Reclaim your commute!

For most people a daily commute to the office is unavoidable. We drive, carpool, catch public transport, or cycle/run/walk to work. Some people love their commute and others find it tedious and boring.

It was when I was spending almost 3 hours a day commuting (and almost as much time grumbling about it!) that a friend mentioned how much he loved that part of his day. Early every morning he’d set off on his bicycle for a 90-minute ride to work, and back again every evening. It didn’t sound appealing to me but he looked forward to it. He appreciated that he was able to exercise every day, he was getting fit and he felt happy and relaxed when he got to work and again when he arrived home in the evening.

I wasn’t keen on cycling to work! But it got me thinking if there might be other things I could do to stop viewing my commute as a waste of time. I asked a bunch of people how they viewed their commute and how they spent that time. Quite a few told me they enjoyed the “me time” – no kids, or coworkers or others to bother them. They could relax and do things that made them happy. Some said the commute home allowed them time to process their work day. I noticed a difference between those who begrudged that time and those who looked forward to it. Here are some of the things that made it more bearable, even enjoyable.

If you catch public transport.

This is one of the nicest ways to commute as you don’t need to keep your eyes on the road.

  • Call people you don’t get the chance to speak to often enough.
  • Read or listen to an audio book or listen to interesting podcasts. I love podcasts and have a long list of favourites – so many that I even use the Overcast app to get through them faster!
  • Use Duolingo to learn a language.
  • Look up”. Switch off. Put everything away and look up. See what’s going on around you, notice your surroundings … daydream.
  • Breathe. How you breathe has an impact on your stress levels and many other things. Here’s a good article with little-known but excellent advice “if in doubt, breathe out”.
  • Whether standing or sitting, practice good posture, engage your core muscles and tuck in your chin to avoid the dreaded “computer hunch”.
  • Improve your concentration and focus.
  • Using your time to practice mindfulness.
  • If your job involves sitting most of the day then your commute is a perfect time to stand. Standing engages more muscles than sitting, and there aremany associated health benefits.

Here’s a great blog from a freelancer in New York who now misses her train commute.

If you walk, run or cycle.

If you commute by using your own legs as transport then you are awesome! This is great for your health and mental outlook.

Quite a few people told me they use listen to loud music on their earphones but after a few near-misses they no longer feel safe doing that. If you are going to wear earphones then be vigilant about what’s going on around you. In addition to some of the public transport tips above, you could:

  • Develop good posture – engage your muscles and walk with intent. Turn your walk into a workout.
  • Practice feeling “actively relaxed” – focus on good posture and breathe evenly and try to feel calm.
  • I was told about a “walking meditation” where a friend notices colours, practices relaxing breathing or listens to the sounds around her.
  • Appreciate the outdoors. If you work at a desk all day then this is a good time to be out in the sun and breathing fresh air.

If you drive.

If you’re stuck in slow traffic here are some things you could do, provided you keep yourself and others safe.

If you can’t avoid commuting then doing these things can help to make it a positive part of your work day, even fun. And once you’ve reclaimed your commute then reclaim your job because that should be fun too!

Your attitude is infectious.

Infectious_attitudeIs there anyone at your company who you really like to work with? Anyone you’d want to avoid? What about your overall attitude at work, your manner and disposition … how do you approach people or give your opinion or disagree?

It’s obvious that no matter where we work we have no choice but to interact with other people to get things done. And while we’re getting things done we’re having an effect on each other whether we intend to or not. Sometimes it’s a positive effect, sometimes it isn’t.

There’s a well-known saying that “your reputation precedes you”. It’s important to be aware of how you might be “infecting” others with your attitude as it can have an impact on things like team productivity, individual’s job satisfaction, and your career prospects.

Are you aware of what others might think of you? You can never be 100% sure as opinions are influenced by people’s own values and life experiences, but it is possible to get a sense of their general feelings. Think of things you’re complimented on or feedback you’re consistently given.

  • Are you known for getting things done?
  • Are you proactive / approachable / self-motivated / sensible / trusted?
  • Do you take responsibility?
  • Can you be relied on?
  • Have people said they specifically want you on their team?
  • Do you encourage or help others to do well?
  • Are you open to new ideas or different approaches?
  • Is your opinion sought and/or respected?
  • Can you disagree without being disagreeable.

