Take Five: Add Productivity to Your Commute

Podcasts to mindfulness can improve a drive to work

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Last year, 70 percent of Duke University employees drove alone to work.

Editor’s Note: "Take Five" is an ongoing series that focuses on tips for Duke faculty and staff to enhance their work and personal lives.While driving back roads between Duke campus and Chapel Hill, John Vaughn spends his 25-minute commute listening to audiobooks and podcasts.A science-fiction thriller set in London, a new Freakonomics Radio episode and a recording of the play Glengarry Glen Ross have helped him pass the time between work and home. “If you’ve had a really busy day and you had a lot going on and it’s hard to let go, it’s a nice buffer between the chaos of work and the fun chaos of home where the kids are running around,” said Vaughn, director of Duke Student Health.For many Duke commuters, the drive to and from work can be tedious or stressful with rush-hour congestion or delays caused by accidents. And Vaughn is not alone in his daily round-trip drive to Duke. Last year, 70 percent of University employees drove alone to work, with employees traveling an average of 26.6 miles one way. Whether you’re a driver or passenger, these tips can help make long or routine commutes productive: Listen to an audiobookVaughn listens to different genres of audiobooks when he’s driving to and from Chapel Hill. One of his recent picks was “The Professor and the Madman” by Simon Winchester, which tells the story of how the Oxford English Dictionary was made. Another favorite is “Mr. Penumbras’ 24-Hour Bookstore” by Robin Sloan, a story of print book reading as a dying pastime. “You need something that’s more plot-driven because it’s hard to appreciate the fine prose when you’re driving down the road,” Vaughn said.Duke community members can browse popular audiobook titles in Duke University Libraries’ OverDrive service, which allows Duke users to borrow audiobooks and e-books by downloading them using an OverDrive app. Audiobook enthusiasts can also find titles on Audible.com, which has a monthly membership fee. Learn a new languageAs part of Duke Libraries’ collections, Duke employees can check out Pimsleur CDs for free to learn a foreign language. The offered languages range from Eastern Arabic to Polish. Leave the driving to someone elseRyan Craig takes a Triangle Transit bus from downtown Raleigh nearly every work day. Roundtrip, he faces a 54-mile commute, but when gas prices continued to rise in 2013, he explored other methods to replace driving his Nissan Pathfinder to work. By riding the bus, Craig, director of digital media for Duke Athletics, is able to save $300 a month on gas and use the hour and 20 minutes of hands-free time to check GoDuke.com, answer emails and chat with other bus passengers.“It’s been kind of a stress reliever,” Craig said. “Traffic doesn’t bother you quite as much when you aren’t the one driving.”To learn about more alternative commuting options, visit Duke Parking & Transportation Services. Tune in to a favorite podcast Add some Duke blue to an iTunes playlist by downloading Duke-specific podcasts for free. On Duke University’s iTunes U, users can listen to discussions and interviews. These include “The Week at Duke {in 60 Seconds},” which summarizes current events and happenings around campus, and “Arming the Donkeys,” in which Duke professor Dan Ariely informally interviews social and natural sciences researchers.Practice mindfulness on the goStart the day off by centering yourself in the present moment. Before a ride or drive, take three deep breaths, take stock in what there is to be grateful for in life, and turn off the radio and phone. Jeanne van Gemert, a senior instructor in Duke Integrative Medicine’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, drives about a half-hour from Chapel Hill to work. She likes to remove distractions from her drive, such as turning off the news on the radio, to remain present during her journey. She said drivers who can recognize they’re stressed and figure out the root of those feelings can lower their aggravation during a red light or traffic jam. “There’s a certain flow to the traffic,” van Gemert said. “If you aren’t resistant to the flow, if you don’t try to push the traffic, I find I arrive in a better space for the day.”