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Hi, I'm Sean Oliver.

I'm a product marketer living in San Francisco, CA and working at Optimizely. This is my personal blog where I write about marketing, startups, and life.

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Sean Oliver

4 Ways to Be More Productive While Driving

According to the Federal Highway Administration, Americans are no longer driving as much as they once were. Owning a car is expensive, young people are opting to live in cities with public transit, and technology continues to reduce the need for meetings IRL. However that doesn't change the fact that we're still a car culture.

Driving continues to be the primary way most Americans get from A to B. During this holiday seasona alone, I spent time visitng friends and family all around the Mid-Atlantic to places like Philadelphia, New York, Annapolis, and Binghamton (to name a few). In fact when all is said and done, I spent a total of 24 hours and 8 minutes driving.

4 Driving Productivity Tips

That's a lot of time spent looking ahead and trying to stay awake, but until cars start driving themselves, it seems like all we can do is stare at break lights and slam some Starbucks.

Here are four things I do to be significantly more productive behind the wheel:

  1. Audible. I love reading a good book, but I seldom make the time to do so with everything else I've got going on day-to-day. Audible (an Amazon company) lets you pick from a huge library of audio books and listen to them across all of your devices. Audible's app also allows you to listen to books at 2x speed and offers a quick "jump back 15 seconds" button, in case you miss anything---these are common features in lots of audio book apps, including iTunes Audiobooks.

  2. Umano. I read blogs to keep up on news, but scanning TechCrunch while driving is about as good an idea as texting while driving. This is where Umano comes in. Umano selects the top news stories from popular blogs and hires professional voice actors to read them. Once you're done listening to a story, the app will begin reading the next one in the feed. This makes it easy to keep your hands and eyes where they should be while you're driving. I love listening to Umano. It's as enjoyable as listening to NPR. It turns mind-numbing idle time into opportunities to get smarter.

  3. iOS Speak Selection. This isn't an app, but it's an invaluable tool for turning all of the other types of written content you may encounter into auditory goodness. If you have an iOS device, enable Speak Selection by going to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speak Selection > On. Now when you highlight any text on your phone, you'll see a "Speak" option, which reads aloud whatever content you selected. Here are some popular use cases I've encountered:

    1. Reading Wikipedia articles aloud to settle arguments with other passengers in the car
    2. Reading Yelp reviews aloud to decide where to go to dinner
    3. Reading movie showtimes aloud to figure out which one you can make
    4. Reading text messages aloud to determine if they're worth having a passenger 'ghost write' a response for you
  4. Language Learning Podcasts. I've been learning Chinese for the last 2.5 years. There are a lot of useful and entertaining Podcasts out there, but I've found the ones focused language learning have been most rewarding. Podcasts are great for language learning because (1) they're short, and (2) it's easy to replay certain sections until you get it. Plus, the editorial nature of Podcasts helps immerse you in a target language and expose you to the culture of the associated country. For those of you learning Chinese, I highly recommend Popup Chinese and ChinesePod. You can also search iTunes' Podcast Library for your language of choice.

Drive Safely

Of course, it's important to find a driving work flow that works for you and your situation in the car. There are times when you need to give even more attention to the road (e.g. city driving) and there's always the chance an accident will happen that will demand your split-second reaction times. This might seem obvious, but keep the following in mind:

  • Set up your device (e.g. phone, iPad, etc.) with the content you want to listen to before you start driving.
  • Set up your car to play the content using USB, Bluetooth, or auxilary audio before you start driving. (Don't listen through ear buds.)
  • Find a volume level and reading speed that allows you to focus but doesn't take away from your ability to react to situations on the road.
  • Listen when you're commuting and/or on a highway. Don't listen when you're learning a new route or in a city environment where you have pedestrians and unexpected traffic patterns to contend with.

There will soon come a time when cars won't need humans to drive them, but until then, it's time we started listening.