Commutes & Non-Commutes: Transitioning from Home to Work and Back

May 6, 2024

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Someone asked me on Instagram to address commutes from a time management perspective. So, let’s dig into some strategies for traditional commutes & non-commutes for the days you WFH.

Full Transcript

Ep 53. Commutes & Non-Commutes: Transitioning from Home to Work and Back

[Upbeat Intro Music]

Kelly Nolan: Welcome to The Bright Method Podcast where we’ll discuss practical time management strategies designed for the professional working woman. I’m Kelly Nolan, a former patent litigator who now works with women to set up The Bright Method in their lives. The Bright Method is a realistic time management system that helps you manage it all, personally and professionally. Let’s get you falling asleep proud of what you got done today and calm about what’s on tap tomorrow. All right, let’s dig in!


Hey hey! All right, so today we’re gonna talk about something that someone on Instagram asked me to address, and that is commuting time. So now some of us commute all the time, other people never commute (always work from home), and some are hybrid (going in some days and not others). So we’re gonna actually address both today. I’m gonna kind of broaden the topic a little bit and talk about commutes and then also those days where you have those non-commute transitions between work and home and home and work.

Commuters – 0:58

So let’s address the traditional first because I think it’s just a little bit easier to get our brains around, and then we’ll turn to those non-traditional non-commutes.

Calendar Your Commutes – 1:08

All right, unsurprisingly, my first tip is to calendar your commutes. I think it’s really beneficial to understand how much time is taken up by commutes, when does it happen, and how does it interact with everything else I’m planning to do that day.

So what I like to do is kind of think about not just the drive but also give yourself a bit of wiggle room and also factor in, obviously, anything else you’re doing. So if you leave your house and drop a kid off at school or at daycare and then go on, factor in all of those legs. You don’t have to necessarily calendar each of them individually but block the amount of time that it would take for you to do all of those things. So I would think about the drive from home to point A, any time that you spend at point A (if it takes five-to-ten minutes to do something there, factor that in), and then the time it takes you to get to work from there. And then calendar that bigger block of time that now will help you see it and get it out of your head so you have less mental load, but also as you plan the day, you can see it, and if things move around, then you can understand how that’s gonna move around and affect everything else. It’s just less things that you’re trying to juggle and account for in your head.

So that’s tip number one is really just calendar it. Some people do this already. Other people don’t. I’m a big proponent of calendaring anytime that you’re driving or commuting or doing whatever you’re doing. It just takes time. There are less things to juggle in our head. So calendar it.

Frustration About High-Commute Times – 2:31

Then we want to turn to the less logistical challenge that I think is the main pain point for a lot of people, which is the frustration of feeling like a commute is wasted time, at least that’s what I’m interpreting it from the question. It’s what I used to experience to some degree, and I’ve seen people really struggle with it, particularly I would say new parents who are, for the first time, really getting pushed into high-traffic time. If you’re tied to dropping your kids off at school or daycare before, sometimes that pushes you into high-traffic commute times, and it’s just time that you’re not with your kids, not doing your personal life, but also not with work, and now it’s taking a lot longer because you’re in high-traffic time, and it’s incredibly aggravating. But I think you don’t have to be a parent to know that.

I mean, I used to commute before I had kids, and there’s an element of frustration in it as well. That’s the man pain point we’re trying to address is the frustration of, “This is feeling like wasted time that I’m just sitting here,” particularly post-pandemic when a lot of us didn’t have to commute and then now that people are back in it, it just feels so unnecessary, which adds to the frustration.

So let’s talk about that because it is what it is. I think we can all advocate for the type of work setup that we want, but I know that at least right now the trend is to move back into the offices, and when something is what it is, let’s just work with it, embrace the reality of it, acknowledge it, and try to make the best of the situation in the ways that we can.

So how do we do that? This is where I think that power of that question shines of, “How do I want to feel at the end of this?” And I’ve talked about that feeling in terms of the first time that I had it was when my mom gave me that advice. I was stressed out about my wedding weekend going into it (on the work front, some of the wedding front), and my mom was like, “How do you want to feel when you leave the wedding weekend. When you’re driving away from the hotel, how do you want to feel, and let that guide how you handle the next couple of days.”

Then it really was amazing. It helped me let go of a lot of things. The flowers showed up, and they weren’t at all what I wanted. It was like, “Whatever,” you know? Me throwing a fit about what the flowers looked like isn’t getting me any closer to how I want to feel at the end of this weekend. It just helped me kind of manage my own responses and behavior in light of it as well.

