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What to do...if your commute is ruining your life

In today’s blog we’re returning to our ‘what to do’ series – tackling some of the most common workplace dilemmas facing professionals in Britain.

It was once assumed that the rise of superfast internet and ever-cheaper technology would lead to a massive increase people working from home. Certainly, working practices have got more flexible. But the commute is still a huge part of most of our working lives – and often not a particularly enjoyable part. All over the country, though particularly in the capital, workers are grappling with packed trains and buses, disrupted timetables, sluggish (or stationary) traffic, noise, pollution, queues…you name it, British commuters suffer it.

And it’s not good for us. Dreadful commutes raise our stress levels, kicking off our working days on entirely the wrong foot. Pushing, shoving crowds squeeze annoyance and aggression out of the most even-tempered people.

But, short of moving house, what can you do?

FLEXIBILITY

The first thing to consider is whether flexible working is an option. More and more employers are switching onto the idea that their employees can do just as good – if not a better – job by working to a routine to suit them. The occasional 11am to 7pm day, for example, would allow you to miss the work crowds and potentially fit in better with childcare or other commitments. And of course, working from home every so often means you don’t need to commute at all. Make sure you shape the conversation around how it will help you to work more effectively and ultimately do a better job.

TRAVEL AND TRANSPORT

Next, take a look at your transport options. For many commutes, walking, cycling or even jogging into the office is a far more accessible option than you may have considered. You’ll be surprised at how much distance you can cover under your own steam – with the added bonus of getting your daily exercise under your belt before even reaching your desk. Make sure you’ve properly explored all the route options on Google Maps or similar before you write the journey off as too long. And if it really is too hefty to be a viable everyday option, what about fitting in just one self-powered commute a week? Don’t forget to find out whether your company offers a cycle to work scheme, too.

Those are the two obvious strategies dealt with – and perhaps they’re of no use to you. You’re still going to be shoved under someone else’s sweaty armpit for an hour each way, whether you like it or not.

So let’s look at making that journey slightly less unbearable...

GET PRODUCTIVE

You’ll feel far better about the hours spent travelling if you feel you’re putting them to good use – and thanks to the smartphone era, this has never been easier. Want to immerse yourself in a new subject, keep more up-to-date with the news or even learn a language? There will definitely be an app (or podcast) for that. The BBC iPlayer and Channel 4 apps allow you to download programmes to watch later without internet access.

SHUT OUT THE WORLD

Create your own oasis of calm by investing in some decent headphones – it makes a huge difference if you can thoroughly shut out the noise around you. Just make sure you catch the important train announcements.

REFRESHMENTS

Spend a few minutes making your favourite hot drink in the morning, and sipping from a thermos throughout the journey. In the summer months, a big bottle of water can be livened up with pieces of fruit, cucumber or even fresh herbs, and will ensure you stay hydrated. Much cheaper – and easier to carry – than indulging in a Starbucks habit every morning.

COMFORT OVER STYLE

Choose backpacks that can be slung on and then ignored rather than gaping handbags that continually risk you losing half your belongings. Choose trainers rather than tight or heeled shoes – you can always change at the office. Avoid long scarfs that can easily tangle or catch on things.

SMELLS GOOD

Fed up with the – er – fragrance of your packed tube carriage on a mid-August day? A few drops of essential oil on a tissue or handkerchief kept in your pocket can be a godsend.