I don't really have a commute anymore, thanks to Jalopnik's advanced system of live/work containment pods, but almost every other job I've had bookended the days with drives. Slate seems to think we need to do more on our way to and from work. They're wrong.
The title of the "productivity hack" is Don't Just Sit There: How to be more productive during your commute. That title, to me, is about as horrific as an article titled Don't Just Sit There: How to be more productive during your daily shit. There's just some places where maybe we don't need to be that fucking productive.
And, really, if this article needed to be written at all, it really should be titled Don't Just Sit There: Drive during your morning commute. Frankly, until autonomous cars finally and completely open up that hidden world of in-driver's seat snacking, masturbating, and reading, the only thing anyone should donate two turds about during their commute is driving their damn car.
The article makes a lot of assumptions about your commute being this abominable dead zone of murdered time. The author says things like
And research suggests that multitasking can make your commute feel more worthwhile.
... and cites a corroborating study. This concept is pretty unfair to the poor, beleaguered commute, which I actually think is a pretty worthwhile endeavor, since it, you know, gets your ass to work every day.
Things get worse from here, but in a nicely progressive way. The author suggests mentally planning out your day, which, sure, fine, you can certainly think about your upcoming day when you're in traffic, why not. The car can be a great place to think and reflect while you drive. That's fine. But very soon we're being led into the grim, acoustical-ceiling'd world of email readers and text transcribers, and into applications that help you make phone calls to call centers and then my brain just kind of fuzzed out into a beige blur.
There's so much about this article that makes me want to punch a horse. Even the valid points become cringe-worthy. Here, look at this:
Research suggests that listening to music makes commuting more enjoyable.
Holy fuck, really? Man, the Journal of Transport Geography must have blown their whole research budget on that earth-shaking conclusion, what with all that money spent on Young MC CDs and massive amounts of electrodes in chimp brains.
Everyone who has both ears and a driver's license could probably come up with the exact same results as that study, because, as scientists have said since the Renaissance, no shit.
These sorts of articles will always be around, like a funny rash or a friend who thinks they look great in that stupid hat (take it off, Travis.) The bigger issue here is twofold: One, we shouldn't always, at every moment, have to be thinking about 'productivity.' Sometimes getting to work is enough. And B, when you're driving to work, just fucking drive.
If you don't absolutely need to dictate or answer emails or Tweet whatever while you're behind the wheel, don't. Drive your car. Learn how it works and handles and feels, even in shitty city traffic. There's plenty of good safety reasons to do this, to be focused on driving while you drive, and, who knows, it's possible that with a little attention, maybe driving won't be such a chore. Maybe, with the right combination of attention, attitude, and a car you like, your commute will cease to be a chore and become one of the best parts of your day. Why try to cram a bunch of other, unrelated tasks into your drive when that drive itself could be rewarding?
Or, if it's just not for you, try and hang tight. We're really close to robots driving your ass to work, anyway, and then you can email and tweet and be so freaking productive all the time you'll explode in a big, wet ball of achievement. Congratulations, winner.