Updated: Apr 26
There was a time when ‘going to work’ meant just that. You left the house and travelled to your workplace, arrived and got started on the day. You knew what time you needed to get up, to get ready and to leave the house and that was because you knew what time your bus or train would leave, you knew when the best time was to drive and avoid traffic, you knew how long it would take to walk, to jog or to cycle.
You knew if you had time for breakfast, or where you would get that on the way. You planned your route, both there and back, and your waking up, bed time and clothing decisions were all designed to fit the needs of the commute and the working day ahead.
You also knew what it was like to be late, and how there may be consequences for you and maybe others. You may have had contingency plans for when there were hold ups, who to call, when the next bus or train would come or how to take a different route if traffic got in the way.
And that whole process was one that we, in general, saw as a chore – a necessary evil to be endured and got through to be able to arrive at work and start our duties, tasks and responsibilities. The work contract is an exchange of our time for their money, often defined and described with boundaries, rules and expectations. Sometimes long, sometimes frustrating, sometimes overcrowded and sometimes resented, the commute got us from home to work and from work to home and we accepted it as part of our daily routine and made the best of it.
The Commute – that journey, which is now missing from many workers lives, is a curious thing to me. I have had many conversations with people who are finding that working from home – or perhaps we should call it living from work, a very challenging experience. They struggle with routine, with boundaries and with sleeping. The usual routine is no longer needed, the commute is from bed to laptop with little in-between. There is no stop time in the work as the commute home has disappeared, so the workday stretches on with even the edges of the work week now blurring for some. Curiously and surprisingly, it appears that the commute had a really important place in our lives which has only been brought to light by its absence! As the saying goes ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
It seems that the commute actually gave us something that really helps us to transition from one area of our life to another. Having a section of time that is neither home nor work is actually a useful slice of time, an opportunity to ‘warm up’ to the working day, allowing us to mentally leave home behind and take some time to move into the world of work. And just as the journey to work warms us up, the journey home is a time of ‘cool down, a transition again, an opportunity to decompress, leaving work behind and becoming ready for home.
Transitions provide an invisible line that defines the fluid edges of things and allow us to make a mental adjustment from one to another. Now that those invisible transition lines are missing it often means that the journey from bed to work, usually a laptop, and back again has been shortened to almost no time at all. This means that there is little or no time to adjust between the two states mentally and physically. It’s a shock to the system, and as we are living from work, in our homes, the usual structure that we relied on as a guide is not there. No need to think about when to get up, when to go to bed, what to wear. More of our routine and structure eroded, missing because they have no purpose – which was to serve the commute and the work environment. No wonder people are struggling!
So, amazingly, it turns out that the commute has a really important part to play as the backbone of our routines for work. That pain to be endured, that journey done under sufferance and moaned about is actually a key part of our mental and physical wellness! It provides structure, routine purpose and movement. Who would have thought it!
But that’s not all. As I noticed how the commute can actually provide enormous benefits for our wellness, I started to see how that the commute was also a time for self-care, a time for ourselves, time alone and often time to indulge in an activity that is just for us.
Almost everyone will be doing something while they commute that is just for them. It’s normal to look around at the passengers on a bus or train and see them chatting to a fellow passenger, reading, listening to music or podcasts or books, watching videos, engaging in social media, or maybe looking out of the window while daydreaming, some will even fit in a cheeky extra sleep before hopefully waking up in time to get off at the right stop. The car, the walk, the jog, the cycle ride can provide the same entertainment, distraction, opportunity to indulge or just watch the world go by.
The fact is that accidental self-care is happening during the commute, an integral part of the invisible transition line between home and work is actually serving each commuter with time for themselves – time that has now disappeared from our daily routines.
The conclusion is that we experienced two huge benefits that were provided by one activity that we all took for granted and were blind to its power to support our mental and physical wellness. There is was, quietly working for us in ways that we just didn’t appreciate at the time – but we do now!
So how do we get it back? How can we recreate the benefits of the commute when there is quite often no need to leave the house!! What steps can we take to make this happen for us again in a way that works for each of our individual needs. After all, our commute rituals and routine were completely individual to each of us and how we wanted that commute to best serve us.
In fact, we have the opportunity to create our perfect commute, one that works for us not only now but going forward. Some of us will always work this way or will have a hybrid of the past – some time at home and sometime in the office. And even for those who will move full time back into a work environment there is an opportunity to really appreciate the commute and the benefits it brings for self-care and transition.
So let’s look at what’s needed to start creating a 'Living from Work' commute.
First of all, take some time to think about the routine you used to have. What time did you get up, when did you have breakfast – was it before leaving, on the way or when you got you work? What did you do during the commute – listen to music, chat to a friend, play games on your phone? How long was the journey? What were your rituals when you arrived and just before you left work – getting a coffee, saying Hi to colleagues, tidying your desk or making a list of tasks for the next day? What time did you go to bed, and what was your bedtime routine?
All of these things are the elements to bringing back a routine that has disappeared, and yet is so important to bring back and support you in your overall wellness.
Once you have your elements you can start to design that “living from work” commute routine – Start by working backwards from when you want to start work, how much time could you spend transitioning from breakfast to laptop? 15 to 20 minutes is a good measure, and then plan what you will do in that time that is just for you – music, reading, games, going for a walk, daydreaming out of the window – whatever you decide.
Now you know, once again, what time you are going to start a ‘leaving the home to get to work’ transition commute.
You can then work backwards again – how long do you want to take from bed to breakfast adding in all of the things that you do to get ready before leaving the house. You now know what time you need to get up to make it possible and hey presto – the routine is back!
It’s now a simple reverse of that for the commute home. Reinstate the rituals you had when leaving the office and take 15 to 20 minutes to journey back in the same way as you did in the morning, winding down and transitioning before stepping back into the home with the benefit of mentally leaving work behind.
Finally, the best thing about the new commute is that it is entirely owned and controlled by you…so make it the best commute experience ever.
Enjoy the journey and the benefits no matter where you are.
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