And so, same thing here. It’s a smaller-scale thing, but how do you want to feel at the end of your commute. And for me, at least, this varies based on the going-into-work commute and then the going-home commute. Those answers are different for me. And so, as you think about this as well, if they’re different for you, kind of focus on each one in turn: the morning commute (going into work if you don’t work traditional hours) and then the leaving work (going home commute). What you use that time for is gonna vary based on how you want to feel at the end of that commute.

Morning Commute – 5:26

So let’s talk about the morning one first. What I want to think about, and this can vary by anyone, is for me, at least, when I get to work, I want to be in a bit more of an energized mode but kind of a stable energized mode, not a frantic feeling but that kind of calm, solid, feeling like myself but in work mode, and I want to feel more grounded than sometimes my mornings might feel like but when I start. [Laughs] I just want to be able to focus and turn to the most important stuff. And so, I want to think about activities that would help me get there.

Now, the tricky part that I just alluded to is that your starting place — let’s say you go take a car into work every day. When you can picture getting in your car, buckling your seatbelt, that energy is gonna feel different based on the morning you just had. There were hours before this going into this, and you might feel frazzled and fried because of things that happened in that morning, or it was a good morning, and you feel pretty calm. It just varies. And so, while our end goal might be the same, that focused, ready-to-work, stable, energized feeling might be the same, how we get there might vary by the day.

So you don’t want to pick just one thing that you do every morning on your morning commute. I mean, you could. I mean, do what works for you, but also acknowledge that at the starting position you might feel differently. And so, there might be different ways that we have to get you to that calm, energized feeling.

And so, some examples, and we’re gonna talk about what to do with these examples, are — well, there’s really no right or wrong. There can be many, many options here, but some examples that come to my mind are being quiet, just letting your brain think. Sometimes those mornings, especially if they’re frantic, you don’t have time to think. And so, it can be a time to really try and calm yourself down, see what comes up, things like that.

I’ll note that often when we’re quiet, those kind of action-itemy things come up. And so, I do have a podcast episode on capturing to-dos and what to do with them in a realistic way. So that would be an example of if you’re driving and you think of two things you want to do when you get to work or when you get home that night, that is a good podcast episode to check out because it’s like how to use Siri or something like that to capture ideas and then what to do with them from there.

Another thing comes from Cal Newport. Another option is to noodle on a specific topic. He brings up the idea that he used to work — I think he was commuting by walking in Boston, and he would kind of come up with an idea related to work, or things like that, that he wanted to think about. It sounds kind of basic, but it’s nice to kind of try and give your brain an option of something to think about and keep bringing your brain back to it when you kind of go on some sort of tangent, which we all do.

I really like this because I think there are a lot of things in our lives (personal life and professional life) that would really benefit from thinking time, the space to actually think about something, but so often we don’t have the space to do it, or we don’t give ourselves that reminder when we have time (like a drive or a commute or taking the train or however you commute) to actually noodle on that issue.

So I really like this if you wanted to think about it doesn’t have to be all the time. Again, we’re just kind of coming up with a menu of options you might want to do on your commute going in, but in addition to being quiet, you could also give yourself something to think about. If there’s been a conflict with someone at work or you want to think through a substantive argument that you want to make or a presentation you’re going to give. If you want to practice those, this is something I do a lot, and I’ll get to it more on my non-commute. I work from home now, but I do walk my dog every morning for about 20 minutes, and I will practice out loud the podcast episodes. So right before I sat down to do this, I was walking my dog, and I was running through this in my head — well, not even in my head — out loud in the woods talking it though so that then I’m ready to sit down and talk about it in a little bit more of a coherent way.

Some other examples are really listening to a career (or something that gets you in that focused mode) podcast or audiobook that really just helps you listen to something that gets you in the right frame of mind. That’s another option.

Another option is to call a friend. This isn’t really necessarily going to get you in that focused mode, but maybe that’s not your end result for your mornings that you’re going for, but maybe it will. Maybe you had a frazzled morning and talking to a specific friend does calm you down, and this is something I would think about in particular for let’s say you live on the West Coast, and you have friends on the East Coast, and you know that their mornings are a little bit lighter and they can take phone calls, that could be a great time for you to call a friend. Even if you are driving in at nine o’clock on the West Coast, that’s kind of lunchtime for the East Coast, and so, that might be a good time to call someone. So you can kind of think about how those time zones play together and remind yourself to call specific people at those times.

Another option is listen to music. I think that sometimes, particularly on those really hard mornings, music is a really nice way to help yourself transition into a calmer mode or a pump-up-type thing or happy music and you can really kind of give yourself a list of artists that get you there, and then also another completely different approach is if you take a train or a bus to commute is cleaning out email if you want.

Now, the danger here is that it’s something that’s a little reactive to kick of your day, but I’m a realist, and sometimes it’s really nice to feel like you’re not wasting that time and clearing out your inbox so that then when you get to your office, you can do that more focused work in a better way.

