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40 days in commutes

What to do after wasting 960 hours getting to work?

December 2, 2019
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On July 2017 I started on a new job. I had little to no experience, and I was lucky enough to get offered one that was exactly what I needed back then.

The only downside of it is that it came with a 1 hour commute. For me, this didn’t sound too bad. The company was a 5 min walk away from a train station, and I lived pretty close the other side of the commute as well. Still, it was a 2 hours of commuting every day.

2 hours every day means 10 hours a week. Which is around 520 hours a year. If you take out 4 weeks vacation you are entitled to in Portugal, you get around 480 hours, which is exactly 20 days. Over the course of 2 years, that’s 40 full days worth of time.

How would you spend 40 days sitting on a train?

At first, I kinda got excited about commuting, as weird as that sounds for me now. It looked like a perfect opportunity to read, write, think, learn and relax. To be completely honest, this isn’t necessarily false.

Commuting is, in fact, a great way to do stuff you probably wouldn’t do if you were just sitting home waiting around to go to work. In fact, a lot of people enjoy their commuteless mornings in bed and their commuteless afternoons procrastinating until dinner. Communters can't.

I lost count of how many books and articles I read during the those two years. I watched countless videos and shows, listened to dozens of podcasts and finally finished filling up my journal. I also answered to emails or made phone calls if I needed to. If it came to it, I just wondered about where all those fellow commuters go every morning.

This actually sounds entertaining. This could mean commuting actually made me more productive, specially because I was committed to do something useful with that “extra” time. Commuting is a part of your day that, even though it’s part of your routine, has the potential to be only time you have to really start getting to know yourself, what you want to do, what you are good at, and what you like.

What non commuters don’t understand about commuting

All the positive aspects of a commute mentioned above are true. In fact, it can ease the minds of those that are feeling anxious about starting the commute to their new job. If that’s you, don’t worry. It’s all going to be OK… until it isn’t.

For me it took around 5 months. After just 5 months my mind started wondering whether my job was worth it, if I was learning enough, if I was making an impact, if I got paid well enough.

All the things I’d probably take years to worry about, started popping in my mind after just a few months, which made me think if I was actually enjoying my job at all. At a very early stage, this led me to consider leaving a job that, in retrospective, turned out to be a pretty great opportunity.

So why does that happen? Why is it so easy to get demotivated doing a job you love just because you don’t like how you get to it?

Studies show that adding just 20 minute commute to your job makes you as miserable as getting a 19% pay cut.

It’s not just about feeling unproductive, or anxious or having go get up earlier than everyone else. A recent research suggests that commuting can actually be harmful for your well being and job satisfaction.

There are ways to minimize these effects and the same research shows that those who bike or walk report less overall dissatisfaction.

But no matter what you do (or what I did), you always get to a point where you don’t know what to do anymore. Every time you find a new activity, or podcast, or type of book, or blogger or Netflix show, there’s only a limited amount of time you can enjoy it without being bored out of it. And if you’re bored out of it, you’re just sitting on a train full of annoying people (yes, everyone will annoy after a while), doing nothing and feeling miserable. Every single day. So you start to wonder about everything. You’ll start thinking about yourself, your life, the world and your problems.

Inevitably, your job pops in your mind. If you’re very lucky, you are in an amazing company, doing things that matter, with bosses and managers that care about you and your work. If you are lucky, there’s a wonderful team spirit, there’s rituals that you wouldn’t trade for the world, and relationships with your teammates that get you out of bed in the morning.

If you’re lucky, wondering about your work place will make your day easier, as well as your commute.

But that’s an impossible scenario.

Working in an office is not a fairytale. It’s not supposed to be a fairytail. A lot of people don’t really love what they do, but usually even the ones that do, when they say they love their job, it doesn’t mean that love every single day. There are problems every other day and it’s probably part of your job to fix them. Problems create frictions, frictions create discussions and there’s a million possible ways of potential work related issues that can ruin your day. Special if you care enough about it.

Commuting gives you the time and opportunity to think about a thing that ruined your day. The worst part is that is harder to shut up these thoughts when you get home, or when you go to sleep. And before you know it, you’ve been thinking about work for 24 hours straight.

Commutes are problematic for the employer too

Sometimes there’s no way around it. You want to hire someone that needs to commute to work. They accepted it, so they are ones that should deal with it. Right?

Not exactly.

A great deal of running a successful business is putting together a successful team. But even the most successful teams make mistakes. Mistakes that cost companies money, yes, but worse, it affects the behavior of the team and their individuals.

It’s not that hard to snow ball a mistake until it makes your team miserable. Mistakes and stress demotivate a team. A demotivated team results in a negative working environment. Which continue to demotivate your team resulting in more mistakes and demotivation and so on and so forth. Great leaders find ways to get the team back on your feet. Others buy team building activities or purchase playstations and comfy coaches. Others may try to yell their way into the same outcome.

Whatever you do as a leader, there’s no way around stress at the office. And commuters already have a source of stress in their lives. If commuting to a job adds up to the stress meter, getting there would hopefully relief it, not make it worst. If it does make it worse (and it most likely will), how could you blame someone if he/she thought that his/her problems could be easily solved by finding a new job? One that doesn’t come with an extra pinch stress at the start and at the end of every day.

Your employee doesn't necessarily hates his/her job. It’s just that the normal amount of stress of a regular job is too much for an already very stressed out commuter.

I’m not leading into any groundbreaking advice

I could try to say to keep positive. To endure your commutes and don’t let them ruin your day. I really could. But that wasn’t going to be reflection of my own experience.

Commuting drains energy in the mornings and extends your work day until night. It makes you hate your job even when there’s really nothing wrong about it. Ultimately it makes you feel like your life isn’t about anything but work and that makes you consider all the different options you have.

What if there’s no way around it?

If there’s no way around, it means that you either really need the job you have, you really love it or it’s an amazing opportunity that can open doors to whatever you want to do with your life. It can also be mix of all three.

If that’s the case, you probably already made peace with it. You could try to get the most out of your commute as mentioned above. Read, write, learn a language, watch a show, meet people. If you drive, if possible, get a train instead. If you already get a train, try walking or biking.

If you feel like you don’t have time, get up earlier than you have to. Try to fill in an hour or two before getting to work with something you’d consider productive. Get an early exercise, or start a pet project, or a hobby. Anything that can make you feel like your day is not just about working, eating and sleeping.

I’m sure there’s millions people out there that spend a whole lot more than 20 days a year commuting and don’t come to the internet to bitch about it. Some of them might have been successful embracing it, others might just not care anymore.

In my case, as much as I tried all the things that could potentially help people that are struggling with this, from my experience, it only works for a while. And I eventually found a way to get out of it, which kinda involved quitting my job . But more on that later.

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