Commuting is one of the highest causes of work stress, and most frequent sources of complaint.
But I admit… I miss my commute.
Imposes an end to the working day
The average commute takes 50-60 minutes so one of the benefits of working from home (WFH) is that we have more time in our working day. Most of us have simply added our commute time on (plus a little bit extra) to the working day.
We aren’t working from home so much as living in the office.
Shifts us into the next gear
WFH we can go from home to office in 30 seconds, and we expect our brain to do the same. But in reality, the brain takes time to warm up and to disconnect.
Our daily rituals are mental triggers to release the neurochemicals we need to get us in the right mood for the next phase of our day.
Picking up a coffee from the Pret near the office, seeing the steps up from your tube stop, and locking your bike up are all signals your brain will use to prepare for what is coming next.
When we don’t take time to make this shift between personal and professional, we find ourselves still in work mode when we want to be relaxed. The problems or thinking from one area weigh on the other.
Creates mental space.
On the way to work, downtime can be an opportunity to plan the day ahead. This makes for more than just a productive day.
Studies found that following simple routines on the way to work – checking the news or reviewing their diary – gave people higher job satisfaction and less stress. Those who spent a little time consciously preparing felt happier, more energetic, and found long commutes less of a strain.
Gives our executive brain a rest
Our “executive brain” (the bit that does our logical thinking, exerts willpower, makes complex connections, etc) is bombarded with information and data all day. It’s extremely tiring making sense of it all.
Downtime during our commute gives our brains space to sort through unprocessed data, helping us understand and make connections, and solidifying facts and events in our memory. It provides valuable relief from the accumulated concerns from the day.
During our commute we are typically using other areas of our brain to:
– Read a book, listen to a podcast or music
– Focus on our surroundings and physical feelings (especially if you cycle, run, or walk)
– People watch
– Daydream or “zone out”
– Become absorbed in a crossword, video game, TV, …
These activities give our exhausted “thinking” networks a break.
Build a commute into your WFH routine
If you are working from home, you can still “commute”. Here are three suggestions:
1. Take a short walk as you normally would for your commute. I take a 10 minute walk to the station every morning and evening to draw a line between my work and home time. This gives me mental downtime, the physical movement I need to relieve any pent-up tensions, and changes my environment as it would on my normal journey.
2. Set aside some time in the morning, before you sit down at your desk, to think about and plan your day.
3. Allow yourself to end the day with a gradual gear shift. What do you enjoy doing during your commute? If you enjoy reading the paper, listening to podcasts, or chatting to your commuting buddy about your day, set aside “commute time” and do those activities as you normally would.
How to make the most of your commute
As we start to ease off lock-down, most people are dreading resuming their daily commute.
Rather than focusing on the downside, can you recognise and use your commute as an opportunity to recharge and reset?
Here are three ideas:
1. Create and maintain happy commuting habits – pick places or actions and use them as triggers to get you in a good mood for the next phase of your day.
2. Embrace the mental benefits of doing nothing or using different areas of your brain
3. See this as an opportunity for “me time” … to pursue a passion, or at least do something you enjoy.
Embrace Stress course
Over the years, as an ambitious employee, team focused manager and supportive friend, I developed a deep understanding of the challenges and pressures that we all face not only day to day but also in our long-term health, happiness and career development.