Harvard professor: 3 time-saving tips for when you start commuting to the office again

"We can be a little bit less worried about our colleagues not necessarily seeing us at our best."


Many companies have set Labor Day as the point for workers to return to the office, and that transition is likely to be jarring for people who have now spent more than a year working remotely. New York City, for example, is expecting nearly two-thirds of Manhattan office workers to return after Labor Day at least a few days a week.

For those people who do return to the office, even part time, readjusting to time spent commuting could be a challenge. Not having that daily travel freed up hours of the day that people have now filled with other activities. Plus, people who relocated during the pandemic may find their new commute is more time-consuming than they expected.

Luckily, there are tricks to free up some of your time even as you start resuming pre-pandemic routines. Here are three tips from Ashley Whillans, a Harvard researcher, professor, and the author of "Time Smart."

Streamline the morning routine: 'Grooming can take so much time'

Not having to get dressed in business workwear each morning likely shaved off some time from your daily routine. And though you may not be wearing sweats to the office, "I hope that Covid-19 has lowered our standards a little bit for what is appropriate workwear," says Whillans.

"We've all survived a pandemic together," she says. "And we can be a little bit less worried about our colleagues not necessarily seeing us at our best, because grooming can take so much time every day."

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If dressing up, putting on makeup, or doing your hair in the morning is fun and a confidence boost, that's not to say you should stop doing it. But on those days when you're already stressed out or you don't feel like putting in the effort, scaling back your grooming routine can afford you a bit more time for reading the news, listening to a podcast or music, or doing something else that brings you joy.

You can always look for other ways to streamline your morning routine that buy back some time, such as building a capsule wardrobe that helps you get dressed quickly and preparing your lunch the night before.

Cut the commute 'by leaving early or leaving later than peak times'

The commute itself can be a time suck. The average one-way commute in the U.S. reached a high of 27.6 minutes in 2019, according to the Census Bureau. That's nearly an hour of your day just spent getting to and from work.

"We're already observing huge congestion back to pre-pandemic levels because everyone's going back to the office," says Whillans. That could get worse as more people head back to the office on the regular. "If you're stuck in congestion, that can be really stressful and undermine health and happiness."

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Whillans suggests trying to beat traffic "by leaving early or leaving later than peak times." Maybe you get up a little bit earlier than usual to cut time in the morning, or talk to your boss about coming in a little bit later every day and doing "a bit of your work from home in the morning," suggests Whillans.

Either way, there may be a workaround to ensure you're not hitting the road when everyone else is.   

We've all survived a pandemic together and we can be a little bit less worried about our colleagues not necessarily seeing us at our best.
Ashley Whillans
Harvard professor

Make sure to 'buy back some of [your] time'

"As we go back to the pre-pandemic normal routine, we don't want to lose sight of trying to make sure that we're actually buying back some of our time when we can," like perhaps by outsourcing mundane or unfulfilling chores, says Whillans.

Whillans and other researchers have found that spending as little as $40 on something that saves time, like an hour of home cleaning, will make you happier than spending that money on "stuff." That's especially true if you use that purchased time to do something you enjoy, like reading or taking a walk with your friends.

"We probably are not going to be able to maintain consistent habits around cooking once we go back to having an hour additional commute time [every day]," she says. If possible, try "to be a little bit relaxed and compassionate and kind towards [yourself if you need to get] takeout, if you need to get your groceries delivered."

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