OK - this one seems really odd, bear with me.
For many of us, the commute was a huge reason to move towards self-employment. Not having to jump into the sardine-can of inhumanity, cramming ourselves into packed trains, tubes and buses every morning and evening is often held up as a significant benefit to working for yourself.
Indeed, reducing the amount of time we spend travelling can be a hugely positive thing - not only is it a time-saving exercise (the average commute time in the UK is 58 minutes, up to 1hr 21 minutes if you’re in London - that’s 600 hours a year!), but also cost-saving (the average commuter spends £150 a week, £300 in London, that’s £200,000 in a lifetime) the carbon-costs reduce too, and from a mental health perspective, not having to “face the commute” is a huge relief - from those who struggle with anxiety in crowds, to just simply not wanting to deal with a large sweaty man’s armpit in your face at 8am on a Monday.
However, when we give up our commute, are we also giving up some of its positive benefits too?
I hear a collective cry of: "do commutes even have positive benefits?”
I say yes, they do - I think there are five benefits to having a commute, but there are ways of taking the best bits without the worst, and benefiting from a mental commute rather than a physical one.
The five benefits of commuting
Firstly, and possibly the most helpful, is the clear separation between home and work which the commute creates.
Whilst it’s very easy for notifications, emails, slack and thoughts to cross the barrier between work and home, the mental switch which a commute helps us take from ‘at home’ to ‘at work’ is really important and powerful. It’s a very tangible moment in the day where our brain is given time to recognise there is a shift between one state to another.
Block of time
Secondly, it’s a distinct and regular period of solid time where we can do certain things because we can’t do other things. If we’re sat on a train, we normally can’t be making calls, we can’t exercising, we can’t be collaborating. It’s personal and focused time with a clear start and end - which makes it perfect for giving ourselves a chunk of time for us.
It’s a solid 30 minutes of reading, reflection, meditation, learning, planning, or even doing nothing, and generally, it’s without interruption.
It’s also an existing and enforced habit - it happens twice a day, regardless of your motivation or energy levels, which is perfect for creating new habits and repeat behaviours. You don’t have to remember to carve out the space and time, it exists for you, and you’ll find it easier to encourage repeat behaviours (like practising a language every day) as a result.
The commute is also a moment where we’re exposed to new content, new ideas, new messages, new people. We’re moving between two physical places, and regardless of whether you like the idea or not, its a time where we’re bombarded with advertising, walk past shops and see other people. It’s in these moments we often stumble across something interesting - something that’s changed, something we hadn’t seen before, something we didn’t know yet. They’re thrown in our path to find (if we’re looking up).
And finally it is the two times each day where we get outside. Fresh air and exercise and sunlight. At its most basic, it’s time to move.
Right now, whilst many of us are working from home, putting in a clear line where we down tools and switch off is more important than ever, and for those of us who have been working from home for longer, we’ll recognise the value of being able to start and finish the working day in some way.
So, having building a “commute” in to your day is a way of ensuring you’re still benefitting from the positive aspects of a commute, without the painful parts of travelling, and also whilst we’re being enforced to stay at home.
Three ways to create a good commute whilst working from home
1. Schedule it in.
Put two times a day in your calendar where you’re going to have your commute - something roughly at the start and end of where you want your working day to be. Choose a block of time that you want to commit to, perhaps just 30 minutes each commute to start with. Use the ‘repeats’ functionality to make it automatically appear every working day, and create an alarm to remind you to do it.
2. Choose your task
This is the fun part, picking something to do each day. There are an infinite number of things which you could do daily:
+ Use the time as your daily exercise window, and get outside for 30 minutes.
+ Use the time to do your exercise inside, Joe Wicks in the morning for instance.
+ Start to learn a new language, with a daily lesson from Duolingo.
+ Use a meditation technique in the morning, and a reflection technique in the evening.
You don’t even need to use the time for development, it could just be 30 minutes where you tidy a room, or deal with some tasks whilst you have the energy in the morning, and give yourself 30 minutes to just rest and wind down in the evening.
You don’t have to do the same thing every day either, perhaps consider creating a schedule of different activities, for instance Monday could be about planning, Tuesday could be socialising, Wednesday could be learning, and so on.
But do think about the things which you’re missing out on at the moment, and see how your new commute can add those back in. Did you use to pick up a newspaper on the way in to work? Perhaps now find some new online sources to discover new ideas. Did you use to grab a coffee on your journey? Take the time to grind your own beans and make slow filter coffee, rather than rushing.
3. Share your commute
Perhaps the biggest thing we’re missing out on at the moment are the small interactions we had when we arrive at work, sharing the things we’ve been up to. So use the commute to gather things you can talk about, and then in the morning, when you’re starting the day with the rest of your team - share what you’re doing on your commute. A different person each day could share what they’ve found on their ‘curiosity commute’ of new content.
Commutes create a useful boundary and regular time to use however we wish.
Give it a go, and see if you can’t re-introduce a commute in a positive way to your modern working.