After residency, I decided I wanted to live within 10 minutes from my practice so I would not have to spend my precious time commuting to and from work. I moved within a 7 minute drive from my work, no traffic. I loved the extra time I had on either end of my work day. First, I was exercising more, cooking more dinners, and having time for grocery shopping. It was great! As time went on, I was able to fit other activities into that extra time and I could spend more time doing work-related activities. I could run a few more errands each day and I began taking on more work duties that could be accomplished in the extra time I now had.
As a result of my increased number of activities, the exercise routine became more sporadic. Instead of working out before work, I could “get more stuff done” and then plan to workout in the evenings. Of course, EVEN IF my clinic didn’t run late with last minute add-on patients and phone calls or EVEN IF I wasn’t too fatigued or hungry after a full clinic day missing lunch, my family members needed my focused attention and my workouts would be further “postponed.” I now didn’t have time to workout. Basically, the “saved” time started out as more time for self-care, but ultimately was squeezed out with with more time spent on activities and obligations that I didn’t need to do BEFORE I eliminated my commute and less self-care. Poor planning…Lots of reflection and learning…
Fast forward to my current job that I love but that is far from home. (We can discuss in the future about how to grow into the job you love.) When considering this job, I had to accept that I would have a total daily commute of potentially up to 2.5-3 hours with the common severe traffic. I considered taking the train in. The hospital even offers a free shuttle to drive people to and from the train station. However, I do not live close to the train station, so it would still take me about 2-2.5 hours door to door to take the train, and without the flexibility of coming and going as I wanted. It was clear. With this new job, I would have a long commute to and from work, 5 days a week.
I began investigating how to optimize my commute time. After trial and error and rapid “quality improvement,” my commute is part of my self-care time. If you have a long commute, here are my 7 steps to achieving a Self Care Commute:
- Figure out when you HAVE to be in your office.
- Can you work from home on some days?
- Does it matter the exact time you get to work or leave work?
- Can you adjust your work day start and end times? If no, move to #4.
- Figure out your transportation options that agree with your work hours.
- Do you need personal space and time without other people during your commute? Do you have a car? If yes, move to #3.
- Are there ride share or public transportation options for you to get to and from your work that you would consider? For example: Uber, Lyft, Train, Subway, Bus, Carpool with neighbor. List them.
- How long does it take to get from your front door, to your office door for each of those options? Add to your list next to each option.
- Is your schedule predictable enough that your schedule can match a ride share, bus or train schedule? If no, move to #3.
- Will you need to travel from one site to another during the day? If so, will it be easier if you have your own car? If yes, move to #3. If no, list your options for travel during your workday. Include the door-to-door travel times and costs associated with each option.
- If commuting by car or truck, review the various driving routes to work and traffic patterns.
- Waze, ETA and other apps offer anticipated travel times to destinations at various hours of the day. Make a list.
- Can you find the range of travel times for the times you could drive to and from work for the hours you need to be there. Circle those travel times.
- Make a list of the categories of activities you can do during your various commuting options that you would like more time for. For example, Train: knitting, reading, listening to music, audiobooks, podcasts, writing, closing eyes and visualizing. Car: listening to music, audiobooks, podcasts, sitting in silence, connecting and talking to family/friends hands-free, driving through scenic route.
- Figure out the options for your activities on the way TO work which may be different than the way FROM work to home. For example, I am focused and my brain is eager to learn early in the morning, so I listen to non-fiction educational audiobooks on the way TO work. At the end of my day, my brain needs to relax. I may process my day by listening to music or thinking in silence or I may connect with others by calling my family or friends or I may want to be entertained and eagerly listen to the next chapter in the current detective series.
- Organize your commute times to optimize your commute and productivity. For example, my commute is cut in half if I drive in extra early before my scheduled meetings or clinic. This works great for me since that is when my brain is most productive so I can use that early quiet time in the office to achieve more. On my ride home, my commute is not optimized and is longer (by choice). I love that the longer drive home allows me more protected time to “squeeze” in a chapter or two of a fiction audiobook (which I wouldn’t read otherwise), process my day and connect with family and friends.
- Try it out and adjust your daily routines to optimize your commute times. After adapting my schedule and travel times, my commute time is not as long as I anticipated. I am more productive, my time is spent more efficiently and I have protected self care time daily. Despite the long commute, I have better integration of my work life and personal life.
- Maybe you will have more time to connect with more of your family and friends with hands free phone calls.
- Maybe you will find a new podcast or book series that make that unexpected traffic delay enjoyable.
- Maybe you will learn new skills with personal development audiobooks or a recorded lecture series.
- Maybe you will use the time to process your day, think about your family, consider your future.
- Maybe you will learn a new language and take that trip abroad or meet new people.
- Maybe you will work out at the gym near work in the evening before you drive home so that your commute time will be shorter and you will achieve your daily workout goals.
Once you recognize your commute time can be protected time to fit in the enjoyable activities you currently don’t make time for, you will find it is a luxurious time. While sitting in traffic on my ride home, I am forced to slow down. There is no checking emails or texts or getting online. I am in control of and I choose which activity I engage in. I appreciate the extra time I have for those fun activities that I otherwise would not make time for. The traffic ensures that I dedicate more time to self-care. It’s now my Self-Care Commute.
Photo by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash