It's easy to think of commuting as a total waste of time. When you're standing on the train platform or waiting at a traffic light, every minute that ticks by can seem like a minute lost from an already jam-packed day at work.
But there's good news for those of you who wish you could spend that time more productively. There are a lot of fun, creative apps out there that help you make use of that time -- whether it's a 10-minute walk or a 60-minute bus ride. (Drivers: We don't advocate the use of any of the apps on this list that involve reading or typing.)
Check out this roundup of 10 free mobile apps that'll make your commute more productive. Try them out, and hey -- you might even start looking forward to your trips to and from the office.
(Looking for other productivity tips? Read up on the science of productivity here.)
1) Create your to-do list for the day.
Apps: Wunderlist, Evernote, Dragon Dictation
If you're the kind of person who likes to get organized first thing in the morning, spend some time listing the things you need to accomplish that day. The extra time you're able to take thinking about each task could help you prioritize and set realistic expectations.
There are a number of to-do list apps out there, but Wunderlist and Evernote are among the best. They sync between your mobile devices and your personal computers and allow you to drag and drop tasks between days and categories, as well as set alerts and due dates. You can even share lists and notes with others. Here's a screenshot from the Wunderlist app:
Image Credit: Rachel Devine
For you drivers out there, you can use the free app Dragon Dictation to get your to-do list (and any other thoughts) down on your phone. Simply speak while the app is recording, and your text content will appear. If you're an avid Evernote user, note that Evernote also has a voice recording function, too.
Image Credit: OT's with Apps & Technology
2) Clear your inbox.
There's something so satisfying about arriving at the office with a clean inbox. That's why I like to go through emails and delete anything extraneous before I even get in to work. It saves me at least a half hour and a loss of momentum during my most productive time of day.
If you're driving, you can use ASAM -- a free app from AgileSpeech -- to "read" your emails. The app will read your emails, out loud and word-for-word. (And when I say word-for-word, I mean it reads everything -- disclaimers, signatures, and other information you might've skipped otherwise.) When the message is finished, the app will "ding" and you have the option to dictate a reply.
Image Credit: Agile Speech
3) Set and check in on your goals.
How are those New Year's resolutions going? I thought so. A great way of keeping track of your goals -- and make sure you're setting them in the first place -- is by checking your progress regularly and finding ways to stay motivated. The free version of the Coach.me app lets you set personal and professional targets, get reminders, and choose whether to make your achievements visible to a community of active users so you can gain (and give) support. And for $14.99, you can hire a coach to actually help you achieve them.
Image Credit: Coach.me's blog
4) Learn a language.
Ever wanted to learn a new language or improve those barely-there French skills you acquired in college? Duolingo is a fantastic (and free) app that makes learning languages fun. Each lesson is short, painless, and super visual. Slate called it "the most productive means of procrastination I've ever discovered." Be warned, though: It can get addictive.
Image Credit: Google Play
5) Listen to a podcast or audiobook.
Apps: Stitcher, Podcasts, This American Life
If you'd rather not spend any more time staring at a screen during your commute, then listening to a podcast or audiobook can be a really pleasant way to spend any length of time. Plus, you'll learn a lot of really cool information you can impress your friends with later.
The free app Stitcher lets you make playlists of all your favorite podcasts.
Image Credit: TheNextWeb
As for which podcasts to listen to, our favorites include:
- TED Talks
- Stuff You Should Know
- Stuff You Missed in History Class
- Any NPR podcast (especially This American Life and their hit series Serial)
- The Economist's audio edition
- HubSpot's new podcast, The Growth Show
Looking for something else? Take a look at Stitcher's list of Top 100 Podcasts.
6) Read the articles you've bookmarked.
Using the Pocket app, you can save articles (and videos, and pretty much any type of content) in one place for easy reading on your commute. You can save content directly from your browser, emails, or from over 500 apps like Twitter, Flipboard, Pulse, and Zite. So while Evernote is a great app for long-term content storage, Pocket is perfect for bookmarking stuff to read later.
Image Credit: 451 Heat
7) Read the newest posts from your favorite online sources.
Want to catch up on the latest content from your favorite blogs or online news sources? Feedly is an RSS reader that lets you subscribe to the publishers you never want to miss a post from. You can separate them into different lists, mark articles as "read," and even browse for new content.
Image Credit: Feedly's blog
8) Get your social media fix out of the way.
Apps: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest ...
Chances are, browsing and posting on your personal social media accounts isn't a part of your job. Help resist the urge to check your news feeds and notifications at work by doing it to your heart's content during your commute.
9) Clean up your Twitter feed.
Ever scrolled through your Twitter feed and realized you've been following people a liiittle too liberally? Twindr is a free app that works kind of like Tinder, but for unfollowing people on Twitter. All it takes is a few quick swipes to clean up your follower count.
Image Credit: Gizmodo
10) Set a step goal for the day.
A great way to get more exercise and burn more calories throughout the day is by building incidental physical activity into your daily routine. If that sounds like your style, use an app like Fitbit or Withings to set step goal for each of your commutes. (While these companies sell expensive devices that sync with their apps, they have the ability to measure your steps for free.)
Each morning and afternoon, try to hit your goal. If you drive, park your car some distance away from the office and walk the rest of the way. If you take the train or a bus, get off a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way. If your mode of transportation gets delayed, get your steps in by walking back and forth on the platform.
What do you do to make your commute more productive? Share with us in the comments below!