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5 Tips For Lightening Your Workload as You Commute to Work by MRT or Bus

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Joanne Poh

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Any Singaporean who claims they enjoy commuting to the office before 9am each morning is  driving a Ferrari and their “office” is actually a golf game with a client at some country club.

For the rest of us, the daily commute is a frustrating waste of time, stuck in interminable traffic jams or pressed up against other sweaty passengers on the MRT.

The average commute in Singapore lasts 40 minutes each way. That’s 1 hour 20 minutes each day and, for those who have a 5-day work week, 6 hours 40 minutes per week and more than 26 hours per month spent doing nothing useful. But this article is really for those who face longer than average commutes—yes, you, the guy who lives in Jurong and works at Changi Business Park, or you, the guy who lives in Bukit Panjang and is at the mercy of the LRT to get just about anywhere.

Considering the fact that Singaporeans work extremely long hours compared to the global average, finding a way to convert some of that commuting time into work time would help people leave the office earlier and finally have some semblance of a life outside of the office.

But how do you work when that auntie beside you is elbowing you out the way so she can get dibs on the pole, and you’re busy watching the guy occupying the seat in front of you swipe his way through a thousand potential Tinder matches? Here are some tips for getting work done on the fly, so you have more time for the rest of your life.

 

1. Working on your laptop is possible, but only if you have a seat

For those who want to work on their laptops, remember that you absolutely need a seat, unless you can find some short of device that lets you suspend your laptop from your neck.

Sure, there are a few fortunate souls who actually manage to get a seat, such as those whose rides start at the very first station on the line. If you live close to the terminus, such as at stops like Simei or Pioneer, you might want to consider taking the train backwards to the very first stop on the line so you can plonk your ass down on a seat for the duration of your 30+++ minute ride.

An extra 5 minutes on the train can be worth it if you can fruitfully use the rest of your commute instead of stare in despair at the copy of Lianhe Zaobao the auntie beside you is reading.

Some people also opt for a longer commute by bus instead of squeezing in the MRT if it offers them a higher chance of obtaining a seat.

Otherwise, depending on your route and how crowded it is, it might be possible to get a seat on the MRT by planting yourself in the centre of the carriage right in front of the seats, and not at the doors or the sections without seats. That way, when someone vacates a seat, you’ll be in place to take over.

Unfortunately, for most people taking the train to the CBD area, that’s not going to work, since people only get off when they hit Raffles Place. That’s why you need these other tricks.

 

2. Print out hard copies of work documents ahead of time

Your office might be cheapskate enough to make you pay for coffee in the pantry, but one thing they cannot begrudge you is use of the printer.

If you’re serious about getting work done on the train, it’s a good idea to print out all the documents you need and then carry the physical copies onto the train.

This can work better for people in certain lines of work than others. For instance, if you need to write up drafts or vet certain documents, you can do so using good old pen and paper, and then scan the marked up documents or type in the emendations when you get to the office.

 

3. Use a smartphone or tablet

Let those other people on the MRT waste their time as they try in vain to catch Pokémon on a fast-moving MRT train. Instead, get work done using a smartphone or tablet. While you might not be able to type as fast on these devices as on a laptop, you might still be able to get some crap done even before you arrive at the office, or after you’ve left.

Other than responding to emails, you might be able to use your smart device to do research, fill up online forms (such as in the case of salespeople who have customer-related admin to finish), do media monitoring (for PR folks), call or email customers and so on.

If you’re unlucky enough to doing a job that simply can’t be done remotely, you might choose to use your commuting time to work on a side hustle or do other annoying tasks that would otherwise eat into your free time, like paying bills, applying for jobs and so on.

Obviously, you should make sure your devices are fully charged before you leave the house. Care for your batteries by not leaving them plugged into the charger all day long, and when you buy new smart devices take battery life into account before making a decision.

 

4. Use headphones to cancel out distractions

While most people on the MRT remain in stony silence, your typical train ride is far from silent. Not only do you need to listen to those robotic announcements over and over again, some new trains even play very annoying ads and public service announcements. You’re lucky if you manage to survive the ride with your sanity intact.

If you’re the kind of person who’s easily distracted by your surroundings but can immediately get into the zone when you blast the right kind of music, noise-cancelling headphones plugged into an MP3 player or smartphone are a must. A bit of music really helps block out the misery around you and motivates you to start working.

 

5. Timing is everything

For those who are lucky enough to be able to get significant volumes of work done on your commutes, take full advantage of it by decreasing the amount of time you spend at the office.

If you are able to get half an hour’s worth of work done on your commute home, that means you can afford to leave the office half an hour earlier. It can be hard to pull the plug on your work when there’s still stuff that’s left to be done, but the reward of getting home earlier or actually showing up in time for happy hour is worth it. If you’re the kind of person who puts in tons of OT every day (and according to this 2012 survey 98% of Singaporeans were regularly working overtime), getting stuff done on your commute will enable you to do, well, less OT.

Let’s be honest, it’s a lot easier to just passively surf Facebook on the MRT ride to work than force yourself to get stuff done. But if it means you get to leave work earlier, it’s worth the pain.

What do you usually do on your morning and evening commute? Tell us in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.