If you can say Yes to any of those then you can be fairly sure you are a positive influence at work. Sadly, it’s often the negative influencers who end up having the biggest impact.

  • Don’t be the person who is a stuck record, always complaining or pointing out things you don’t like. Instead, use that energy to find ways to help. There’s nothing like a good vent every now and then but if that’s all you do you lose respect, and moaning doesn’t actually change anything. Offer to help fix the problems or ask for support from others to find solutions.
  • Don’t be known for being cynical, distrusting or disparaging. Just one person behaving this way can infect a whole team by making it seem okay to focus on the negatives. There are plenty of opportunities to feel disappointed or lose trust but you need to be willing to give people another chance. Standing on the sidelines pointing at others isn’t a good way to promote healthy relationships at work.
  • Don’t be an arrogant know-it-all. Remember how you felt when you were new at something. Have some empathy for people who don’t know what you do. When you’re feeling frustrated at other people’s lack of knowledge use that as an indicator that you could do more to help them understand.

People who display these negative traits have often started out with good intentions. Those who complain may be trying to prevent problems for their team, or improve poor work practices. People who are cynical may have placed trust others but had their trust betrayed. Being arrogant could be a protective measure in a high-blame environment.

Wherever these attitudes originated, they can quickly become a habit. We all have bad days and moments where we’re feeling frustrated and we can’t help but be negative, but to be respected and valued at work you should try to keep those occasions to a minimum. Be aware of the things that trigger a bout of bad attitude and practice different ways of responding. Think of how you impact people. Be someone that others see as a positive influence. Take every opportunity to infect people with your great attitude.

Something is better than anything.

be_specificWhen you tell someone you’re looking for a new job, you can expect that their next question is going to be something like “so what are you looking for?”. You’d be surprised how often I hear people answer with “anything”.

They say things like “I’m looking for anything in testing” or “anything in IT” or “anything to do with customer service”.

Imagine it’s your first appointment at a new hairdresser. As you sit down they ask what you want and you answer “anything”. How likely is it that you’ll be happy with the end result?

I can understand that when you’re looking for a new role you may not be sure what kind of roles are available. Or you may actually be willing to do a whole range of things. Or maybe you think by being specific you might not get some other role you’d be perfect for.

But here’s what it sounds like when you say “anything”:

  • It sounds like you haven’t put any thought into what you want, what you could contribute to a company or where you might be valuable.
  • Instead of making you seem open to a range of things it could make you seem desperate or unenthusiastic or vague or lazy. Employers tend to like enthusiasm and driven and focussed people.
  • It could make you look like you don’t care.
  • It’s hard for employers or recruiters or people you’re networking with to mentally match you to roles/companies they know about if they don’t have any idea what it is you want or would be suited to.

When people ask what you’re looking for, you need to help them to help you. Prepare for their questions by considering the items in the list below. You don’t need to have firm answers for all points below … just focus on the things that you feel strongest about.

  1. What do you want from your next role? To develop technical skills or leadership, to stretch yourself, to embed skills you already have?
  2. Do you have an idea of the role you want in the long-term? Is your next role a stepping stone to that or do you want something completely new?
  3. How senior a role do you want? Why? Do you want to be a leader and do you have experience in this? Would you prefer to work in a team or alone? How big a team would you prefer?
  4. What industries have you worked in before that would give you an edge, and what industry do you want next? Why?
  5. What type of company do you want to work for? A small start-up, a growing company, a large corporation?
  6. What type of work environment do you want? Fast-moving, flexible, traditional, innovative? Is the development methodology important to you? Do you want a team where roles are flexible and varied or do you prefer clearly-defined responsibilities?
  7. What salary/benefits would you want ideally and do you have a minimum in mind?
  8. Do you have any must-haves?
  9. What is most important to you? The role, company culture, salary, benefits, training, flexibility, industry, opportunities, location, or other things?

Let’s change those examples above to something a bit more helpful:
“I’m looking for a test lead role at a telco.”
“I want a Java developer role in a large corporate organisation.”
“I want to work part-time in a customer service role.”

Once you have some idea of what is important to you and what you want to aim for, then decide how specific or broad you want to be when telling others. You don’t need to disclose exactly what you want but it’s good to have your ‘first prize’ in mind.

So the next time someone asks what kind of role you’re looking for be ready to replace “anything” with something.