So these are all just different options, and what I want you to think about is what are the options you like, knowing that you’re gonna have different — you’re kind of trying to create a menu of different things you want to do for future you when she might be in a totally different frame of mind. There might be four or five versions of future you: the frazzled, the calm, the happy. What does each of those versions of her like to do, and just compile all of those activities into a menu, and then I would put those in the calendar description part of your commute.

So you could title your commute “commute” and then even “see notes,” and then you have a little section of all the activities that you might want to do. Now, you could divvy it up and say, “For tough mornings, for more chill mornings, for happier mornings,” and then divvy up the activities underneath each of those, or you just give yourself a list of activities, and future you will kind of skim them and understand what our options are. Obviously, I think we all — you know what your options are right now, and it seems obvious to do this, but for me, when I’m tired or frazzled or things like that, I sometimes forget what my options are. And so, this is really a nice way that I have found to kind of give future tired, frazzled (whatever I might be) me the options of, with the goal, again, of getting me into the frame of mind I would like to be in when I walk into my office and sit down at my desk.

Evening Commute – 12:28

Now, on the flipside of this, at the end of your workday when you’re coming home, you can come up with other options. Some of these are gonna overlap. I still see the value in the quiet. I see the value in listening to great music that might get you in the frame of mind. I would love for you, if you can, to transition out of work mode during that time, but do what you want. This is your time. If you do want to kind of help yourself transition out of work mode and close those loops, at least for a little bit, this is somewhere where you could listen to a fun podcast, a podcast that makes you laugh, has nothing to do with work.

Same with an audiobook. I’m a big British romcom lover. And so, for me, I try and save listening to those fun books for the end of my workday and also weekends, and it’s a nice signal to my brain of, “We are done working, and now we are going into more fun places.” And so, that’s a nice way that you could signal that to your brain if you’re someone who struggles to kind of turn work off. Even if you plan on logging back into work at the end of a day, like at eight o’clock when kids are asleep, it’s still really nice to give yourself that freedom of a couple of hours of, “We’re not working right now. And so, let me enjoy something fun and help me transition out of that.”

Okay, so to recap where we are so far, and we’re wrapping up the traditional commutes and how to handle those. Calendar those commutes so that you’re protecting the time, getting it out of your head, seeing how it interacts with everything, and giving yourself a place for a menu to land, and then really lay out that menu of activities of for those morning commutes, what do you like to do, or for those going-into-work commutes, what do you like to do, and then those leaving-work commutes, what do you like to do.

The goal, again, is to — this isn’t supposed to be grand. This isn’t supposed to be a use-every-minute-of-your-day-productively-type thing. All we’re trying to address is the already-existing frustration a lot of people feel with how much of a waste of time commuting feels, and we’re trying to transition that into less of a waste of time and more into transitioning helping you get into the frame of mind you want to be in when you arrive at work. All right? So I hope that that makes sense.

Non-Commuters – 14:34

Let’s now turn to the days that you’re working from home. If you are, how to handle that transition when you don’t have the commute because, it’s funny, as much as we rail against the commute in some ways, there are benefits of it giving us the transition. I think the biggest benefit they give is I just think it takes our brain longer to shift between modes, like work mode and personal mode, work mode and mom mode, or whatever transition you’re doing. It actually takes our brain a bit of time to transition between them, more time for sure than it does our bodies, too. We can get up from our desk and dash to a car and go pick someone up, but our brains just need a little bit more of a bridge to the next mode. And so, that’s what we want to facilitate for ourselves even on those work-from-home days when we don’t get that traditional commute.

Calendar Your Transition Into Work – 15:25

So the first thing I would do is consider calendaring this as well. So I, in my calendar, calendar: “Walk Olive.” She’s my dog. I’m kind of jumping ahead, but that’s really my transition is my dog walks. I walk my dog for 20 minutes every morning, and then towards the end of my workday before I get the kids, that’s a really nice time that I can make that walk whatever I want it to be. Some days it’s just quiet. Some days I call a friend. Some days I listen to a business-related podcast on my walk before my workday and then a fun audiobook in the afternoon. That is my non-commute right now is that time.

And so, what I do is I calendar, “Walk Olive,” but what’s funny is, as I was thinking about it for this podcast, it is a time where I’m technically walking Olive, and that is what I’m doing so it’s great, and I protect the right amount of time for it. It’s all there. But I almost want to add to it and say, “Walk Olive slash transition into work mode,” or “Transition into fun mode,” and really make it more explicit for myself of the role of that walk as well.

