Need something to do
January 7, 2011 9:37 AM   Subscribe

I would like some suggestions on productive things I could be doing while on a short commute to and from work. Details next.

The problem is that my inbound commute on the train is only 21 minutes and the outbound only 35 minutes. I don't like reading the newspaper (cost, depressing, can read online at home, work if needed). I have an itouch, but games like Angry Bird and Trainyard leave me feeling empty. Reading books is an issue as I just get into it and the ride is over. Reading in general at those times makes me tired and there is no time to doze. Doing nothing (clearing head, taking in the scenery) is not an option as I know every square inch of the view. Is there something I can do in that time that has a start and finish that would feel productive? I have a feeling I am missing something obvious. Thanks.
posted by repoman to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My commute is generally the same length, and I tend to work on a to-do list for the next part of my day. I have a phone app I use for this.
posted by hermitosis at 9:39 AM on January 7, 2011

Are you too manly to knit or crochet? How about nalbinding?
posted by elsietheeel at 9:39 AM on January 7, 2011

The obvious is: Podcasts. Audiobooks, too. Both of which you could be listening to from door to door.

Are you on Metra or CTA? Becoming a bike commuter would also be productive for certain values of "productive".
posted by xueexueg at 9:41 AM on January 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Meal plans and/or grocery list planning. Podcasts-- for example, NPR's Science Friday is broken up into snippets that are each less than 20-25 minutes.
posted by dino might at 9:43 AM on January 7, 2011

Maybe there's something you'd like to learn that would benefit from short but frequent study sessions. When I had a similar commute, I did exercises in a foreign language workbook.
posted by the_blizz at 9:44 AM on January 7, 2011

short story collections rather than novels?
magazine-article-length stuff? either from physical magazines or stored on your local device with instapaper or readitlater?
posted by rmd1023 at 9:51 AM on January 7, 2011

I'm with xueexueg. I love audio books, even for very short car errands and walks to and from commuting locations. I recommend for its very wide selection of books and excellent readers, plus extremely helpful user reviews.
posted by bearwife at 9:53 AM on January 7, 2011

Desk stretches and carpal tunnel exercises
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:57 AM on January 7, 2011

Get some puzzle games, something that will stimulate your mind more than Angry Birds and the like. Try sudoku, picross, or crosswords.

Or read e-books in Stanza on your iPod. Immerse yourself in the classics. Good way to make yourself a more cultured individual in your free time.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 9:59 AM on January 7, 2011

D'oh. On reread, I see you pre-empted e-books. Puzzle games still rock though.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 10:00 AM on January 7, 2011

posted by headnsouth at 10:03 AM on January 7, 2011

Instapaper! Twenty to 30 minutes is enough to catch up on articles, and Give Me Something To Read ensures that you'll have something available even if you haven't been saving articles. is also helpful.
posted by neushoorn at 10:14 AM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

That length of time is perfect for delayed repetition flashcards. I see that there's an Anki app for your iPod Touch. A lot of the shared decks are languages, but there's also stuff like countries/geography, physics, math, anatomy... Or you can make your own flash cards.
posted by anaelith at 10:21 AM on January 7, 2011

Podcasts are really great for times when reading feels difficult or exhausting. The Science podcast is a favorite of mine.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:26 AM on January 7, 2011

What hermitosis said, with the added benefit that your commute is the only time you plan the day (or the next one, if you do it on the evening commute).

Get a single sheet of paper and put your schedule for the next day on it. Below that, put your to-do list. Carry stuff over from the previous day. When your train arrives at your destination, you're done. That's everything you're going to do that day. Tack that paper up over your desk, consult it during the day, take it home at night to work on it on your next commute.

On the other half of your commute, write. Just put down stream-of-consciousness stuff or scraps of dialogue or an idea for a story of something. Glen Cook wrote all of his early novels in two-minute chunks while he was working in an auto assembly plant. Maybe some day, you'll have a novel that you wrote entirely on the train.
posted by Etrigan at 10:28 AM on January 7, 2011

I try to make sure that my podcasts match the length of my commute so I feel like I've started and finished something whole during the commute. Some favorites in the 20 minute range are:

the moth
planet money
radiolab (the shorts)
posted by tempythethird at 10:51 AM on January 7, 2011

Response by poster: Are you too manly to knit or crochet? How about nalbinding?

