How many of you like feeling ignorant and dependent?
Me neither! But that’s how I’ve felt for the past month and a half.
Since I started my new job, I’ve been acclimatising to a new institutional structure, set of personnel, and need to find the right rooms (and buildings).
It has been hard. Harder than I’d thought starting new jobs normally would be.
The reason for this is that the new job is accompanied by a bigger, and more disruptive, commute.
Previously, I had a simple commute that was a half-hour train ride into the city.
Now, I have a two-step commute: a half-hour train ride into the city, then a 1-hour bus ride to the campus. That’s three hours a day on public transport.
When I told people about my new commute, they would cluck sympathetically.
Many of them asked why I didn’t just drive there myself, instead of ‘wasting time’ on public transport. There are quite a few reasons, including environmental and financial ones that I won’t bore you with. But, yes, reasons.
Others immediately offered suggestions about how I could best use the time, different ways to do constructive things, and resources I could load on various devices. There are lots of people out there who have given thought to, and written about, productive commuting, if this is anything to go by.
From the start, the conversations around my new job ended up as discussions about how to make the commuting time work for me, about not wasting it. I found myself talking like that, too, and feeling that it would be terrible to ‘lose’ that time. I was stressing about it ever so slightly.
Heaven forbid that anyone in academia is unproductive.
In practice, after more than a month’s experience, this is what happened.
This is a good time to admit that I have always been one of ‘those’ people on public transport – the ones who keep their eyes down, fixated on their device all journey. While I’m fixated on that one device (my phone), however, I am often doing different things: checking email, browsing and tweeting across the Twitter accounts I manage (as well as my personal one), and reading books (non-academic stuff).
These practices have mapped onto my new commute almost totally. Despite good intentions around working on the laptop and reading articles, none of this has come to pass with any consistency. I take the laptop with me almost every day. I have occasionally drafted emails on it, written fragments of blogposts, and spent a lot of my time stopping it from slipping into the aisle when the driver corners sharply.
I kept thinking I needed to do more with the commute, to get a head start on my day by working on program planning and presentations for the sessions, comms for the unit, prepping meeting notes and agendas, approaching all the colleagues I need to lean on for advice and assistance, and… all the other things that fill my day.
Then, about a week or so ago, I decided to try something different.
I emptied the commute of work-stress.
I figure there’s enough stress around the idea of working ‘enough’ in academia, and I’m already an expert at self-flagellating on this front. I could do without further practice.
So, I decided to not do any work on the commute.
What does my commute look like now?
The majority of my commute time is spent – without guilt – reading non-academic books (hardcopy and on my phone), and tweeting for fun (on my personal account, often including the #commute hashtag).
A significant minority of my time is spent staring out the window, thinking various things over (only very occasionally work-related), or just letting my eyes roam beyond a backlit screen.
I arrive at work and home much more relaxed and ready to face whatever comes next, be it the work-day or my evening’s domestic routine.
I realise now that, instead of getting anxious about not doing enough work on the commute, I should’ve been more concerned about ‘lost time’ at home. The new commute means waking up significantly earlier, and getting home regularly later. It affects me, and everyone in my household. I have less time every evening to hang with my kids, or to work on my blog-writing and other projects. Those are the things that matter more in the exciting and messy beginning of a new job.
The commute has become the least of my worries in many ways, and my focus is now on enjoying the brain-nurturing ‘idle’ time it affords me. We all know that down-time is a necessary partner to productive time, yet we rarely invest effort in making it happen. Writer Michael Taft comments that “the speed of life doesn’t allow enough interstitial time for things to just kind of settle down” (Why your brain needs more down-time [Scientific American]).
I have inadvertently been handed interstitial time to allow things to settle down.
I know which practice I’ll be sticking with.