I hated my morning commute until I didn’t have one anymore.
I hated, and still do hate, the irregular price of gas.
I hated being forced out of bed before 6 and the house before 7.
I hated the morning DJ’s, but I was too lazy to turn on anything else.
I hated getting stuck behind a school bus or someone driving like a lost tourist.
I hated juggling my office keys, computer bag, lunch and briefcase through the parking lot.
I hated arriving at work only to find that I had left an important document on my coffee table.
Fueled in large part by my hatred of the morning commute, I started freelancing. I’m not alone here. In a poll conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, nearly one third of the American workforce is now either freelancing or working two jobs. Combine that with an unemployment rate hovering around 8%, and roughly 13% of the fully employed now working from home, and we can estimate that almost 40% of us do not regularly commute.
This is glorious news! Nearly half of us do not have to trek from our homes to the office and back, wearing grooves in the pavement and holes in the ozone.
Those first few weeks of working from home were a revelation. I set up shop almost anywhere that bore no resemblance to a desk — my couch, my bed and sometimes the living room floor. I worked wherever and whenever I wanted. If the sun was out on a Monday afternoon, I went to the lake. If I didn’t have a date on Saturday, I could hunker down and leapfrog between Netflix marathons and invoices.
Gradually though, I found myself gravitating toward a life of extremes. Some days, I abused my new freedom to the neglect of my work. At other times, I became obsessed. The urgency of my work overwhelmed me, crowding out anything that might resemble leisure. I began to miss the structure that a morning commute provides.
A Commute Ritual Draws a Line Between Work and Personal Life
Though I hated it, the daily commute gave my work a clear start and stop. It allowed me to (mostly) compartmentalize my job. Without that fence, work became everything and everything became work. All hours became time that could, should be redeemed for income. I missed the psychological transition from one state of mind (home) to another (work).
I missed my commute, so I built one without the traffic. It has three parts.
Create an Office — The first step was to create a physical place in my home where the work would happen. Some people cordon off a room, an unused bedroom, and call it “the office”. I wanted to maintain the flexibility of working from several not-desks, so I established that work, and only work, would happen on my Dell notebook. Wherever that computer was, I made my office. I removed from that machine any games, personal photos or bookmarks to social media. I made it a lean, mean copywriting machine. Headphones also helped me here. When the music is on, the work gets done.
Dress Up (sort of) — One of the most obvious benefits of a home office is the lack of a dress code, but there is a psychological benefit to changing clothes. Even if just from the t-shirt slept in to a clean one, a change of clothes marks the start of something new.
Go to Work — A traditional commute requires that I leave my home and its priorities behind and enter a different building with a wholly different set of concerns. The drive from home to office gives a clear departure, separation and arrival. Find a ritual that creates the same thing for you. I took up the habit of reading (or listening to) The Writer’s Almanac each day before I begin work. The segments are just long enough for me to wipe the mental slate, and start fresh. Podcasts work well because they have a decisive ending. Be careful about using your RSS reader here. It can eat up hours of work time, because there is always another post to read.
The weeks after instituting my replacement commute ritual, I was again surprised to find myself getting a lot more done in less time. Clearly defined work hours kept my brain from wandering, and I plowed through even the most tedious projects. I no longer felt guilty about my leisure time, because I know when the work would get done.
The evening commute accomplishes the same thing in reverse. I use these 3 End-of-Day Work Habits to ensure I will be fully present in my life away from work and successful tomorrow.
Do you have a ritual to signal the beginning and end of your work?
Share it below, and we can learn together.
by Ray Deck