Can’t stand your commute? It’s all in your head

Hate your morning commute? There is no need to move, or switch jobs. A recent study suggests an easy way to turn that lost time into found opportunity.

People feel more satisfied at work and less exhausted emotionally when they make a conscious effort while commuting to think about what they need to do that day and how it fits into their longer-term plans, according to a new Harvard Business School working paper.

They also have happier commutes.

The researchers call this way of thinking “goal-directed prospection,” and in their paper they detail how it can offset the strain of commuting.

The Wall Street Journal spoke with one of the authors of the working paper, Jon M. Jachimowicz, a doctoral student at Columbia Business School, about the study’s findings and how morning attitude adjustments can help with careers and commutes.

Edited excerpts of the conversation follow.

Question: How does goal-directed prospection work?

Jachimowicz: Just spend a few minutes thinking about your goals: What is it I have to do today to achieve those goals? It’s more important to get into the right mind-set so when you get to the office, you’re already in work mode and you don’t need to catch up.

Does it require strong willpower?

We find that people with more self-control are less likely to be negatively impacted by their commute. Those kinds of people engage in a specific kind of thought pattern. They are setting aside some time while they’re commuting, thinking about what they have in their schedule for the day, who they have meetings with, what they will do in those meetings, and their broader goals.

Goal-directed prospection is a way to achieve the same results for people who aren’t thinking in those ways already.

So, if you don’t have lots of self-control, you aren’t stuck hating your commute?

No, you can use the same strategy those people use to feel more positively about your commute. When we told people in the study to engage in goal-directed prospection, we found that those who do don’t find their commute as stressful.

How long should you spend thinking about your goals while commuting?

It’s up to you. You also want to set aside some time for listening to music, learning a foreign language, or whatever you want to do. The important part is that you have to just think about it, not do checklist items like sending emails.

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