How We Work/Live: Multi-tasking the Commute

Reading, exercising, tweeting, NPR, and audiobooks 

April 29, 2014

Our lives are incredibly packed with multi-tasking and our commutes are often the biggest block of unscheduled time in the day. I always feel the pressure to make use of that time. How do you get to work and what do you do on the way there and back?

Mary Churchill, Boston, Massachusetts, USA: My commute is longer than I would like it to be - it is located in the fourth most congested commute corridor in the USA. Although campus is only 15 miles away, the drive can sometimes take over 90 minutes and, in snowy weather, over 2 hours. AND, it is filled with crazy Boston drivers filled with road rage. I decided early on that I would take the train to avoid this very stressful activity. So, I walk a mile to my nearest subway stop, catch the subway to downtown Boston and then catch the train to Salem. On the subway, I try to catch up with Twitter, Feedly, and Facebook. Once I’m on the train, I read books on my Kindle unless I’m on the same train with a fellow dean and then we catch up. When I get to Salem, I walk 1.5 miles to campus and use this time to focus, breath deeply, and enjoy my quaint coastal New England surroundings - it is a great way to begin and end the day AND, it’s my only exercise. One way, this is approximately 2 hours…

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, Evanston, Illinois, USA:  My house is exactly one mile from my office.  My sons’ elementary school is at the end of our block.  Until my younger son started middle school this past September, I cherished the pleasant days of autumn and spring when I would deposit him on the playground and proceed on a meditative walk to work. Now I have one in high school and one in middle school, I drive a figure eight around Evanston touching base at educational institutions.  High school, middle school, and finally the destination we desire for students at the prior two institutions, university.  I still get lost in thought and occasionally try to take my middle schooler to the high school or to work with me. Clearly my mind misses the mental space of my walk as much as my body misses the exercise!

Rosalie Hall, Iloilo City, Philippines: Our Miagao campus is 40 kilometers away from where I reside in Iloilo City. When my husband and I moved to Iloilo, we made a conscious decision to reside in the city rather than in rural, bucolic Miagao (where internet and cable tv infrastructure remains poor). Plus, we dine out quite a bit and need access to food items which are easier to get in the city (e.g. cheese, sausages, fresh bread). Fortunately, I only need to commute to work 2x a week (but with killer 3 lecture classes from morning to late afternoon). The past school year, I made a routine: catch the university bus at 645am to Miagao and again by 5:00pm to Iloilo City. Two hour bus ride total, which gives me time to listen to podcasts (BBC documentaries, In Our Time, NPR International). A very long day, but I’d rather arrive on campus early for a leisurely breakfast and consultation with students before my classes at 10am. For exercise, I only get to walk downhill from my stop at CAS building downhill (1 kilometer) to the administration building bus stop. My goal for next school year is to add another 1.5 kilometer of walking from my house to the bus stop in the morning and vice versa in the afternoon,  which is tough to do given that I carry perhaps 5 kilograms of weight (books, water bottle, lunch box, umbrella) with me! And also to walk further out to the next (500 meter uphill) bus stop in Miagao.

Janine Utell, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA:  I work in Chester and live in Philadelphia.  I could live closer to campus but I love living in Philly.  My commute consists of about a 15-minute drive each way on I-95, usually speeding (love my Yaris), and usually not taking much longer than that.  I kind of refuse to have a job/home situation that would involve a horrible commute, and if I’m not able to walk to work or take public transportation then I don’t want to spend any more time in the car than I have to.  Generally I get up, get ready, and get out the door as quickly as possible, and with a reverse commute the ride isn’t bad unless there’s construction or a Phillies game.  I usually listen to our public radio station, WHYY (Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Newsworks Tonight, Marketplace).  I also have a few podcasts I like -- Slate’s Double X, Freakonomics, Vergecast -- and audiobooks -- I’ve been listening to Rebecca Traister’s Big Girls Don’t Cry and Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men for a while in bits and pieces.  And often I’ll use voice memos on my iPhone to prepare notes for the day or talk my way through a writing project -- the car is a pretty safe place to talk to myself.

Lee Skallerup Bessette, Kentucky, USA: When we moved here, we had survived somehow with only one car. We couldn’t afford to buy a house AND another car, so we moved literally in behind the building both my husband and I work in on campus. When the windows are open in the classroom on the fourth floor, I can hear our dog barking in the yard. The elementary school is still a bus-ride away for my daughter, but my son’s preschool is within walking distance for us. The downside is that there isn’t much to do here, so often we spend hours in the car driving to weekend or evening activities. We don’t get out as much as I would like as a result. And I’ll be honest, having grown up on the East Coast (Montreal), I miss having access to a mass-transit system. I get horrible motion-sickness, so being on the bus or train meant I couldn’t do anything except let my mind wander. I’m not nostalgic for the long-ish commutes, but the space to think.

Janni Aragon, Victoria, BC, Canada: After two plus decades of 35-90 minute commutes on California freeways I am on year seven of a five minute commute. I normally drop the girls off at their schools and head to work. During this time we chat in the car and I might listen to CBC Radio or NPR. On the way home, I usually stop at the campus gym, which is between work and home. Again, I'll tune in to the radio or listen to music. My commute is enviable and I realize it. This was one of the many reasons why we moved near the campus.

Liana Silva-Ford, Houston, Texas, USA: As an academic I had different commutes, but now as an editor who works from home I don’t have a commute anymore. My brain misses the transition time between home and work, and I’m still not used to working from home (even though I get the chance to work in casual clothes!). My “commute” at the moment is walking my toddler to daycare, which is about 20 minutes from door to door. I like that it gives me time with my daughter in the morning, that it’s an easy way to get exercise into my day, and that it gets me out of the house before my work day starts (usually around 10 am). During that walking time I listen to audiobooks, a habit I picked up while commuting from Kansas City, KS to Lawrence, KS.

Meg Palladino, New Haven, Connecticut, USA: I made a point of living in the same town as my University so that I could ride my bike to work; it’s a 20 minute bike ride from where I live.  However, since I had a baby, I have gotten lazier and busier, and I have been driving the 10 minutes to work.  I have this fear that I will need to rush to pick him up from daycare some time.  I hope to get back on the bike, at least a few days a week.  Maybe that is something I can work on this spring.


How do you make the most of your commute?


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