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    Thought Leadership

    Commuting & Continuous Learning: How to Transform Commuting Into A Productive Part of Our Day

    CommutingContinuousLearning 1

    In our fast-paced world, commuting often feels like wasted time. But what if we could flip the script and turn those minutes (or hours) into valuable learning opportunities?

    Mark Fainstein
    June 27, 2024
    7 min read
    CommutingContinuousLearning 1
    This is part of Juno Journey’s Thought Leadership series, where we bring in leaders and experts to share their insights and vision on the future of L&D. Mark Fainstein is Juno Journey’s VP of Engineering, with 10 years of experience in the industry and an interest in exploring how people learn and develop into their best.

    This blog post explores the underlying forces behind our commute time, rooted in Marchetti’s constant, and reveals how it can be harnessed for personal and professional development. By rethinking how we use our commute time, we can unlock new potentials for growth and success in our daily lives.


    The Chuck Norris of Programming

    On January 14th, 2018, a software developer named Jon Skeet passed 1,000,000 reputation points on the largest developer community on the web, Stack Overflow.

    So why is it important and what’s so hard about it?

    Reputation is a rough measurement of how much the community trusts you. It’s earned by convincing your peers that you know what you’re talking about. Jon Skeet answered around 3,000 questions a year for 15 years. As of 2024, Jon Skeet is one of only 6 users with above 1 million reputation points on Stack Overflow.

    How did John do it (while managing a demanding schedule as a software engineer at Google)?


    Jon used his long morning commute to his advantage. Like so many of us, Jon spent hours commuting back and forth to work, but he was able to use this time wisely.

    So… What do we know about commute time, and is it really practical to harness it for learning activities…? Let’s dive in.


    Marchetti’s Constant

    It’s a surprising fact that the time an average person spends commuting daily (around 30 minutes each way) remains roughly the same regardless of the city, transportation method, or even historical era. Try this experiment: list the names and commute times of your colleagues, and you’ll likely find a consistent average commute time.

    The book Scale makes the remarkable observation that the innovations in transportation over the past few centuries haven’t reduced commute time; they’ve just increased commuting distances. This insight is known as Marchetti’s constant. Israeli engineer Yacov Zahavi identified this phenomenon, pointing out that the invariant factor is exposure time: the total time spent traveling daily. Even if an individual’s commute is less than an hour, they will compensate through other activities like walking or jogging.


    In ancient times, city walls of Rome, Persepolis, and other significant cities all measured around 5 km across, aligning with the average walking speed. 

    Even Venice today, a pedestrian city, spans 5 km. 

    With modern transportation, cities have expanded to a 40 km radius while still maintaining a 30-minute commute. In the remote work era, the average days employees spend working from home will likely stretch commuting distances further, leading to weekly commute times spread across fewer in-office days.

    It’s interesting to note that, according to the 2014 ACS, the average commute time for adults in the United States was 26.8 minutes. The occupations with the longest commutes were Construction and Mining (33.4 minutes) and Computer Science and Math (31.8 minutes). This data suggests that in the US, knowledge workers typically experience longer commute times.


    Time Vaults

    Peter Drucker famously said: “One cannot buy, rent or hire more time. The supply of time is totally inelastic. No matter how high the demand, the supply will not go up.”

    Here’s a question for ChatGPT: “Can you create a table showing the average weekly time spent on various activities by an average Western person?“


    While sleeping, working, and watching TV consume significant portions of our time, commuting also ranks high. From a managerial or L&D perspective, Marchetti’s constant shows that the time spent commuting is consistent across different departments, teams, and units, and can be easily calculated for your organization. However, it’s important to recognize that most people dislike commuting. To transform this time into a valuable learning opportunity, we need to shift our mindset and address the stress associated with commuting. By doing so, we can tap into this precious vault of time for meaningful learning and development.


    Why Do Most People Hate Commuting?

    To create an opportunity to learn on your commute, first you must find a way to make your commute less stressful.

    Two main factors affect the pleasure of commuting (beyond the commuting time itself):

    • Predictability of the commute
    • Expected vs. real speed of the commute


    The predictability of a commute significantly impacts stress levels. When you need to be somewhere at a specific time, such as picking up your kids from kindergarten, being 15 minutes late can be a real problem compared to being just 2 minutes late. A high variance in travel time can be extremely stressful because it’s hard to plan a buffer. For instance, if driving typically takes 20 minutes on average but can vary between 15 and 40 minutes, you effectively need to buffer for 40 minutes. Traffic jams and other unexpected delays make car commutes particularly unpredictable.

    Expected vs. Real Speed:

    Expectations play a crucial role in how we perceive our commute. When driving on a five-lane road, you expect to move quickly. Conversely, if you’re walking with a flat tire on your bicycle, being on the bike trail gives you a sense of frustration because you know you could be moving faster. This gap between expected speed and actual speed is a significant stress factor.

    To engineer a better commute, consider the following:

    • Prefer predictability over commute length: A predictable commute is less stressful, even if it’s longer.
    • Prefer an appropriate commute speed to the infrastructure over commute length: An appropriately paced commute feels better than a shorter, but more frustrating, one.


    • Steady, slow drive through small streets (“appropriate” commute speed): This is preferable to a jammed ride through a highway (shorter commute but more stressful).
    • 45-minute bicycle ride (predictability): This is better than a 30-minute jammed bus ride (shorter commute but less predictable).
    • Consistent commute: Choose modes and routes that offer consistent travel times, reducing the stress of unexpected delays.
    Chess Grandmaster Bobby Fischer playing chess in the subway
    Chess Grandmaster Bobby Fischer playing chess in the subway


    So What Can Learning During a Commute Actually Look Like?

    Here are some ways our team members at Juno utilize our commutes:

    • Podcasts and audiobooks: This is a popular mode of learning during a commute, whether you’re driving or using public transportation. And it’s for a good reason: audio learning is hands-free, offers a wide variety of formats and topics, and is easily accessible through the same platforms you use for music.
    • Videos: Similarly, video content is a great way to get bite-sized learning on the way to work (granted you’re not driving a vehicle). Whether it’s a paid course, free video on Youtube, or content provided for you by your company, watching something on the bus to work always makes commutes feel a little shorter.
    • Dedicated apps: From learning a new language to an interactive course on HTML, there are numerous apps out there that can feed your need to learn at your own time. Bonus points if the app is gamified so it feels like you’re just playing mobile games until you get to the office.
    • Books, eBooks, and newsletters: Whether it’s to keep up with a fast-changing industry or spend dedicated time discovering something new, the written word continues to be a reliable mode of learning. 

    The big takeaway? Learning during commuting has to be portable and mobile-friendly. 


    Final Thoughts

    Recognizing the consistency of commute times, rooted in Marchetti’s constant, reveals a valuable opportunity for learning and development. The underlying forces create an average of one hour per employee daily, which can be effectively utilized for educational purposes. There are numerous examples of individuals using their commute for learning, even while managing demanding jobs, like Jon Skeet. 

    As a managerial or L&D professional, you can confidently identify and harness this one-hour window per employee in your organization, simply by providing learning opportunities that are easily accessible on mobile devices and commute-friendly. By reimagining commuting as a productive and enriching part of the day, organizations can significantly enhance their overall development initiatives.

    Imagining what it’d be like to put your L&D course catalog on mobile, so your employees can finish courses on the move? Learn more about Juno Journey

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