Personal Productivity: 5 ways to make your subway ride more productive

Singapore government would ideally like everyone in Singapore to take the subway. So in all its efficiency, it has built subway lines that connect almost all parts of the country to each other. Next on the cards is a line that connects Little India to Tamil Nadu.
Interior of a Singapore MRT train. Image courtesy: Wikipedia
I try to use the subway as much as I can when I travel. Not only does it save money (cab rides are expensive in Singapore) but it also gives me chunks of time that can be used productively. People tend to react to subway rides in different ways. Newly arrived Indians always seem a bit unsure, confused by the unfamiliar terrain of an MRT station, myriad signs and instructions. But as soon as they become somewhat familiar with the process of boarding and exiting at their daily stops, they stop wasting their time reading signs and become engrossed in watching all the PYTs the subway has to offer.
After I had gone through these two phases (yes, you can get bored of seeing PYTs day in and day out. I pity studio make-up men) I started to think about how I could utilize the travel time more productively than standing near the door and staring fixedly at my reflection. Over the course of several days and several trips, I discovered a lot of ways to make the otherwise dreary rides more fun and productive. Here are five of them.

I shall admit here that I am a sucker for books. I love to read any spare time I can get. Over several years I have moved from comics to biographies to non- fiction to self-help to fantasy. Currently I have been reading a lot about personal productivity and personal finance. Having started a new career, I find that these two concepts are starting to carry more meaning and importance for me. I am nowhere near where I would like to be on these topics, but I am getting there.
And the key to doing that is to read. There are thousands upon thousands of websites, books, manuals and self-help lists out there that can help you out with acquiring new knowledge. Two of my favorite resources are The Simple Dollar and Wise Bread .They both offer sound, solid advice grounded in reality.
I get most of my reading done while I travel in subways. Having an iPhone is a great help in this regard, but you can pretty much use any device with an internet connection and a sizeable screen. Even a Sony PSP. Instead of whiling away time playing Angry Birds or Gears of War, try reading a new e-book every once in a while.
Listen to Podcasts

I was aware of podcasts for a long time, but somehow never got around to the practice of hearing them. Probably the act of buying an iPhone prompted me to try them out for the first time. iTunes can deliver the latest editions of the podcasts you choose to listen to, free of cost to your iPhone. And they can be incredibly useful. You can listen to the latest news analysis or to the audio version of HIMYM.
Here are three podcasts I faithfully follow
Language studies

Having a music player and a pair of good earphones can be a great boon during subway rides if you want to learn new languages. There are a wide variety of resources out there that allow you to listen to short pieces of audio lessons that explain foreign languages in easy terms. I am yet to try a few of them out myself, but they are definitely figuring on my list of resolutions for 2012, when I shall devote some time every day to learn a foreign language.
Solve puzzles

You don’t need to possess an expensive gadget to enjoy puzzles. Anything from a cheap puzzle book to a daily newspaper would serve the purpose equally well. The idea is to start off with easy puzzles which you can solve within minutes without taxing your brain too much. Once you get a hang of it, move onto bigger ones.

The last one is a slightly off beat suggestion, one that mainly applies to those who love to write or even anyone who is interested in human nature. There are few better places to observe the complex interpersonal interactions of human nature than in a small subway train, where people from a multitude of races, countries and cultures are forced to spend a significant amount of time in close proximity. Of course, this elicits different reactions in different people. Singaporeans tend to dive deep into their iPhones. Mumbaikars tend to evaluate everyone else as a potential terrorist or a pickpocket. New Yorkers tend to talk politics. The crux is, everyone reacts in a different way. And that provides a lot of food for thought.
The essential idea here is that subway rides provide you chunks of time during the day which you can benefit immensely from, if used efficiently. 30 minutes of commute daily adds up to 10 hours every month. That’s a working day.

3 thoughts on “Personal Productivity: 5 ways to make your subway ride more productive

  1. I used to read “the world is flat” on my commute from Tata Motors – i still have to finish it (yes i havent from 2 years) but u know some thing are best left to mature and ferment 😉

    i love subways and metros, but mumbai's trains are another matter 😛 i just cant mange to get anything done – its just that u automatically get one hand occupied what with only standing space near the door and a fear of being jolted out of the said open portal. maybe im not a “mumbaikar” yet – i wonder if thats not a good thing…

  2. I was under the impression that you need three hands to travel in Mumbai trains.One to hold onto any support, one to prevent yourself being accidentally ejected from the train and one constantly on your behind to discourage pickpockets and the occasional groper.

  3. well i've been on once when i didnt need any limbs, the sardine can was so packed that i, for the first time, was able to hold a pose like those in ancient temples, and was securely sandwiched for some one to rip off my mobile 🙁 rush hour with a hundred stinky indians sucks

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