Today I am starting a new contract which involves, for the first time for many years, travelling by train for at least two hours of the day. Now, twenty years ago I had a ninety-minute commute across London, South to West, and it was a matter of pride that I could do this with my eyes shut; at least figuratively. From front door to office, I enjoyed differing levels of being conscious. In short, I could sleepwalk through it; waking up fully refreshed with the first cup of black coffee.
That was a commuter train and two tube journeys; my commute now is on a comfortable South West trains route with of course free wifi. BUT, this means that for two additional hours of my day I can be online working. I have the ability to arrive at work having already checked and dealt with emails in several accounts; looked at social media; tweeted; updated Facebook….probably could check my shares performance, if I had any. In short, it extends the day significantly. But is this a good thing?
My commute in the old days was a doze; making up for the early start. That coffee was all I needed to reach full awareness; having caught up by napping. On the way home I would read; fiction that helped me wind down and relax. But now I work.
Looking around today at my fellow passengers, some are working on laptops (as am I). Some have their eyes shut but are wearing headphones, so they may be learning a language for all I know. A group of schoolgirls are chatting excitedly about who is on whose best friends list. A couple are talking. But nowhere can I see the exhausted blank-eyed, unfocussed staring-out-the-window of my early commuting career.
With this on my mind (and to break the ice during that tense induction period when everyone is discovering new realities); I discovered that one of my new colleagues lives three minutes from the office, and really misses the commute. For him it was a time of reflection, of preparing for the day, a time to get issues into perspective. Then I remembered a previous colleague whose working pattern changed dramatically when he acquired a car with hands free access to a phone. His necessary journeys around the country, hours on a motorway, were no longer dead time – and as a workaholic; he easily filled them.
But a commute, whether by train or car or even walking, needs to be controlled. It is time that belongs to you – not to work; not to home; not to anything in particular. Using it sensibly takes practice, but while you are between worlds, the choice is yours. So use it in the most productive way on that day. If you are tired, sleep. If you are travelling to a meeting where you need to impress, prepare. If you feel out of touch, catch up with the world; through all the communication channels possible. If you are tense, use the time to think things through and get things into perspective.
There are no rules. How refreshing.