So I don’t know if you’re thinking I’m weird, but I really like using the calendar to really spell out what I’m doing during that period of time to help future me understand, “Not only are we walking Olive right now, but we are shifting into work mode or out of work mode and into mom or personal mode,” however you want to think about it.

So, as I said, what this activity could look like is, for me right now it’s an outdoor walk. I really do advocate it. I know we’re not all the same. Maybe that is not the right match for you, but getting outside and walking, and I do it all year round in Minnesota, even when it’s freezing. I think it’s just great for us to get outside anyway, and then it is a really nice transition activity because it’s one of those kind of mindless things that we get to do like driving or being on a train that we can layer over the types of things that was just talked about in the commute and we’re getting outside.

And again, those options are you can still be quiet, you can noodle on a specific issue. As I said, I will practice a podcast as I walk. I would definitely practice an argument I wanted to make in court or a conversation I wanted to have at work. That’s something that — I really need to practice things out loud, and that’s a great time to do it, in my book. Similarly, I listen to career podcasts or audiobooks in the morning and try and transition out of that in the afternoon. Sometimes I listen to music. I don’t tend to on my walks. I’m a little bit more quiet versus listening to something like a book, but it’s definitely an option for you. I know that music really has the power to shift our mood, so that’s really something to keep in mind.

If outdoor walks are not your jam, I really see the value in moving your body, and that’s just — I’m biased. I am someone that even if I weren’t gonna walk my dog, I would probably physically putter around the house for about 15 minutes to transition, which I know sounds weird because I would be doing more personal things. But just the physical movement of puttering and cleaning up a space having it distract me less, being able to put that to bed a little bit more would be a nice fit for me.

You might just want to read a book or meditate or just sit quietly and drink coffee or tea or even just make a nice cup of tea or coffee to bring up to your office with you, just even that small activity can kind of signal, “Oh, okay, now we’re moving up to work. I’m gonna make this tea that I usually make and go up to work.” There’s no right or wrong here, but I do think it’s worth really protecting some time with the goal of letting your brain shift into the right mode and acknowledging that it takes a little bit longer than our bodies take to shift into those modes and give yourself, again, that thought process of, “How do I want to feel when I sit down even at my desk, which is in the other room.” “How do I want to feel when I leave my desk and move into other things,” and really help yourself get there.

Bake in Transition Time After Work – 19:22

The one thing I will say, and I think this is a little more parent-specific, but maybe not, at the end of the workday, to the extent you can, whether you’re in an office or at home, I hope that you don’t work straight up until the bitter end of when you have to go pick kids up or be ready to meet a bus or whatever it is. As I’ve said, we need to give our brains a little bit of time to transition, and it’s kind of the days that I have to do that that I work right up until when I have to go jump in the car and go get a kid, it’s just too jarring on my brain. It’s too jarring, and then I forget things like snacks that I need. It’s just a little too frantic, and it doesn’t really feel good.

And so, I would encourage you to block the last 15 minutes, the last 30 minutes, whatever you can swing at the end of your day before you have to leave to go get kids or transition into some other mode, to really just give yourself the space to transition out of work and into that different mode. It just helps us feel a little more solid and stable and like we’re kind of keeping up with what our bodies are going and what our days are doing by giving ourselves that space.

So take it or leave it. Just wanted to throw that out that that’s been a big thing that I’ve had to learn to teach myself. I love working. I love doing, and it’s not intuitive to me to stop working earlier than I need to, but I just know that it gives me that kind of more peace-of-mind, stable feeling that I think we all crave.

Recap – 20:52

All right, so to wrap up, use your calendar to help you see the time and know what you might want to do with it, again, with the goal of easing any resentment you feel towards a commute, like wasted time, and also for commutes and non-commutes, really helping you transition brain-wise into the frame of mind you want to be in that next chapter of your day. Use a menu so you have a variety of ways to get where you want to go depending on where your energy is going in. We can still have the same end goal but know that depending on how we feel, where our starting place is, there might be different ways that we want to get there.

Also, send me your tips! There’s no right or wrong, obviously, with this. It’s a great kind of crowdsource topic because I think that it helps everybody — someone listening to this doesn’t resonate, necessarily, with what works for me, but they might resonate with what works for you. And so, I really love kind of collecting this. What I’ll do is, depending on the volume probably, do a follow-up episode here or write a blog where I just compile all the tips and then I’ll link to it in the show notes for this episode for the future.

Well, thank you so much for being here, and if you’re wrapping up your own commute as you listen to this and you’re parked and just sitting there, I would so appreciate if you don’t mind, if you haven’t already, ranking and reviewing the show in Apple or Spotify, wherever you listen. It really helps me, and I really, really, appreciate it. More importantly, thank you for being here, and I’ll catch you in the next episode!

[Upbeat Outro Music]

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