In 2020, I switched from working on the Island to a company closer to the house. I was fed up with the traffic. In fact, my commute went from a daily average of six hours to one hour or less both ways.
What a joy it was. No more being stuck in traffic for hours on end, no more leaving the house in darkness of predawn, no more jumping down from the bus in hold-ups at Alausa and trekking the rest of the way to Ogba.
I could leave home by quarter to eight and still make it as one of the early comers at the office, way before the 8:30 a.m. clock-in deadline.
But one month in, I noticed something strange. I was still stressed.
One day, I decided to think about it on paper and discovered the issue may have been the merging of my work and home modes. While I could flow right into work in the mornings, I came home in the evenings with the full baggage from work.
I realized I needed a buffer between work and home. The commute could have been that buffer but apparently wasn’t enough with my new workplace.
The Island-Mainland journey was a good buffer on good days
The time in traffic helped me to debrief properly from the day’s work–its annoyances, progress, and achievements.
It was usually enough time to debrief properly and then switch to off-work mode before assuming the home mode.
That transition was a good bridge I didn’t understand fully until my workplace became only 15 minutes away from the house.
Searching for the ideal commute
I got too tired and stressed out when I spent more than three hours coming back from work but a too-short commute was insufficient to switch from work mode, to debrief, to reconfigure mentally and recalibrate to home mode.
Perhaps there’s such a thing as an ideal commute length for me, maybe not for everyone although I suspect it could be so.
It’s probably why some folks feel compelled to branch at a joint or club or someplace before heading home.
Hey, I know there are other reasons for the after-work activities people choose: waiting until the heavy Lagos traffic reduces, or an opportunity to socialize or even attend important business engagements.
Regardless of their choice, I see the same incidental effect of that helpful transition between work and home.
So what you want is that ideal commute length, just enough to help destress or debrief or switch from work mode or detach emotionally if you like while you get home with enough energy and cheer.
So is there an ideal commute length for me?
I think so. I think one hour or even up to two hours is fair. It’s enough time to defrag (rearrange internal files so you’re fine again after the day’s engagements).
So time spent in commute to work isn’t such a bad thing if it allows me to de-stress or debrief appropriately before getting home and switching to home mode.
I left that job in August, just four months in. I don’t know if a commute buffer would have changed things.
Maybe 2020 was particularly stressful, right? Maybe I could have fared better with that job in other circumstances. Here was my situation–no excuses, just saying it as it was:
- An unfamiliar work setting and reporting structure I struggled with (most likely amplified by the prevailing mood).
- Pressure in daily operations I considered vastly unnecessary.
- The demand to hit the ground running. A good thing to desire from employees but fear is not a good motivator for some people. Okay, no excuses.
- The covid-19 scare and all the attendant anxiety in the air: cover your nose, wash your hands, do social/physical distancing, etc, etc.
- I was still recovering from attending twice or thrice-weekly vigils to “guard” our neighbourhood against night marauders who disturbed Lagos since government enforced the first pandemic lockdown.
- I was helping the big man through daily classes and assignments online (thankfully, they weren’t realtime. His teachers sent prerecorded videos and assignments and we could submit his work before 9:00 a.m. the next day). Although this took some effort, it was creative and fun even for me.