Here’s a fun fact for you, courtesy of the US Census Bureau. In 2019 the national average commute time to work was 27 minutes each way. You’ll recall that back in 2019, if you had a job that generally involved a commute, that meant you would typically be doing it five days a week. This daily routine worked out to be a national average of 4.5 hours per week spent in the limbo of time heading to or from work, whether driving, carpooling, or taking public transportation. Any way you slice it; you were not at home and not at work, so there was this extra period of time each day to allocate however you saw fit.
Listening to the radio or favorite podcast, getting in a few chapters of an audiobook, or simply zoning out and enjoying some mental decompression time was standard protocol. For the next brief period of time you were limited to the shortlist of commute-oriented tasks, which provided an ideal chance for a guiltless break in the action. No doubt about it, commuting has downsides, traffic being top of the list in my opinion. However, the opportunity to get lost in your thoughts for a little while was a very positive aspect of the workday package. Let’s face it, there’s only so much that you can safely do while you’re in transit, and most of the to-do list items for both home and the job don’t lend themselves to doing behind the wheel no matter how skilled at multitasking we believe we are.
Once Covid entered the picture, the daily commute for most people’s jobs was put on hold as the work from home transition went into full effect. Now, sixteen months later, many of us who commuted to work daily are still working from home or in a hybrid model with limited office days. Cue up the Joni Mitchell (or ‘Cinderella’ for my rock fan friends) because for many people, the commute downtime is now top of the list for “you don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone.”
I had an interesting conversation on this topic recently with Nick Mirabello, Chief Inspiration Officer at MP and host of the ‘Morning Mindset’ podcast, a show dedicated to creating mental clarity and helping people take charge of their wellbeing. Similar to the conversations I have been having with people, Nick mentioned how common it has been for people he speaks with to bring up the topic that while the working from home or hybrid schedule has been a win overall, there is a downside that has become apparent. For people working from home more, one unanticipated realization was just how valuable that window of commuting downtime was every day to their mental wellbeing.
Nick has been working with people on “Re-create the Commute” strategies in their lives by building some time into their schedule while working from home that mirrors what has been removed with the change to being remote based. Even if it’s a short amount of time at the beginning and end of each day to have that mental space to plan out your day a bit before getting started and then reflect on the workday when it’s over, this is an excellent concept for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost being that it’s a relatively simple habit to adopt. Secondly, these small windows of time provide some high-value opportunities to identify the priorities for the day, followed by a recap of what succeeded and what can be improved upon. These ongoing reflections and assessments are a fast path to progress in all areas of our life. In many cases, it’s probably an upgraded approach to how we may have been spending our commute time previously. Of course, be sure to still leave some time for cranking up some music too, no commute is complete without singing along to your favorite tunes, even if you don’t have your steering wheel to act as the microphone!