15 Ways to Maintain Your Zen Calm on the Road

April 22, 2008 at 12:19 am | Posted in Commuting | 2 Comments

Shock, horror - commuter loses cool in traffic

 You’re cutting it fine this morning. You’ve indulged in one extra press of the snooze button but you figure with a bit of luck at the lights and some nifty driving you can make up the time on the road. Things start out well. You’re through 3 sets of lights in a row. You’re across the level crossing before the train. Now down the freeway onramp and – slam on the brakes. Gridlock – no, no, no! Now you’re never going to make that meeting ‘first thing’ with senior management.

If you’re constantly frustrated by all those rude and inconsiderate drivers that are clogging up the roads today, here’s a few simple tips to turn your daily commute into a time of peace, contemplation and even productivity.


1. Allow plenty of time – If your chances of arriving on time require the ‘perfect run’ then you’re going to be late and frustrated more often than not. Trying to achieve the perfect run is like gambling. It will happen occasional and the feeling is sweet when it does but on average the house always wins. Instead allow extra time for the unexpected. If you do get a dream run then you can always use the extra time at your destination. The job interview is the classic example when you never want to be late. I always add at least an extra half hour to my estimated travel time. This gives me plenty of time to find the place, park the car, and some spare time to find a cafe and enjoy a coffee before walking into the office exactly 5 minutes before the interview.

2. Flexible arrival time – Never schedule a meeting ‘first thing’ or anything else that requires you to be in the office at a set time. If you don’t have a customer facing role, it shouldn’t matter when you arrive as long as you put in the agreed hours. Discuss this with your boss ahead of time and make it clear that you have a life outside work, things happen and you need to be flexible.

3. Avoid peak times – Peak hour traffic is the heaviest and I can’t remember when it was just an hour. However by restructing your day a little you can avoid the heaviest times. One useful technique is to organise activities near your place of work. For example join a gym near your office and go before work. It’s often easier to find the motivation to get up early to avoid the traffic if you’ve got something pleasant to do before starting work. Another option is to go for a run, walk or do some shopping during your lunch break. You want to be able to bring forward or push back your start and end times. What you don’t want to do is to start early and leave late.

4. Check traffic reports – This is only useful for avoiding the major incidents. Most daily traffic reports say the same thing ‘ traffic is at a crawl but about normal for this time of the day’. When there’s a major accident, beware the alternate route. If a 6 lane freeway is crawling on a good day, imagine what happens when that same traffic is forced onto a 2 lane arterial with traffic lights every 100 metres. The only thing to do in these situations is to wait it out. Work late, go and see a movie, go out to dinner. Anything is better than spending 3 hours in your car to travel 20 kms.

5. Don’t expect commercial radio to entertain you – Commercial radio would have you believe that sitting in your car listening to the ‘freshest’, ‘most varied’ music mix with the crazy breakfast and drive teams is the best time you’ll have all week. The reality is that you’ll spend 10 minutes per hour listening to ads, 10 minutes being told how cool, fresh, plays more music the radio station is, 5 minutes on the totally original, wacky new competition they’re running next month where you can win $200 if you can ‘beat this bomb thingy’ and 5 minutes listening to innane banter between ‘the crew’. That leaves 30 minutes per hour for music, half of which you won’t like.

The answer is to load up your iPod or MP3 player with your own music. Many car radios have an AUX in or even dedicated iPod docks. However I’ve found that plain old earbuds also work well in the car. They cut out a little of road noise but not so much that you won’t hear a warning honk or siren.

6. If you’re running late phone ahead – No matter how much planning you do there are going to be times when you get stuck in traffic and are going to be late. Always phone ahead or send a txt to let those who are expecting you that you’re going to be late. If it’s a loved who’s one expecting you, they may start to worry. In all cases it lets people change their plans. 

Go With The Flow

7. Adopt the right frame of mind – this is primarily about lowering your expections of others’ driving behaviour. People are going to cut you off, drive dangerously, push into queues, not give an inch when you’re trying to merge and abuse you whenever they’re in the wrong. Expect it and ignore it. Rise above it and do not get drawn into a confrontation. Be courteous at all times and allow yourself a little smirk of satisfaction when their Karma ends up in a nose to tail.

8. Never try to beat the traffic – You see it all the time. The driver who is constantly tailgating in heavy traffic. Continously changing lanes on the freeway to gain a place or two. Using the emergency lane when they think there’s no cops around. Forcing their way into a lane at the last second. It’s dangerous and it requires a lot of effort. For what – to cut 3-4% off your travel time. Fighting traffic is like paddling downstream – you will expend a lot of energy for little additional gain. Instead, just go with the flow.

9. Expend minimum effort – If you drive conservatively you will expend minimal mental effort and you won’t get stressed. Change lanes early. Maintain a safe following distance. Use the same route. Drive smoothly and you’ll get the added benefit of saving on fuel. Do it well and you’ll slip into auto-pilot mode. This will free your mind so you can put it to more productive uses.

Be Productive

One of the greatest frustrations of being stuck in traffic during your daily commute is the fact that it’s a complete and utter waste of time. You can eliminate this frustration by becoming productive while behind the wheel.

10. Thinking time – Once you’ve achieved you zen-like driving state you will be able to do some serious thinking. Plan your upcoming day, or review your day on the way home. Think through some ideas for a new blog post.  Work on a problem at work. Think through a DIY project for the weekend. The possibilities are endless. If you have a family, as you draw closer to home at the end of the day, you may want to spend a little time preparing for the onslaught that greets you when you walk through the door.

11. Listen to audio books – There are a huge range of non-fiction and fiction available in audio book format.  For example you can buy the entire Harry Potter collection on CDs. I’d recommend ripping them to MP3 so you don’t have to fiddle around swapping discs while driving.

12. Use Text to speech – There are a number of text to speech applications around that allow you to turn blog posts, news, magazines, eBooks, etc that are specific to your interest into MP3 files that you can listen to on your iPod or MP3 player. This allows you to keep up with your professional reading or indulge in your love for science fiction, etc. Because commuting time is regarded as dead time, you won’t feel guilty in doing it either.

13. Use a voice recorder – Record notes, ideas, etc on a voice recorder. The best ones for use in the car automatically activate on your voice, so you can keep your hands on the wheel. For an example of what can be done, a professional speaker wrote an entire book using her voice recorder.

14. Tune into the radio for news – Nothing does news better than a non-commercial radio station. Tune in on the hour or half hour, get up to date and then switch off again. Don’t rely on it to keep you occupied for the entire trip. There’s nothing worse than listening to the same news half an hour later.

15. Don’t talk on your mobile phone – This is your time. Don’t be interrupted. It’s also dangerous. More so than talking to someone in the passenger seat next to you. An interesting study showed that passengers were less of a distraction to a driver than someone at the other end of a phone. The reason being, as the passengers could also see the current driving conditions, they would naturally pause conversation when they felt the driver needed full concentration to negotiate a dangerous situation.






  1. Another tip – take public transportation. Ever since I sold my car and started to take the bus to work it has really eased things up. No need to handle road stress, that’s all on the bus driver. In the meanwhile you could do whatever you want, there’s plenty of people watching availabilities, or just doze off some more. Plus, it’s cheaper, you save gas, pollution, and road space. I can’t believe I haven’t done it before!

  2. […] 15 Ways to Maintain Your Zen Calm on the Road […]

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