Death by Commute

I’ve recently been working on-site with clients, and with that has come a fair amount of rush hour travel.

I generally try and balance my week with some time working remotely at home, some close to my home and some with clients. This balance hasn’t been an option in recent weeks and I’m starting to feel the effects.

I have a strong desire for regular focused periods and to carve out time for deep work, and when the day requires two hours or more just transferring between my home and my place of work for the day, it can be hard to find a means to make progress, or a rhythm to create any measurable value.

There are some techniques I’m going to put in place on days where I have an hour or more of travel in each direction to see if I can make those blocks of time at very least supportive of work I do at other times in the day. No more black holes.

I will usually consider using a car when it cuts a commute in half (or more) by doing so. This rule of thumb comes from the acknowledgment that driving a car limits any form of work beyond thought. Public transport however can allow work, where legs of the journey are long enough to support ‘going deep’ and seating is available which suits work.

To get the most from time behind a wheel, a plan needs to be made beforehand which defines a challenge, or problem, and enough information to help more towards a solution. Given, A, B and C, I need to consider and decide upon X. Here X could be the draft of a blog post, or a report. It could be a talk, or presentation. X could even be a technical solution, or a process solution to document more thoroughly once I’m at a computer.

To get the most from time commuting via public transport, tasks need to be considered which don’t require internet access. They may also need to consider that only part of the journey will allow for a comfortable position to write or use a laptop. It’s best not to expect more than note taking, or draft writing.

I’ve stopped aiming to work a specific number of hours each day. Where a client requires hours as proof of value creation, a conversation is required about why that’s a terrible measure of the impact a member of staff or consultant is having.

I will generally do between 6 and 8 hours depending on the progress I make, challenges I solve and energy I expend. If I have to commute a long way at each end of the day, that’s likely to compress the hours I do on-site, which often means I actually get ‘more’ high value work done thanks to deprioritising the low value shallow work.

For much of my work, and indeed much of most people’s work, they don’t need to be in a shared space with other people. Even paired and team tasks can be successfully completed remotely using screen-sharing, voice calls and a shared location for progress reporting and transparency.

If you currently require your team to work on-site 5 days a week, consider testing out a remote working day each week and see how the team get on with it, and what impact it has on value creation.

If all of us worked at home just one day each week, imagine how much quicker and less stressful commuting would be for the rest of us?

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