The 40-hour work week is a relic. A recent Expedia.com survey found that nearly two-thirds (63%) of Americans now work more than 40 hours a week, while four in 10 workers spend at least 50 hours a week on the job.
If you happen to be one of those working long hours and feel there is no extra time in the day to improve your career, then your commute -- both to and from work -- may be an ideal window of time to work on little things which can help your work situation.
Sure, if you take public transportation or carpool, you have the opportunity to do a lot of things that aren't possible if you drive to work. But even if you drive, there are still plenty of things you can do to shape up your skills:
1. Listen to audio books.
There are probably a long list of books relevant to your career that you know you should read, but simply haven't been able to find the time to do so. Your commute to and from work can be the perfect time to catch up on these. Many books are now released on CD and your local library should have a large selection that you can check out for free. Along the same lines, there are more and more podcasts available with a wealth of information, which can be downloaded and then listened to during your commute.
2. Record your thoughts.
You can also take the opposite approach and instead of listening, do the talking. It can be a good investment to get a hands-free digital recorder. If you have one with you in the car, you can use it to record a list of tasks that need to be addressed. By planning your daily, weekly or monthly to-do list on your way to the office, you know what needs to be done as soon as you arrive. Recording a review of your day on the way home will help you to determine areas where you can improve.
3. Practice a language.
If you have been thinking about learning a second language, your commute can be a great time to practice. If you have the desire to work in a foreign country, knowing a second language can give you the inside track to an overseas job within your company. Also, knowing a second language will never be a negative on your resume. You should be able to get a wide range of language CDs at your local library to begin practicing right away.
4. Practice public speaking.
Being able to give a quality presentation is always a good skill set to have that can help you advance your career. If you decide to join a speaking group like toastmasters to improve your public speaking, your commute can be a perfect time to practice your speech or presentation.
5. Make calls.
If you have a speaker or other hands-free phone, there are a number of ways you can use it that can make yourself more productive while driving. You can get started on some early business calls to touch base with people that you need to contact. You can also use your phone as a digital recorder by calling your voicemail and leaving messages to yourself of tasks you need to do that day which you can then write into your calendar when you get to work.
Most people don't think of a car as being the ideal place to exercise, but there are a number of small exercises that you can do to help you relax and will help take away stress.
Consider doing simple facial and breathing exercises. You can also get yourself in better shape with a muscle-centric workout by contracting and releasing certain muscle sets that you want to work on. Abdominal muscles are easy to work on in the car by holding in your belly. You can also work out your bottom, thighs and shoulders by doing simple stretching and contracting of muscles while driving. Incorporating breathing, facial and muscle exercises should give you more energy when you get into work and help take away the built up stress of work on your way home.
One simple note of caution: If you are the type of person that gets distracted easily when doing more than one thing, the car is not the place to try to multitask. Your first priority should always be to get to work and home safely. Getting into an accident will not be positive for your career or your pocket book. Never try to multitask doing things that will take your eyes off the road -- even for a short period of time like reading, writing, putting on make-up or shaving.
With everyone so busy it can be difficult to find the time to do the small things that can help your career. Learning to take advantage of your commute to better yourself is one way to find that time, even when you have the busiest of schedules.
Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs SavingAdvice.com.