The “pocket of freedom,” a term recently mentioned in Harvard Business Review, was lifted from author Jon Jachimowicz’s great aunt, Adela. Adela spent part of her 20s in Polish ghettos, during Nazi occupation. Each night, despite how fatigued or terrified she may have been, Adela would devote an hour to creative activities with her niece—no exceptions. As it turns out, this method could have a significant effect on something we all experience: our commute.
Most Americans, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, spend 255 minutes a week on their commute. That’s 12,240 minutes per year—or, put another way, eight-and-a-half days. Jachimowicz and his co-authors suggest applying “pocket of freedom” thinking to your commute. Instead of viewing your commute as a chore, view it as an opportunity. After all, those 25 minutes belong to you and you alone.
Are you really going to spend it listening to Joshua Tree for the 156th time? Or are you going to spend your annual allotted week-and-change of free time bettering yourself? For starters, you could do a lot worse than these 7 genius science-backed life hacks. They’ll kick-start your day before the office coffee sets in. And if you have any meetings that day, be sure you know how to conquer any business meeting.
Make Yourself Smarter
Ask yourself: What is this round of Candy Crush doing for me? You can match pixelated shapes of candy more efficiently? Welcome to the second grade. Whether you’re hooked on Angry Birds or Pokémon Go, ditch the mindless smartphone games in favor of Elevate, a brain-training app.
Elevate offers daily “games” in a series of categories, including writing, listening, and math. Each category has an “Elevate Proficiency Quotient,” so you can literally, in numbers and colorful lines, your progress. In essence, the designers of Elevate have gamified learning and made it, well, fun. Why they haven’t been acquired for a billions of dollars yet is beyond us. And once you’re sharp as a tack, don’t go back to Candy Crush, and pick up one of the 8 cutting edge games that are proven to make you a smarter man.
Learn a New Language
According to CNN, 71 percent of Americans find multilingual people more attractive than monolingual ones. (Though, to be entirely honest, you probably knew that without data to back it up.) Well, there are smattering of effective, easy-to-use language apps on the market—like busuu or Babbel—that will have you whispering a lot more than voulez-vous coucher avec moi? In fact, once you master the language, you can use your newfound expertise to say the 13 sexiest things you can say to a woman—but in a romance language. Imagine that.
Swap Out Your Tunes
A study out of the Journal of Consumer Research found that ambient noise set at a moderate volume—about 70 dB—boosts creative thinking. Researchers conducted five experiments—including asking participants to brainstorm mattress ideas, which sounds awesome (please make a cotton candy mattress!)—at quiet, moderate, and loud volume levels. All across the board, participants in the moderate group showed higher levels of creativity. Check out apps like Noisli and White Noise; they’ll give your creativity a boost early during the commute, so by the time your 11 o’clock hits, you’ll be primed up to bust out way more ideas than Brad. If you need a new pair of headphones for these new apps, check out the 20 headphones you can buy in bulk.
Allow Yourself a Catnap
Snagging 10 to 30 minutes of sleep during your day is actually more effective than caffeine at improving verbal memory—or the ability to recall lists and words—according to a study in Behavioural Brain Research. We also know, thanks to the Journal of Sleep Research, that explicit memory—this one’s facts and events—is improved by bursts of snoozing. Needless to say, we’re all acutely aware by now of the benefits of a power nap. But why waste your precious time during the day? If you commute via rail or subway, catch those Zs on your train. To make it easier—or at least more comfortable—pick up a versatile infinity pillow. When it comes to your nighttime sleep, be sure to read up on how to get your best sleep ever, of all time.
Start Being Productive From the Get-Go
That same Harvard Business Review piece—which derived conclusions from a series of the authors’ studies—posits interesting data: self-control has a direct correlation with reported workplace happiness. Researchers took 443 workers and segmented them into four groups, each receiving a different text message prompt: one, to focus on productivity; one, to focus on relaxation; one, to focus on both; and one, nothing at all. They found that the productivity group, of individuals able to focus on their impending doom—whoops, we mean work—reported more workplace satisfaction than any other group.
Treat Strangers Like Human Beings
Let’s do a magic trick. Sit back for a second, and think—really think—about how many people you ignore on your commute. Do you have the number? Good. Remember it; we’ll come back to it momentarily. So, all the way back in 1995, researchers for the American Psychological Association found that even minimal human connection—be a it a smile, a wave, or a simple verbal greeting—can exponentially improve one’s mood, for both parties. Now, think back to your number. You’re missing out on dozens—hundreds, maybe—of opportunities to brighten your day. Tomorrow, change your strategy. Just don’t be a creep about it; go with “How are you?” over “How you doin’?”
Do the La La Land Dance
Bumper to bumper on the 405? What a surprise. Spice things up; turn off “All Things Considered” and instead recreate the epic and whimsical opening dance number from La La Land. After all, who doesn’t want to be as heroic as Ryan Gosling?
Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
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