Commute, a Productive Me-Time

How I changed my commute to “me-time”

For fifteen years (yes, one-five) I have been commuting from Kensington to Canary Wharf. It varies between a 35 and a 55-minute commute, which is not long for London standards. However, it is a crowded one, depending on when you hit the road. My commute has changed materially over the years. And not it is a productive me-time.

Banking and the Black Cabs

For my time in banking, I would get in around 9 o’clock and I was certainly one of the first ones to get in. A year in Capital Markets determined I was used to an earlier entry than most M&A bankers.

I rarely saw the London tube. I never finished before 9 pm, after which time I got a cab. In fact, I rarely finished before 1 am, after which time I got a cab in the morning on the way back. I am not sure these are accurate times, but they are roughly there.

For 3 years, I rarely tapped in my Oyster card or participated in heavy commute times. My commute was mostly dozing off at the sound of the London black cab engine if it was really late. I always found the Black Cabs safer to get home as they would be kind to wait for me to make it inside my apartment. In the mornings, the bus lane also made them a better option. I probably saw the traffic at Embankment more times than I can remember.

If it was not too late in the evening, I would call family or friends and have some leisure time on my way home. The way in was always a mix of sleep and email checking, in the old fashioned blackberry style. But mostly, I slept. It was often 50% of the sleep time I got for the entire night.

The move to Management

As I joined management, my day got materially compressed. With rare exceptions, I did not see the late London lights from a black cab. I started to really figure out the London commute then, what times worked, what times to avoid. As I did not have a set entry time, I could always choose to let another tube go and still be in just after 8 o’clock.

This was when I started reading the FT or a book in the morning. At times I tried the audio version of the economist. I felt this was a useful time to read more about business and, for the first time, I was not dozing off. In the evenings, I got to know the tube past 9 o’clock, as the habit of taking a cab home vanished. It became more efficient to be on the tube. I was doing my charity email and started using time more effectively. Through this time, email management, for work or for the charity was certainly top of the list for commuting time utilisation.

And then 6am…

In 2014, I joined Sales and Trading and with that got recommended to be on the floor at 7 am. As much as my day ended earlier than ever before, this was the twist to my commute. In the mornings, I could not stand to read a book, no matter what kind. My eyes would just close. In the evenings, as I was now part of the 6 o’clock rush hour, I could barely find the space to lift my arm and reach out to my kindle. My commute was back to being frustrating and unproductive. I did some email time, as that could keep me awake, but I really felt I was wasting almost 2 hours a day of my life, 10 hours a week, out of my precious 168 hours. I was also struggling with mental health, so motivation was at a low to do anything about it.

“Workers commute an average 38 minutes each way between home and work—a trip that can feel like a dreadful chore before the workday even begins. In fact, long commutes lower job satisfaction and increase employee turnover”

HBS, “Stuck in Commuter Hell”

Why are you telling me all this?

Easy. I did not find a good commute from the start. I have not been miserable for 15 years (or 15 minus 2 years in Boston where I commuted for about 30 seconds to the classroom). In fact, I have found things that work and then lost the will or the strength to do it. So what changed?

  • Bose headphones
  • Podcasts
  • Audiobooks
  • Onenote
  • Journal

Really? Because that has all existed for a very long time! Were you sleeping before that?

As I said, I kind of was, so bear with me.

Bose Headphones

I used to always go around with my apple headphones. I even had a little pink case for them. Yes, pink, so I could easily find it inside my messy bag. More often than not they just ended up breaking, give me a weird static sound or not work at all. Other times they just went missing.

After I had a  significant ear infection I stayed away from them. And one day, in a random (and rare) flight on my own out of Gatwick, I became the proud owner of my first Bose. Not noise cancelling, as I wanted to keep awareness, but large enough to do the trick. Small enough (and foldable) to fit my bag. We never parted ways since. They also give me perfect control right there on my ear to stop and go, so I don’t have to have my phone all the time. The Bluetooth works great. The battery lasts long. I was ready to find something to listen to. At the time, I was still on music

Podcasts

A year ago, I was getting increasingly frustrated with my commute time. I also knew I wanted to dedicate more time to learning and development but I still had trouble keeping with books and I just did not know where to find the time. For the first time in my life, I had multiple books started and not so many finished.

My first podcast was a Morgan Stanley one. The topic was good, the narrator not so much. I gave it a few more attempts. I ran through McKinsey and Ted Talks. McKinsey one was too dry. Ted Talks were too random. Until I found the BizChix Podcast. A simple podcast for women entrepreneurs (where I don’t necessarily fit in but sort of), focused on growing businesses. A mix of content, interviews, on-air coaching calls. I was hooked. On Thursdays I would listen to the new episode, on the remaining days I started making my way through the backlog back to 2014.  Great stories and good vibes, and there I was thinking and growing again.

With this one, I found more that interest me – such as HBR Women at Work or After Hours. I am still hooked on my first one though. I complement it with others with different topics for variety.

Audio Books

I was highly resistant to this one. The thing is, I really wanted to hold a book, even if that was a kindle. I did not resist kindle. The thought of carrying that alone with me to the beach rather than the previous mountain of books was pretty convincing straight ahead. As an easy shopper, I welcomed the convenience to buy the next book on the series the moment the previous one finished. But audiobooks? Really?

It was not until my friend João stayed with us a few days before the summer that he gave me the last push. I knew I wanted to engage in reading a book a month, and I had failed one month after the other. Me, who thrived on my books throughout my life, I was struggling to keep with them. So I gave it a go.

My first audiobook was The Loudest Duck. It was ok but extremely dry. I was committed to giving it a go. I followed with 168 hours – you have more time than you think and then I was sold. Since August, I have indeed read 1 book a month. Some days I will pass on podcasts and do my book, especially in the morning. As it tends to be a business or mindset book, it helps me get in the mood for the day.

OneNote

As you may have noticed, I have seriously picked up on writing over the last 6 months. I had tried it many times before. This time, I needed something to make it work. Again, a friend. Bruno said it was really good, and he could access anywhere and have everything always synced. And it would look like a book with many chapters. I thought – why not?

After installing my personal one note on my phone, I really started having a single place where I could jot down thoughts and topics and not worry about emailing myself or finding it later. When I am more committed to writing, I grab my iPad (with my new fancy keyboard). The moment I get home and put my computer on, it is on my screen.

This has been a game changer as I tend to write in short spells and so all I need to do by the time I get home is format and check. It was not the case today, I decided to chat on WhatsApp on my way home. It does not fit my productive time, but it fits my paying attention to a friend time.

Journal

The bullet journal also became part of my daily commute. Though I do it a bit less now (as I am slightly altering my morning routine to include journaling), it was another crucial thing to keep me awake. Some days I would podcast and journal in parallel, others I could be listening to a book and suddenly make a note of something nice I heard. The bullet journal has really got me into the routine of organizing my day and transitioning from home to work in a seamless manner. I don’t do work on the tube, that is something I really avoid. But I allow my brain space to grow and develop, which puts the “machine” going and at peak by the time I get to work.

Getting to Productive Me-Time

Commuting is still highly unpleasant and long, especially in the days that I want to journal and I have no seat. Or the days that I want to listen to a podcast and suddenly it did not download the one I wanted. Or when Chelsea plays, irrespective of what I want to do.

Í don’t beat myself up (too much) if suddenly I had an unproductive commute. That is likely to result in a productive evening to compensate.

My commute is now my me-time, productive me-time. I almost miss it in the times that I work from home (almost I said). I rarely allow myself the time to do stuff for me, like learning and writing, so being underground is the perfect spot for that!

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