The ongoing pandemic may have influenced your memory when it comes to the daily commute. Don’t let it.
The Rat Race
“The trouble with being in the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”
- Lily Tomlin
Commuting is something, particularly if you work in an office, that you might previously have taken for granted. Now, after a year of primarily remote working, you may have forgotten what a drain on your own time and resources it really is.
Pre-pandemic, it was a trade-off between the desirability of a job versus the amount of unpaid overtime you’re going to do travelling to and from the workplace to do it. You really just got on with it for the most part.
Here’s an example.
Think of it like this — one hour to work, one hour back from work, two hours a day, ten hours a week, that’s more than one extra working day.
One extra unpaid working day taken out of your own time. That you pay for.
Don’t just think about the time it takes for your bus or train’s journey, figure in the waiting around time. And with driving, remember to factor in traffic delays too. Your mileage may vary, literally.
Of course, some commuting is inevitable if you’re working outside of your home, but it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s been some time since most office based workers have been in an office and the memory of the sheer drudgery of the daily commute may have worn off.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Some would disagree that commuting is wasted time and that it be used to read, listen to podcasts¹, or ‘study’. I think that’s really an ideal case.
Firstly, you’re not commuting on a plane, you’re not running Greenpeace.
With a train you’re spending time getting to the station (walk, bus, bike) then waiting around on a platform, in the variable weather. Perhaps you’re wondering if you’ll get a seat. Eventually you’re (usually) crammed into a crowded carriage — perhaps standing in the stifling humidity for hours on end. Not idea then, especially not ideal in the modern Covid world.
Of course, it’s inevitable that you’ll have several people having loud conversations over their mobile phones. Sure, put on the earphones and escape. Close your eyes, maybe. Was that your stop?
Realistically if you’re driving then you’re paying attention to the road — particularly if stuck in traffic.
So, you probably have the radio on or are listening to a podcast or audiobook via your headphones. Hopefully you’ve remembered to charge them too.
Speaking from my own experience vacuous radio is tolerable but can be extremely irritating thanks to repeated news items, ads, and the same repetitive music.
Talkshows are good, if you can follow every word and keep your attention on the subject. Though, depending on your time and length of travel, it’s not always possible to listen to something you’re interested in (unless it’s a podcast — see below).
A podcast is usually lightweight and passes the time, so your could be ok there. You’d have to have a few on your list though as you’ll easily grind through them on an average commute. Make sure they’re not too technical, however, or language learning courses, as you’ll find it hard to concentrate (let alone how repeating things out loud on the 07:40 to Charing Cross is just plain weird).
Audiobooks, personally, I find I have to concentrate — and just can’t do that while driving. I find myself flicking backwards all the time. Same on the bus or train, my attention drifts looking out the window or at who got on and who got off. The time just oozes away and my mind drifts into self-reflection².
It’s just not enriching and I don’t see it as a good use of anyone’s time (yes, I’m judging you all) to struggle to capture some tidbits of information that they most likely won’t remember in an hour or two.
Besides, if I genuinely wanted to take it in I’d probably have to listen to it all over again. This happens to me all the time when walking around the local backroads attempting to listen to an audiobook.
A lot of people read books or newspapers while commuting, very few survive the journey if they attempt do so while driving. Even on autopilot, so I’m told.
Fingers crossed you’ve remembered your book, have previously marked the page, and have enough elbow room on the bus or train to fish it dog-eared out of your bag and have managed to crack it open to get on with your reading.
You might have to flick back a few pages to remember what was happening, of course, so your average progress comes down a bit taking into account what I like to call ‘commuter recapping’³.
Newspapers? Well. Gone are the days of unfolding the huge broadsheets of the past (The Guardian, for example) on the suburban commute, thank goodness, wafting around acres of smudged and misspelled inky words to the displeasure of all involved. These days you can pull out your Berliner and get on — if you remembered to have it delivered early enough, or bought it locally anyway. Did you remember yesterday’s news, by the way? Thought not.
Oh, was it raining on the platform? Soggy paper disappointment time. Don’t forget to recycle it in the proper bin at your destination station.
Finally, if you need reading glasses like me, fish them out too while you’re at it. You’ll most likely have to clean them and then remember where to safely put their case too. Also, remember before your stop to unwind everything in reverse order⁴ and put everything back how it was. Otherwise you risk spending the next commute wondering where everything is and if you left something behind somewhere. Panic mode.
To sum up, if you’re planning on switching jobs just remember that you may have forgotten just what commuting is, how much time it takes out of your own time, and how you get to pay for it from your own pocket too.
It is most definitely worth your time and sanity to push for roles that bake in at least some remote working, if not full remote working if you’re suitably (geographically, ahem) distant from the workplace or simply that way inclined⁵.
The world is changed, but it will only stay changed if you hold it to its current shape until it stays changed otherwise it will inevitably revert back to the previous unsatisfactory and disappointing fit. Like a cheap jumper⁶.
Please, for all our sakes, don’t let the rose tinted spectacles of the daily commute spoil it for us all!
: They’re popular now, I hear. No pun intended. Though it does seem that everyone and their dog, literally, have one now. The market has become ‘Netflix flooded’, as I like to think of it, with more time being spent finding one than actually listening to one.
: I guess philosophers would like commuting. For a while. Especially the existentialists or nilhists. Don’t start me on the workplace and Bad Faith, that’s a whole future set of articles right there.
: I like to imagine a goldfish commuting to work and having to reread the same few lines continually.
: When I wrote this I wondered if anyone would spot that I have a classical education in computer science. Yes, people, I’m pushing and popping a stack.
: As I am. I have no qualms being employed by anyone, in fact the more physically distant the better. On reflection, that probably says more about me personally, though, than my choice of work to be honest. Hey, get in touch!
: I’ve never understood while some people call them sweaters, that’s a most unattractive name.