Using Traffic Jams

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Over at Unclutterer, Jeri Dansky gives advice on organizing for traffic jams. The implicit basic strategy is good: Avoid them if you can, but find a way to get some use of the time if you can't. Regarding the latter, a big one in my book -- at least when I am alone -- is as follows:

Pack the essentials

I always have a water bottle and some energy bars with me so I don't need to worry about getting thirsty or hungry. And I have a backlog of podcasts loaded to my smartphone to keep me happily occupied while traffic is slow (or stopped). Other people may prefer music, language lessons, or audio books in either CD or digital format.
Image via Pixabay.
I would add a couple of other things that can help, particularly if there is some flexibility about when one needs to arrive.

First, on trips with few or no good alternate routes (a fact that renders Waze and the like a little less useful), check traffic before setting out. On those occasions when you can know about bad traffic in advance, delay your departure a bit and do something useful with the time.

Second -- and this is really a variant of the first -- on trips with at least one decent stopping point, have things in the car that can help you make better use of the time at that stopping point. Is there a Starbucks that you pass every day to work? Pull over there if traffic is atrocious, and get the story. (I have found timely explanations for particularly bad traffic in Patch, in the form of reports on very bad accidents.) If it's going to take a while to clear, read or work there until the worst has passed.

None of this is ideal, but it can be satisfying getting a small win out of an otherwise annoying and frustrating situation.

-- CAV


Dinwar said...

When I lived in California I experienced traffic jams that were inconceivable to my farm-boy upbringing. It wasn't unusual for traffic to be so bad that it took 3 hours to travel 30 miles. I changed my work schedule (arriving at 6 am and leaving at 3 pm), but still had to endure an hour or more of traffic going to work, and another coming home from work.

One thing that this did was provide me a chance to think deeply about things. I couldn't distract myself via electronic devices, because traffic still (occasionally) moved--so I was able to dig into issues in a way that I otherwise wouldn't have been able to. Thanks to this I was able to improve my performance on "soft" skills at work, improve my marriage, and come to the realization that we simply couldn't live in California. Sure, it may have been better to not have had to sit in traffic so long--but since I couldn't not do it, using that time for quiet reflection was the best use I could have made of the time.

The unfortunate reality is that our culture doesn't value thinking deeply about things. People not moving (or not on an electronic device) are assumed to not be doing anything, and therefore it's assumed that they can be interrupted. This means that we have to take advantage of such time as we find that allows for such thought. For me it's mowing, gardening, doing the dishes, and traffic.

Gus Van Horn said...


That's a great point, and quite like one Cal Newport made about his long pedestrian college commute in Deep Work. I'm glad you mentioned that.