Whether by personal choice or as a result of the pandemic, countless workers around the world have shifted from a physical office to the virtual workplace. Where trips to the vending machine and to co-workers’ cubicles once were, text messages and DMs via Slack now reign supreme.
Among these massive transitions in work, life is the elimination of the traditional commute, now replaced by the work from home commute. Rather than driving to an office, employees are rolling out of bed and into a desk chair to clock in for work. While the time saved by no longer commuting to work ( 35 minutes per day), on average is often considered a huge benefit of the remote work environment, figuring out how to repurpose this time can be challenging.
What is a Virtual Commute?
Essentially, a virtual commute is a way you repurpose the time that was once spent getting ready for your day and driving to and from the office. Whereas the commute to the office was mandatory, a virtual commute is optional and highly customizable.
Many workers who transitioned to the virtual work environment do not even consider the extra time they’ve gained by working from home, and simply spend that extra time sleeping. While this is a totally valid way to spend your virtual commute, it’s not a bad idea to practice some productive habits during this time to make the most of your day.
10 Ways to Productively Use Your Commute Time
Coming up with creative ways to use the time you’ve never had before can be challenging, which is why we compiled 10 ways to make the most of it. Of course, your time is your own, so take each of these ideas with a grain of salt. What’s most important is that you can look back on your day and feel satisfied with how you spent every minute.
1. Shower & Get Dressed
While you may like the idea of waking up and showing up for work in your pajamas a couple minutes later, this is inviting grogginess and a sleepy mindset into your day. By showering and dressing in the same clothes you’d wear to the office, your body and mind will feel refreshed and ready to start the day.
Plus, dressing well is a sure way to boost self-esteem. You’ll be radiating confidence at your next meeting if you throw on a dress shirt and some nice sleek pants.
2. Organize Your Workspace
It’s hard to put forth your best work when your desk is messy. Consider taking some time at the start of your day to file loose papers, clean up yesterday’s dishes, wipe down your desk and get your computer desktop all set up and ready for a new day.
In addition to the productivity benefits of cleaning your workstation, cleaning can be a powerful stress reliever as well as a way to engage your brain, like a mini-puzzle. Starting your workday will feel like less of a drag if you’ve already done something that requires a little brain power.
3. Enjoy an Audiobook or Podcast
If you enjoy learning new things but can rarely find the time to read a book, podcasts and audiobooks are great alternatives. The best part – you can multitask as you listen to a podcast or audiobook! Put in your headphones as you make breakfast, go on a morning walk, and begin answering emails.
You also don’t have to use podcasts and audiobooks solely to learn new things – listen to a fun story or an inspirational speaker to get you in a positive headspace before you sit down for work.
4. Polish Your Resume
Regardless of whether you’re satisfied at your current workplace, you can use your saved commute time to add your recent experiences to your resume. Keeping your resume updated will save you time and energy in the long run for the next time an organization wants to get to know you better.
We learn a lot just by doing our jobs. If your responsibilities at your current company have ramped up at all, it’s worth brainstorming ways to phrase what you’ve done to make yourself sound as impressive as possible.
5. Create a Roadmap for Your Day
It can be challenging to organize your day once it’s already in motion. The minutes saved by not commuting can be spent scheduling everything you intend to get done. Remember to account for breaks and inevitable low points in your day so that you don’t work yourself to death and experience burnout.
6. Go for a Stroll
One of the best ways to get your brain juices flowing is to exercise before your day begins. Since the virtual work environment often demands long days of sitting in front of a screen, your body will be grateful that you took the time to do this. Indeed, many negative health conditions such as high blood pressure and obesity can develop if you fail to integrate exercise into your daily routine.
If you find walks to be relaxing, consider taking your walk in the evening. This is a great way to take some time alone with your thoughts and process your day. You may need to push yourself to get outside after a tiring day, but you’ll ultimately be glad you did.
7. Visualize Your Ideal Workday
If today went exactly your day, what would that look like? By imagining every step of your perfect day, you might just be able to manifest exactly what you want. That said, it’s important not to fret if everything doesn’t go your way – workday interruptions are natural and demand some flexibility.
8. Practice a Hobby
Do you enjoy painting? Playing an instrument? Cooking? Work makes practicing hobbies pretty challenging, as it takes up so much of the day. Consider devoting the commute time you’ve saved to practicing the hobby you miss most.
