Career Coach: Slow down and enjoy the commute
By Joyce E.A. Russell
So many people in this region like to compare commutes to see who has the worst drive to work. Conversations focus on bottlenecks, congestion, time stuck in traffic, road repairs and "crazy" drivers. Just commuting to work in this region can make the most easygoing person turn into a road-rage driver.
How can people take their daily commute and turn it into a positive experience?
Some people carpool so they don't have to drive every day. Others take public transportation so they don't have to drive at all and can do other things on the route, such as reading, listening to music, doing work, etc. Others leave for work earlier so they won't feel stressed about getting someplace late. Some opt for jobs closer to home to be able to bike or walk to work. Others negotiate with their employers to be able to work from home one or more days of the week.
I have two suggestions regarding your daily commute. One addresses the struggle you face each and every day just to get in the car. Let's face it -- you may absolutely love your job, but if you have a grueling drive ahead of you, it takes motivation to get in that car.
So what can you do?
You have to make the ride a more enjoyable part of your day. That means there has to be something that entices you to actually get in the car in the first place. Find something that you enjoy and build it into your drive. Maybe it's listening to a novel, practicing language lessons, listening to your favorite music, singing songs, etc.
What did we do before the existence of BlackBerrys, iPhones and the need to be on call to everyone 24/7? Don't you remember -- you just listened to the radio or you just let your mind wander.
Today, most people feel the need to "accomplish" a whole list of things even when driving. So we have people texting, making phone calls and reading over their notes for meetings.
Give yourself permission to enjoy your drive by doing something you like. Maybe you say you can't possibly do this every day you drive or for the entire distance. Then at least give yourself several days of the week to have fun on the drive or at least the last half-hour of each day's drive to do something fun. Not only will this motivate you to actually get in the car, but it will also lessen your stress and increase your patience with others around you.
The second suggestion I have for your commute is to use part of your drive time as "transition time." Think about it: You leave the office, you drive home (or take public transportation) and then you are home. Many people have forgotten about the importance of having a transition from one environment to another.
If you have the tendency to leave work and use your commute to continue conducting business (making phone calls, handling e-mails) or make personal calls that you have been putting off, what often happens when you get home is that your family comes to the door excited to see you and instead of being excited to see them, you may be feeling stressed. You just want to get in the door to relax. But they haven't done anything wrong -- your kids, pets, partner are just excited to see you. It's just that you are not ready to see them. By conducting work or being busy on your entire commute, you haven't made the transition to the home environment yet.
Once again, what did we used to do before the pressure of working 24/7 and all the technology we have today?
We used to just drive home and let our minds relax. This enabled us to make the transition to the next environment a much smoother one.
I'm realistic -- I don't expect people to get rid of all the work they have to do on the drive. Just don't fill up your entire commute with work activities. Make sure to give yourself at least 20 to 30 minutes at the end of your commute to get ready for the next environment. Even if you have a short drive, you still need to use the last part of it (five to 10 minutes) to turn off the "work dial" and turn on the "home dial." Get your head in the right place so that when you do open the door to your home, you will be able to enjoy those moments when your dogs try to tackle you, your cats rub up against you, your kids want to jump in your arms, or your partner wants to tell you all about his or her day. Not only will you be ready, but you'll actually enjoy those moments and feel less stressed.
Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist. She can be reached at email@example.com.