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The Myth of the Productive Commute

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The Myth of the Productive Commute

Culture Study,

5 min read
5 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

A productive job commute is a pipe dream. Take a mental commute instead.

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Commuting to work can be a soul-destroying waste of time. Nevertheless, as COVID-19 forced many employees to work from home, many knowledge workers found that forgoing their commute equated to lost personal time during the day. Journalist Anne Helen Petersen analyzes this paradox. She encourages you to replace your physical commute with a “mental commute” to bookend your day and to prevent your work encroaching on your leisure time.


If you don’t need to be physically present in the office, commuting to work is a waste of time.

An online search for the term “commute” conjures images of young, dapper professionals blissfully skateboarding in suits, replying to emails at the beach, cycling on dedicated bike lanes, refining presentations on near-empty buses, and so on. These images are the stuff of fantasy. They fail to factor in traffic, overcrowded public transport, poor weather, a scramble to get the kids to school, and a host of other variables that can make commuting a nightmare.

The perfect commute is a 12-minute walk to the office in fine weather, on safe sidewalks with little traffic. This pipe dream is unobtainable for most employees. Few can afford to live within walking distance of the office. Many must drop their kids at school or day care facilities before tackling rush-hour traffic to get to the office and hunt for a parking space. Millions rely on overcrowded public transport. A recent trend toward making your commute more productive by listening to a podcast or replying to emails – thereby turning your commute into an extension of the office – has applied...

About the Author

Journalist Anne Helen Petersen is the author of the newsletter Culture Study, as well as several books that explore culture. She is a former senior culture writer with BuzzFeed.

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