Not only can this be a highly enjoyable way to spend your time, but it also helps sharpen your brain for the day ahead. Many hobbies take some thought or coordination, which gets the gears in your brain moving.
For example, when you learn a second language, you’re potentially warding off cognitive disorders that affect you as you age. But if that wasn’t enough, language learning can also increase your ability to get hired in all industries.
9. Take Care of Your Bills
There’s no good time to pay bills, but since your virtual commute has given you some extra minutes, you might as well use them to get this chore out of the way. While you’re taking care of your finances, consider creating a clean budget sheet or paying off all your cards at once.
These activities may only need to be taken care of once or twice per month, so they can be a good way to mix up your daily virtual commute routine.
10. Take A Flexible Online Class
Is there a skill or subject you’ve been wanting to learn for a while? A lot of schools and organizations offer online classes that can be completed at your own pace. Someone prefers self-education by reading education resources on the StuDocu platform, where students and teachers share files all over the world. Try putting in an hour or two per day to learn something outside the box.
Tips for Creating Your Own Virtual Commute
Before you begin creating your own virtual commute, there are some best practices you’ll want to keep in mind to make it worthwhile.
1. Choose Sustainable Activities
Are you choosing activities to fill your virtual commute time just because you feel they’re what you should be doing, or do you actually enjoy doing them? Filling your virtual commute with things you don’t really enjoy is not sustainable, and it won’t add much value to your day.
You also need to remember your limits. For example, if you tell yourself you’ll go on a five-mile run every morning before work, this high expectation of yourself might dissuade you from exercising at all.
2. Don’t Neglect Balance
Your virtual commute should include a healthy balance of productive and fun activities. If you start and end your workday doing exclusively productive tasks that are mentally or physically toiling, you’re bound to experience burnout. It’s important not to feel guilty for using some of your extra time to treat yourself, rather than just getting stuff done.
3. Be Patient with Yourself
Adjusting to a new work format can take months, if not years. You can’t expect the first routine you build to work perfectly – it will likely require some trial and error to create the best virtual commute for you.
On the days you sleep in and don’t check off everything on your list, remember to give yourself a break. We aren’t productivity robots and sometimes rest needs to take priority.
How to Maintain Work-life Balance When Working from Home
Even if you prioritize yourself during your virtual commute, it can be challenging to maintain work-life balance when your office is right next door to your bedroom. If you’re struggling to draw a line between work and life when working remotely, you’re not alone. Let’s take a look at some tips for keeping work life and home life separate.
1. Create Physical Separation
If you’ve been working in your bedroom up until now, it’s time to leave that space and create your own home office, even if it’s small and makeshift. When you work in the same room as you sleep, your brain will struggle to differentiate work life from home life and you likely won’t work nearly as well.
If you’re in an apartment and have limited space, consider investing in curtains to create your own miniature office space. Anything to physically separate work from home will suffice.
2. Try the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique involves separating your work into 30 minute intervals, separated into 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break time. To practice this technique, you’ll need a Pomodoro timer – there are online timers that specifically serve this purpose, or you can just use your phone. Set one 25 minute timer while you’re working, then another 5 minute timer for your break.
The Pomodoro Technique has been proven to enhance productivity and provide your brain with some balance as you work. Don’t forget to step outside your home office during your break, as this will help refresh you so that you can return to work rested.
3. Set Specific Work Hours
When working remotely, it can be tempting to let your work schedule shift according to how you’re feeling from day to day. However, this is asking for your work-life balance to be violated. You may find yourself returning to work late at night when you should be relaxing or sleeping if you don’t set specific hours to work during the day.
By setting a recurring wake-up alarm and showing up to work at the same time every day, you will effectively segment your day and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
4. Enjoy Caffeine Early, Not Late
If you’re a coffee or tea drinker, hold yourself accountable to a specific “caffeine schedule”, only drinking it before noon. If you get into the habit of drinking caffeine late, it can be hard not to stay up into the night working, which can violate your work-life balance. This will also make it difficult to sleep, challenging the work schedule you worked so hard to create.
Instead of caffeine, try drinking water or a relaxing beverage in the evening to calm your mind and help you unwind at the end of your day. This will help you separate work time from relaxation time, improving your work-life balance while working from home.
Creating the ideal routine when working from home can be challenging, and nobody can tell you the right way to do it. After some experimentation (and perhaps after extracting some inspiration above), you will be using your time to the fullest in no time.