car driving in empty desert in evening

Making Driving Alone Productive: A Do-And-Don’t Guide

A minimalist guru might tell you to give up your car and walk — preferably barefoot — to only the places you really need to go. There’s no place in a simple life, so many writers seem to think, for a car.

But I live 30 miles from the city that I call home and at least nine miles from anything resembling a town. There’s no light rail or bus route out here, and besides, I live in Texas. Public transportation is improving here, but there’s no plan for any of it to pass near my neck of the woods. Driving is inevitable — although I’m always looking for ways to reduce the amount of driving I do.

Driving alone can be a tedious process. It’s often useless time, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m convinced that when you eliminate distractions, you can reach a level of super-concentration — of heightened awareness — that lets you do something useful with your mind while also making you a better driver. Without distractions, one part of your brain is tightly focused on the task of driving while your more creative side is free to float into fertile lands.

Whether you’re a writer with articles and posts that need planning, a businessperson with problems to be solved or someone with life issues that need attention, time spent driving can be useful. Alone time is valuable, so don’t waste it.

Here’s a do-and-don’t guide to productive driving time:

Don’t use voice navigation.

If you have a pretty good idea where you’re going, don’t use your GPS voice guide. You don’t need the constant chatter. If know generally where I’m going, I look up directions in advance and then simply remember how to get there. It’s usually only the last few miles that are unfamiliar anyway.

Don’t create your own chatter by using your phone.

Time alone in a car is too valuable to waste on useless conversation with someone on the other end of cell phone connection. Besides, your chatter is robbing them of time they could be spending another way. (And using cell phones for talking or texting while driving is dangerous. Accidents cost money and lives — and dealing with them robs you of productive time.)

Don’t fill all your driving time with audiobooks.

While talking books can be a great way to keep your mind stimulated during long sessions of non-stop driving, you’re exploring someone else’s thought processes, not your own. Try to fill your head with your own creativity. You’ll be surprised what you can do.

Don’t listen to music either.

While I enjoy music in a wide range of styles and forms, here’s a truth that you need to accept: Actively listening to music can be a distraction in the car. If you’re singing along, you probably aren’t using the highest level of creativity your brain can offer.

Don’t listen to talk radio either.

Talk radio is 100 percent clutter, even if the host is intelligent or funny. And if the stations in your area are like the ones here, the time spent on commercials equals the time for content. It’s the aural equivalent of junk food. I put it in the same category as television judge shows. Even quality stations like NPR focus your attention on what they want you to think about.

Do have a way to take notes.

Whether it’s a pen and paper, a mini-recorder or a function of your cell phone, you’ll find business plans, writing ideas and solutions to household situations will float into your head. And you’ll need a way to (safely) capture them. You wouldn’t want something wonderful to float away.

Do stop often.

If you’re on a long trip, stop frequently even when you don’t have to. Make a note of anything you haven’t noted already, enjoy some coffee, tea or the (legally allowed) beverage of your choice, and walk around a moment. Productivity wanes when fatigue sets in.

Do disregard this advice sometimes.

I listen to a few minutes of news or talk radio for variety in my drives, and I have a few CDs of local bands that I enjoy. When your mind won’t focus, use these distractions to take you away for a few minutes. As soon as inspiration hits, tune out the distractions and get back to creating the next big thing.

This is an incomplete list, of course, but isn’t it enough to get you thinking about how to use your unproductive time?


  1. What I usually do when I drive is to listen to audio cd that deal about personal development. It helps to ingrain the positive info in me and I find it a great way to help me think positively. Thanks for sharing Gip

  2. Great thoughts Gip. I used to drive with the radio on full blast and I would be the one that pulled up beside you singing at the top of my lungs like the ‘crazy’ woman that I am. You would look at me and I would smile and continue to belt out my tunes.

    Ah, how times have changed. Now I want to be alone with myself in the car. No noise, no distractions, just thinking. It’s like my cocoon where I can roll up the windows, lock myself inside and keep the rest of the world out. When they seem to be closing in on me, I just slam the accelerator down a little harder.

    Just checked out your guest posters site coming up…looking forward to her post.

  3. Dia, thanks for joining us here. I hope you’ll visit often. I like listening to other people’s thoughts and ideas when I can’t think of any of my own, then I turn them off as soon as my brain begins to spin — at least, that’s the idea.

    And thanks, finallygettingtoeven, for continuing to comment here. I’m glad you’re finding joy in your alone time. Drive carefully!


  4. Hi Gip, thanks for the mention, very excited about our posts, and glad I got that spot!
    And I completely agree about driving, there can be something quite soothing about having no music or phone, just listening to the sounds of the road and the birds (if there isn’t too much traffic!!)

  5. I feel like I could have written this post 🙂

    Great advice and I’m really enjoying your blog.

  6. It’s me again…and I have a confession to make…Dave and I just returned from a marathon 20 hr trip in the car and while the first 10 hours we were riding together, the final 10 I was following him in another car. The first few hours I was content to be by myself but then ‘I’ got to be too much! (imagine that)…So I had to distract myself -from myself.

    On went the radio, full blast of course, out came my ‘bestest singing voice’ and the hours flew by. But the funny thing is I thought of YOU, yup, you! (let’s keep that our little secret from dave, haha)…

    I thought “Boy, Gip would not be very proud of my right now, nope-he would be downright disappointed in fact”… Gee- thanks Gip, now I have my conscious sitting on my right shoulder and you have moved right in over on my left…!

  7. Pingback: Simple Saturday Links 7/24/10
  8. Love to drive with a chosen few or by myself. Have driven from Maine to California and back several times and places in between the two oceans.
    Had a terrific time with doing the trip with a friend and met terrific people along the way when I have been alone. There is something nice about being enveloped in a place that is relatively protected from the world where you can explore your thoughts, ideas, and work out the things that are perplexing with God. Resisted getting a cell phone for years because I wanted one place in the world where no one could get to me. Nice to have one for safety, but good to be able to turn it off and when you stop to read the texts or hear the messages if so desired. We get to be slaves of electronic things in life and do not feel that we are productive if we are not on a cell, faxing something, on a computer or blackberry. Driving alone with nothing on where someone can find you, is almost as good as a mini-vacation, the world will not stop spinning if we do not answer a phone or send an e mail. God took care of others quite well before all these things.

    Love having driving music, stuff that makes you want to belt out the oldie but goodies from when we were younger just like finally does. Makes you revert back to when our lives were “simpler and funer”. Sometimes one needs to go straight from point A to B.

    Other times take a detour down highway A1, 2, 3 and see the wonderful things that God created that you have missed. There are many surprises out in the world still. Take a little pocket notebook to write down the things you thought or saw along the way–do not use anything electronic to keep This is back to the old days trip–People use to pile in the car on a Sunday afternoon and drive around to see what was there and have fun. Time to do this every so often again.–Yes, I know that gas is more, but throw your change in a cup to get money to fill the car.–It is time for you to unwind, throw things away that are not good for you and get a new perspective on life by driving alone. God will probably show you all kinds of neat things too.

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