Home > Life > Things I Learned from Work Part 2: Commuting and Free Time

Things I Learned from Work Part 2: Commuting and Free Time

I took public transit to get to my job.  It was the cheapest way – not because public transit is cheap around here, but because driving to my job was prohibitively expensive.  My commute was about 1.5 to 2 hours long each way, which added up to about 3-4 hours spent in a vehicle of some sort every day.  It was pretty bad.

Commuting by public transit means you have to deal with delays, crowds, and the odd crazy/smelly person sitting close to you.  Commuting by car lets you avoid all those problems, but you have to deal with gas prices, traffic, parking, and the mental exertion of driving instead.  One way or another, long commutes can take a lot out of you – more than you might expect.

Commutes suck.

When you choose a job, the commute time is probably one of the less important factors on your mind, overshadowed by things like work environment, pay, hours, and so on.  You might tell yourself, “I can handle a long commute,” “I’ll get used to it,” or “It’s not that bad.”  While it’s true that commute times are something that many people can and do cope with over long periods of time, they have, in my opinion, a large influence on one’s overall quality of life.

The average work schedule is 9 am to 5 pm, which is 8 hours.  Add a long commute like mine, and you end up devoting about around 11-12 hours per day to your job.  With this schedule, you’d have to wake up at around 7, leave the house at around 7:30 am and then come back at around 7:30 pm.  Assuming you want 8 hours of sleep, this means you have to go to sleep at around 11 pm.

With this schedule, your only free time on a weekday is between 7:30 pm and 11 pm.  That’s 3.5 hours, but it’s actually less than that because you have to add everyday things such as eating, bathing, and the occasional social activity.  Once you factor in everything, you end up with an hour or two of free time per weekday if you intend to keep up with sleep.

The loss of free time – and what you used to spend it on

When a person moves from school life to work life, one of the biggest changes is a large reduction in the amount of free time available.  When in university or college, students (provided they are not in the more rigorous fields) tend to have the free time to pursue hobbies outside of school.  It may seem like a waste, but I believe these things are extremely important.  Hobbies teach side skills, give exposure to subjects you may not have found otherwise, introduce friends that you would have not been met otherwise, and play a role in defining your interests.

Interest in technology may have come from tinkering with one’s computer.  Interest in image editing or design may have come from touching up pictures of friends or making silly alterations for laughs.  Interest in movies or games may have come from hanging out with friends that have those hobbies.  The list goes on, but the point is that having a large amount of free time opens up the opportunity to do things that may spark interests and skills that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise.  This is something that I took for granted until I started working.

I think free time can be summed up into two very general categories:

Total free time = Time spent unwinding + Time spent pursuing interests

The two categories may blend together a little, but try thinking about it this way:

  1. Time spent unwinding involves doing something you already know is rewarding.
  2. Time spent pursuing an interest involves doing something that may eventually be rewarding.  This may be something new you are trying out, or a longer project whose end result may be rewarding.

The former is instant gratification, and a good way to relax from the stresses of the day.  The latter is what you might do after you’ve taken some time to relax.  A large amount of free time allows for both types of activities, but when working, unwinding takes priority, and you become less willing to risk “wasting” time on something that you are not guaranteed to enjoy.

Basically, by the time you get home from work, you’re probably too drained to want to try anything new, and just want to spend what little time you have unwinding.

Because you must spend time unwinding, your job effectively takes away your ability to pursue your own interests.  This constant grind where you work, go home, unwind, and then go back to work again is probably what people mean when they say they are “working for the weekend.”  A person can handle this routine for a short period of time, but when done over a period of months or years, it has a large effect on one’s overall happiness.

How does this affect life?

The stress of commuting and the lack of free time affect many different aspects of life.  I’ll list the more common things I’ve noticed.

You stay up late

People stay up later in an attempt to make more time for themselves.  This can happen consciously, or on its own if a person tries to do a normal routine in a time frame that can’t accommodate it.  This method of coping is self-destructive, as it leads to a vicious circle.  The person becomes increasingly tired due to sleep deficit, but is discouraged from sleeping more – even when given the chance to do so – because time is so scarce that he or she doesn’t really want to spend it sleeping.

You deliberately distract yourself during commutes

Commuting problems can be summed up into environmental discomfort and waiting time.  You can simply bear it, but when you have to do this day in and day out, something to help distract you from reality is very welcome.  I never truly understood the value of toys such as portable video players, tablets, and so on (thanks Vulpix) until I started commuting, but once I did, the fact that just about everyone on the subway had headphones on with some kind of toy suddenly made sense.  These things are expensive, but they are worth the cost – they really do help keep you sane.

Another solution is to try to do something productive during your commute, but this may not be feasible due to being perpetually tired from work, or things such as crowding.

Convenience becomes more appealing

The income, stress, and lack of free time from work does odd things to your mindset.  I found I valued time far more than before, and money considerably less.  Because of this change in values, I became much more willing to spend money for the sake of convenience.  Stupid things like comfort food or random purchases became more common, even though I knew it was silly to go for them.  As for larger purchases, I found myself more willing to spend money if it would save me time and effort.  For example, I found myself more willing to simply upgrade my computer instead of trying to overclock it.

It’s a mindset that favored quick fixes and instant gratification while discouraging long-term solutions.  This problem also exists at work, but that’s a subject I’ll discuss in another post.

What does this all mean?

I suspect anyone who has worked has thought of pretty much everything I’ve described above, but this was all new for me.  The amount of free time available has a much larger impact on life than I originally thought.  The lack of free time negatively affects many aspects of one’s life, and can eventually build a wide range of problems that, when combined, can make you miserable.

A short commute gives you much more free time, which destroys the root of so many of the problems I’ve mentioned in this post.  So keep commute times in mind when looking for jobs – they are more important than you might suspect.

Categories: Life
  1. March 22, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    Wow! In the end I got a blog from where I know how to actually take useful data concerning my study and knowledge.

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