Productive Commuting

On a walk-about with my cousin earlier this month. Lake George, NY.

“In a beautiful letter to his sister in law, who was often bedridden, and depressed as a result, Kierkegaard wrote of the importance of walking. ‘Above all,’ he told her in 1847,’ do not lose your desire to walk: Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thoughts so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.’

Kierkegaard believed that sitting still was a kind of breeding ground for illness. But walking, movement, to him was almost sacred. It cleansed the soul and cleared the mind in a way that primed his explorations as a philosopher. Life is a path, he liked to say, we have to walk it.”

Stillness Is The Key, Ryan Holiday

Before the pandemic of 2020, I could count on one hand the amount of times I brought my computer home to do work after-hours or on the weekend. I didn’t mind staying at the office late to get work done, or even swing in there on the weekend occasionally – but I liked the separation from work and home. When I was at the office I was in the zone and when I was pedaling my bike home I quickly transitioned out of work-mode by either calling someone on my ride home, listening to a podcast, or having the wind in my ears. Plus, I had the coolest commute I could imagine: I would ride my bike to the commuter ferry and enjoy a short boat ride.

Taking the boat to work on the second leg of my morning commute. January 31st, 2019. Baltimore, MD.

My plan was bullet-proof; living close to the office afforded me this luxury. Until most of the knowledge working world couldn’t go back to their offices…

This came with many benefits. I’ve been able to get more reading done in the morning when I would normally be commuting to the gym before work. Not as many meetings, or distracting conversations. Most nights I’m able to eat dinner earlier than I used to, which leads to more sleep which makes pretty much everything better.

Along with these benefits, there were many trappings. If left unchecked, working hours could creep into your morning and evening routines. Most prevalent to me; once the physical barrier between work and non-work was breached, so was the psychological barrier. I found my mind being consumed with thoughts about work even when I was “off the clock”. A problem I had never really confronted before.

Back in April one of my mentors recommended reading “Deep Workby Cal Newport, which turned out to be one of the most useful books I have read over the last few years specifically from the standpoint of improving work and work-habits for a knowledge worker. This book inspired the 21 Day Shut Down Challenge I previously wrote about.

One recent addition to my “shut down ritual” has been an idea from my friend Matt Huggins, which I am calling the “productive commute”. The productive commute is the antithesis of the soul-crushing, blood-pressure raising, o-zone layer destroying, bumper to bumper commute some of us might be used to. The productive commute consists of a muscle-powered form of transportation of your choosing (bike, walk, skate board, etc.) that puts up the psychological barrier to the end of the work day.

On an ideal day, after my shut down ritual, my partner, Katrina, and I go for a 20-30 minute walk around our neighborhood. No phones. We’re not counting the calories we burn. Just going for a walk. Maybe stopping in the community garden or taking a turn down a block we haven’t seen before, but the purpose is to change our state as we move out of the room we have been in for most of the day. This is the end of the day commute.

On days after we do our commute I find my stress is reduced and enthusiasm renewed. If you have found your psychological barrier between work and home breached, consider the productive commute.

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