Not at all and this is the type of thing I think I want. Something I can do with my hands and yet kind of think about what I am doing (plus learning). I don't really want an activity that requires an electronic device. Great idea as I may knit gloves for charitable organizations or something like that. But doesn't this require a good deal of setup time to get started? Huge newbie and would appreciate a basic site to learn. Thanks.
posted by repoman at 10:57 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd suggest starting out making washcloths- gauge doesn't matter, you can make them quickly, and since it's a washcloth it doesn't matter if it looks slightly lopsided. (Don't do the rookie mistake of making a scarf. Knitting a scarf takes eons even for fast knitters). Google pops a million things to start you off, but at the end of the day, all you need is a pair of knitting needles and some cheap yarn.

Once you've mastered dishcloths (really just one or two and you may get sick of them, although they are great practice for new patterns/designs), you can start on hats, mittens, socks etc. Plenty of charities would welcome hats, and there are a handful of organizations that take hand knit blankets. A blanket is just a bunch of small squares sewn together, those squares are wonderfully transportable.
posted by larthegreat at 11:30 AM on January 7, 2011

Nope, not a huge setup at all! A pair of cheap needles and some yarn will run you about $10 at the most.

larthegreat has a good point about dishcloths. And the cotton yarn often used for them is cheap and easily available at Michaels or Walmart (Lily Sugar 'n Cream). Just get some knitting needles and Google some how-to sites or videos (I think videos are easier) and prepare for a little frustration before it clicks in your head.

If you want something even more portable, nalbinding is great. It's worked in the round so you can do mittens, hats, socks, etc., and all you need is a flat needle (I make my own out of wooden row markers for the garden). It's a bit harder to comprehend (at least it was for me), but it's excellent for commuting because it's a series of knots - so you can't lose your stitches if you chuck it into a bag or shove it in your pocket.

I haven't got the ultimate resource for nalbinding; if you Google it there are tons of websites and how-to videos. Some of them are in Norwegian or Swedish, but they're still helpful because you at least get to see the work being done.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:09 PM on January 7, 2011

I knit on the bus daily and I wholeheartedly recommend this. It takes a little time to get comfortable with knitting in a distracting environment but it is mostly just getting yourself (and your fingers) used to the muscle memory needed to knit without needing to stare at your fingers every moment. Although that first scarf will indeed take eons, after one of two scarves you'll have built up the memory/skill to tackle more complicated projects... Dish towels sound like a great first project however!

One you get the hang of knitting splurge for a pair of circular needles ($7-10) because you can stop at any point in your project (i.e. you won't be furiously trying to reach the end of a row before your commute ends) and because they are easier to knit with on a crowded train (less poking or impaling of neighbors!).

If you are a visual learner find someone to show you how in person. I didn't click for me until I begged my mom for help! Check out a book or two from your library as well. Stitch n Bitch has good how-to illustrations in my opinion.
posted by rosebengal at 3:07 PM on January 7, 2011

Also - once you are ready. Interweave knits has a very comprehensive list of knitting for charity organizations.
posted by rosebengal at 3:11 PM on January 7, 2011

My commute is similar (slightly longer). I read magazines like Atlantic, Harper's, The Nation, the New Yorker. Serious mags, don't need to be current, articles are the right length. Podcasts work for me too.
posted by lathrop at 4:54 PM on January 7, 2011

For learning to crochet and knit, ravelry is full of links and people and patterns and helpful stuff. Also, mefites are there. One thing I like about crochet is that since it's a single hook, often pen sized or just slightly longer, it's more compact and less worry about poking people. and have lots of links to how-to tutorials and videos that might be less intimidating than the firehose of ravelry.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:21 PM on January 7, 2011

Seconding flashcards and specifically anaelith's suggestion that you can make your own. Take an hour in the evening or on the weekend to write them up, and you have plenty of material to learn and review during your commute. There are also lots of websites with flashcards you can download and print out.

If you do go the crocheting/knitting route, I'd like to second ravelry and note that I thought it was only for hard-core expert knitters, but the fine folks here at AskMe put me straight last year. I'm only a novice knitter, but it's still a great resource.
posted by kristi at 12:08 PM on January 8, 2011

« Older Please do not feed the DVD player   |   Please recommend a therapist Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.