Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Feb 5, 2010

Commuting: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Instructor Maggie, career secretary and commuter

Not everyone has the luxury of walking to work or even having a short drive anymore, thus “commute” is a big part of our lives. Sometimes it can be both bad and ugly. Bad when others drive too fast and try to push us; ugly when the weather works against us.  But find the Good - and put it first.

The company for which I work recently moved into its new headquarters building about 20 miles closer to my house and for the first couple of weeks the conversations in the elevator were “How’s your commute?”

It’s interesting to see how folks adjust to changes that affect that particular aspect of their day. The first couple of weeks, they check with each other to see who really has to commute further than they do and smile quietly to themselves because they no longer have a long commute. As the days progress, they compare different routes (and toll plazas) trying to figure out better ways to get from home to work and back. They also must learn new alternate routes if their preferred way has traffic issues on any given morning.

Just this morning I had a need to be at our former location and I wondered how I did that every day for 3.5 years! When I was asked back then "how do you do it," I usually replied, “Oh you get used to it.” And you do – until it’s time to change something else.

I have been commuting for the past 35 years – sometimes 10-15 minutes one way and more recently 45 – 55 minutes one way. Up until the move, my commute was about 90 miles a day, roundtrip. It is now 50 miles a day.   I have lost half of the upside to my commute.

What is the upside to commuting? For me, it has allowed me to leave work at work and home at home. This in turn has helped keep the insanity at bay.

I’ve tried listening to books but that didn’t work out so well for me – hard to focus on the story, the traffic and driving safely all at the same time! What works best for me is “elevator music” on the radio without a lot of talking. Don’t laugh – it really does soothe.

What I liked best about the length of the commute was that I could use it to “dump” all my at-home issues from my mind and prepare for my workday by making a mental ‘to-do’ list. On the way home, I can then “dump” the office and all that entails so that I can focus on what needs to be done or where I need to go when I get home.

One caveat – watch out for the homeward dump! If I had done everything at home that I’ve carefully planned out in my head (such as painting, new curtains, new anything, remodel, yard work, gardening – to name a few) my house would be a lead article in Southern Living and House Beautiful at the same time!! Other times, it’s “What shall I fix for dinner?” “What’s on TV tonight?” “Can the laundry wait another day?” “If I stop at the grocery store, what shall I get?’’ Shall I wait until Saturday and make a list?”

Just don’t think about work! If you can avoid it, don’t take it home with you at all!

My adjustment right now is realizing that I have a bit less time to process the same amount of data in both directions, so right now I’m finding that I am at home before I’m done and at work before I’m quite ready. I imagine it won’t be long before I will either process less or do it faster. I’ll let you know. What I am liking is that now I drive fewer miles a day and buy gas once a week instead of twice. Eventually it all evens out!

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