This is the second entry in a three-part series on modern life in work and business – you can read part one here.
I recently accepted a new job and the first question everyone asks isn’t “What’s the position?” or “What is the organization?” or even “Is it a promotion?” The question is, “Is it a shorter commute?”
Americans are obsessed with commutes. It’s understandable because we spend a large amount of time getting to and from our jobs. And it’s only getting worse:
The Census’s 2015 American Community Survey data, released last fall, show that the average American commute crept up to 26.4 minutes in 2015, or about 24 seconds longer than the previous year. Multiply it all out — 24 seconds per commute, twice a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year — and in 2015 the typical American could expect to spend about three hours and twenty minutes longer getting to and from work than in 2014.
Before I moved, I spent a year-and-a-half driving nearly 80 miles each way every single weekday. It took at least 90 minutes but, depending on traffic, that number could rise to a full two hours or more. Once, driving home in a snowstorm, it took me over five hours to get form my office to my home.
While it often felt like I was the only one, plenty of other people do the same, if not worse:
And workers with extreme commutes — 90 minutes or more — grew by the fastest rate of all (8 percent). At the other end of the spectrum, the number of workers with commutes under 10 minutes actually shrank.
Now, work itself is enough to make you exhausted and miserable even if you live across the street. Most of us, however, do not have that luxury and need to plan our day around our commutes. An eight-hour workday becomes a ten- or twelve-hour day. A twelve-hour workday becomes…well, you get the idea.
It took millennia, but we went from a hunter-gatherer species to one that farmed and was thus tied to the land. In the past half-century, we have evolved again to living far from where we work. And we’re still barely keeping our heads above water.
A long commute is a hazard to your health.
Sitting in a small car for at least three hours per day caused me to experience incredibly painful sciatica and lower back pain, regardless of how many cushions I put on my seat. It also lends itself to eating like crap – you’re always on the road, why not hit the drive-thru? Then there are the unexpected events.
One afternoon, as I was driving 70 mph on the interstate, I heard something break and the next thing I knew, I was staring at the dome light on my car’s interior roof. My seat back had snapped. Unfortunately, it was quarter-close, so I couldn’t take a day off, so for three days I needed to drive back and worth without anything holding up my back while also working twelve hours a day. It was excruciating.
Your body is not the only entity that experiences wear and tear. Piling up the miles will take a toll on your car and lead to many more oil changes and other regular maintenance, not to mention one-off replacements like a fuel pump or the previously mentioned driver’s seat. Moreover, when I was doing my death commute, gas was over four dollars per gallon so a large chunk of what I was saving by paying a lower mortgage was being wasted on costs to keep my car on the road.
There are two times of time: alive time and dead time:
While people wait for the right moment, there are two types of time: Dead Time—where they are passive and biding and Alive Time—where they are learning and acting and leveraging every second towards their intended future.
Spending at least 12.5% of your day behind a steering wheel is dead time. You can try to combat it by tearing through audiobooks at a rapid clip or conducting calls, but you’ll still be distracted, unable to give your full attention, and you certainly can’t take notes.
If you commute by transit you may think it’s better because you’re not having to drive and you’re not destroying your own vehicle. Yes, you can read or sleep, but neither are as enjoyable as they would be in your home and, besides, there’s the possibility of your train or bus being late or you being stranded on a platform for hours. If America’s largest and richest city has a decrepit transit system that is a mess, how much faith should we put into all of the others?
In reality, the how doesn’t really matter.
The fact is that many of us have a shit commute and, if the current trend continues, it will only become shittier.
Christopher Pierznik’s nine books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.