Working from home has won many of us over. But we’d be lying if we said we never dreamed of a clean, quiet office that we could leave behind at the end of the day.
One solution to improving your work/life balance may be reclaiming your commute. Here’s why that transition time may have been good for you and how you can make your new commute one of the best parts of your day.
Why you might miss your commute
Some workers can open their eyes one minute before their shift starts and dive right into emails and projects. For many others, though, getting into work mode takes a little time.
A commute can be annoying if you’re stuck in traffic. But it can also provide quiet time in the morning to mentally review what you plan to do that day or think about possible solutions to a work problem, even read a book if you’re taking a subway or bus. On the way home, you might take a few minutes to de-stress and think ahead to the evening (tacos or pasta for dinner?).
When you work from home, you might have a basket of laundry in the corner all day. The second you close your laptop, you might have pets or kids clamoring for your attention. If there’s no downtime between work and home responsibilities, you might constantly feel behind. One study found that most people have a “non-zero optimum commute time,” meaning they’d prefer at least some time traveling between home and work, and 7% of people said their current commute was too short.
You might not actually miss the traffic or crowded train. But if your work-life boundary is blending like a good foundation, you might benefit from setting up a transition ritual.
What is a transition ritual?
Therapists who work with kids describe a transition ritual almost as a “planned time-out.” A transition ritual is a brief activity that acts as a boundary between two other important activities. It’s a way to regulate emotions and maintain a calmer structure throughout the day. Adults can benefit from a boundary between routines, too.
Here are some guidelines to create a transition routine that works for you:
- Take your time. The average one-way commute in 2019 was 27.6 minutes. Imagine how you’d feel if you repurposed that time to do something meaningful for yourself! If you’re busy, 20 or even 10 minutes can still give you a breather — the point is to take an intentional break.
- Aim for relaxation. One upside to driving is that you can’t really multitask (be safe out there!). A ritual you can’t easily combine with “one last quick check” at work is more likely to leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed.
- Get some movement. Spending too much time sitting isn’t good for your mental or physical health. Whether you’re exercising or just changing positions, moving can give you a mood boost and act as a cue that you’re physically (and mentally) leaving work for the day.
Create your own WFH commute
Depending on your schedule, preferences, or even the weather, you might like to have a few transition rituals in your pocket. Try these “mental commutes” to help take you from work mode to home life.
- Take a walk. The 20-20-20 rule recommends taking a break from screen time to benefit your eyes. Screen breaks also improve mental health (the study focused on kids, but adults may also benefit). There’s growing evidence that walking can benefit your mental health, so this can be your ideal new commute. A 15-minute walk in your neighborhood is an easy way to literally step away from work and return feeling refreshed. Bonus points if you go with a dog.
- Change your makeup. Wearing makeup can help you feel more Zoom meeting-ready, and may even make others view you as more competent than if you showed up for work bare-faced. Washing your face and changing your makeup can prompt you to think about how you want to present yourself for the next part of your day.
- Have a drink. One study found that participants rated an after-work drink positively, even if they’d had negative experiences with heavy-drinking coworkers. They liked the transition ritual and social bonding. A drink with your partner can be a ritual to check in and wind down together after your workday. Tea or seasonal beverages, like cider or cocoa, make good alternatives to alcohol.
- Enjoy self-care. At work, you’re responsible for helping your team. At home, you manage housework and to-do tasks for your family. It’s important to take time to feel like you as an individual, not just your role in relationship to others. Make time for a face mask or hand massage, and remind yourself that you deserve care and relaxation.
- Meditate. Yoga or stretching can help you loosen up and find a comfortable position, or you can dive right in. Using a meditation app at the same time each day can help you build the habit and lead to extended mental health benefits. Listening to a guided meditation will prevent those thoughts from drifting back to your to-do list.
Make your commute (or transition ritual) count
Like a driving commute, your end-of-day ritual may vary sometimes depending on schedules and circumstances. Keep making consistent time for a transition routine, and you’ll feel more recharged when you “come home.”