If you’re working from home, are you missing your commute? That kind of sounds like a stupid question. Who misses sitting in traffic looking at taillights? Not many people, I’d guess, but that’s probably not the part of your commute you’re missing. What you’re missing is the best part – the interstitial time between one place and the next or, to put it another way, between one now and the next now.
Microsoft thinks you’re likely missing that interstitial time so, in next year’s update of their Teams collaboration software, they’re going to make it possible for you to schedule a virtual commute. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, “The Teams update next year will let users schedule virtual commutes at the beginning and end of each shift. Instead of reliving 8 a.m. or 6 p.m. packed subway rides or highway traffic jams in virtual reality, users will be prompted by the platform to set goals in the morning and reflect on the day in the evening.”
A CEO I was talking with last week recognizes the same thing that Microsoft has – she misses her commute and the chance it gave her to think without an agenda, a to-do list or other people on her screen. Her solution recently has been to ask her assistant to schedule her days with a 5 and 3 mix – no more than 5 hours of scheduled meetings in a day and at least 3 hours a day set aside for personal think time, reading, writing and unscheduled, spontaneous conversations.
From my observation, this CEO definitely has the right idea but her solution might not be within everyone’s grasp. So, for those of us who don’t call as many of our own shots as she does with how she spends her time, here are some quick hit ideas on how you get back the best part of that commute you no longer make – the interstitial time that gives you space to think offline.
Make Your Showers Count – As I’ve written here before, I like to ask groups of leaders where or when they get their best ideas. The number one answer is “in the shower.” Chances are you’re going to take a shower most days. In addition to getting clean, use that time for a little bit of “let your mind wander” time. It’s pretty much guaranteed that no one’s going to interrupt you in the shower and the warmth of the water coming down is a surefire relaxer. As I wrote a few years ago, a client of mine adopted the habit of intentionally taking time for three deep breaths every time he showered. He reported that it gave him space to think and, more often than not, teed him up for a really productive day.
Try Some Radically Different Immersion Techniques – My hope is that when we look back on the pandemic period, we’ll all have one or two projects that we took on that we feel really good about. One of mine is finally learning how to play guitar. Three or four nights a week I plug my black Stratocaster into my little Fender amp, put my Mac on top of the amp and then tune into the JustinGuitar.com site where Justin Sandercoe has expertly organized over a thousand guitar lessons in a beginner to advanced sequence. After four months or so of practice, I’m about to finish the beginner classes and am moving on to intermediate. One of the things I love about the practice is that it’s completely immersive. It engages my senses in a whole different way from what I do in my work all day. In addition to learning chords and riffs, I find I’m usually more productive and creative when I get back to work the next morning. It all flows from giving my brain a chance to think about something else.
Meditate – More and more people are using apps like Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer to learn how to meditate and incorporate that habit into their lives. If you haven’t tried meditation yet, the pandemic is an excellent time to start. In addition to giving your fight or flight response a rest, it’s a great way to observe your thinking patterns and random thoughts. You might think the goal of meditation is to not think, but most of the experts I’ve read and talked to say the goal is really to notice when you’re thinking. What I notice when I stop and meditate for 12 minutes or so is that thoughts that actually have a fair amount of value come up seemingly out of nowhere. When that happens, I write them down as soon the closing chime rings on my app. That’s actually better interstitial time than commuting in the car because writing down the ideas after meditating is a heck of a lot safer!
If you’re still working from home, what’s been working for you on reclaiming some of the thinking time you used to have on your commute? What else would you add to my list? Let me know in the comments on LinkedIn or, if you’re reading this on my blog, send me a quick note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you liked what you read here, subscribe here to get my latest ideas on how to lead and live at your best.