame your work.
- Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan
We all deal with scarcity in our lives. As developers, there’s never enough time to learn all we’d like to know. And this scarcity has surprising impacts on our performance and reasoning. Sendhil explores the fascinating ways that the scarcity mindset impacts our lives and what we can do about it.
As you can see, the commute is a great time to start thinking differently about your habits, improve your communication skills, and learn interesting new strategies for thinking about software. These titles aren’t directly technical, but will help make you a well-rounded developer. Remember, an outlier developer isn’t merely a technical genius. Strong skills in these other areas make sure your technical skills can be leveraged for the greatest impact. Being a multi-faceted and open-minded technical powerhouse will absolutely set you apart.
Have other non-technical books you’d recommend for multithreading the commute? Chime in via the comments below.