The Power of the Fake Commute

Have you ever heard of a fake commute?

Neither had I until last week during the opening keynote of the SCCE conference in Phoenix. In it, Dr. Aditi Nerurkar from Harvard Medical School talked about the effects of burnout in the post-pandemic age, and how to combat the challenges so many of us face in our hybrid or work-from-home environments.

Her advice? Use rituals and a fake commute.

The Problem

 

Whether we have a home office or a 2×2 space on the kitchen table for the computer, working at home means work can easily bleed into every minute of our lives. Even if we’re back in the office, the ability to bring our laptops home and check our phones incessantly can make the separation from work and leisure time seemingly impossible.

But according to Dr. Nerukar, this separation is desperately craved by the brain. She said that multitasking is a myth – people can truly only focus on one thing at a time, even if those things are running in rapid-fire succession.

Instead of attempting to multi-task, she suggests mono-tasking, during which we focus on one thing at a time. She said that “working with your brain is much more effective than working against it.”

The Fake Commute

 

Since our brains are wired to focus on one thing at a time, it’s important to signal when we are going to work, or work mode, and when we’re leaving work to go into leisure time (or family time, exercise, time working with a charity, religious services, etc.).

She suggests having a “fake commute” on both sides of your working day. For instance, in the morning:

➡️ Go for a 5 – 10 minute walk outside

➡️ Go out for a coffee or have your coffee outdoors

➡️ Unpack your computer from where it was stored the night before/open your laptop/turn it on

➡️ Pull out your notepad or anything else you’ll need to start your work

These activities allow your brain to transition from non-work to work.

Likewise, in the evening:

➡️ Put on your jacket or walking shoes

➡️ Close down your computer and put it away

➡️ Go for a 5 – 10 minute walk outside

When you’re done with your walk and re-enter the house, pretend as if you walked in the door after a day in the office. You could even try stating, “Honey, I’m home!”

The Power of Ritual

 

It’s not just the fake commute that can help us go into and out of work mode successfully. You can also use ritual to tell your brain you’re ready to start or stop work.

For instance, try the following at the end of each workday:

➡️ Make a list of the tasks for tomorrow

➡️ Review your schedule for tomorrow so you’re prepared for your early meetings/activities

➡️ Change the calendar date/day

➡️ Turn off the computer, close the laptop, and/or move it so it isn’t open and ready to light up

➡️ Turn off the room lights

➡️ Put away your pen and/or notes/notebook

Working from home isn’t going anywhere. Studies show that large percentages of workers prefer a hybrid or total work-from-home environment. Many companies are taking advantage of having a nationwide or global talent pool of people who don’t need to be relocated to work for the company. Others are enjoying the financial benefits of giving up office space in expensive cities.

Whether you’re someone who loves working from home or is forced to do so part-time, having a fake commute and rituals that support your mental health and well-being can do nothing but make the experience more enjoyable.

And shutting down both the computer and your working self at the end of the day? That’s invaluable. 

Kristy Grant-Hart

CEO of Spark Compliance Consulting

Kristy Grant-Hart is the founder and CEO of Spark Compliance.

She’s a renowned expert at transforming compliance departments into in-demand business assets.