on the value of time

I had given up my car in the summer of 2005, when I started grad school at OSU. The trip to OSU was short, and though I was working two days a week at my old job, the weather was good, and I was only working part time, so I could go in late without consequence.

During winter break, I had my first real experience with bicycle-commuting. My job was roughly 6 miles from my apartment. To get there by car, I would take the highway, and with rush hour traffic it took about 25 minutes, more if I counted prep time: defrosting the windows, warming up the car. I knew from the summer that I could bike there in half an hour in good weather and light traffic. It seemed reasonable enough that I could bike to work for the month of December.

I checked the bus schedules. In case of inclement weather, I’d be able to get to my job with 2 bus routes and a mile long walk, which was certainly not ideal. Unfortunately, the weather got pretty bad pretty fast, and rather than biking as intended, I usually biked to the bus stop, loaded my chunky Target mountain bike on the rack, took the COTA downtown, switched buses (usually about a 12 minute layover), and then biked the final mile, battling slush and tired drivers on a 45mph highway, with no sidewalks, and no shoulder. By quitting time, the roads were clear and dry, and the traffic was much lighter on the evening commute, so I’d bike all the way back: I’d brave the half-mile stretch on Route 33 to the entrance to the bike path, which runs all the way north past campus.

I found that the evening commute was fun, even exhilarating. It’s a great feeling to arrive home, sweating, and know that you’ve covered six miles entirely under your own power. With no timetable, I was free to go at my own pace, and custom-tailor the ride to my own energy on any given day. In contrast, the morning commute was depressing and dangerous. By agreeing to work at 8am, I was agreeing to ride a bicycle on icy, predawn roads, battling with drivers still half asleep (and sometimes with only half-cleared windshields). By riding the COTA as a commuter, I was joining the desperate ranks of the impoverished. Unlike public transportation elsewhere, the system here in Columbus seems reserved for the poor. By working at 8am, I was committing myself to a rigid bus schedule, and lots of wasted time, waiting. I woke up at 6:30, caught the bus at 7:18, and I was lucky if I made it to work by 8:15.

So.

This year, I’ve decided on a different tack. I’ll wake up around 8:00, ensuring a daylight commute, and I’ll avoid the heaviest rush hour traffic. This also allows more time for the roads to clear, by sweepers, traffic, or by the sun. I’ll arrive at work invigorated from the ride, fresh air and adrenaline, not cold, nervous, and depressed. In the past year I’ve gotten a better bicycle and better winter gear, so the ride itself should be easier physically.

My boss has agreed that I can work part time, come in at 10am and leave at 5pm, so I can avoid the traffic. From a productivity standpoint, I’m convinced that I’ll get as much done in that time as I would working 8-5, if not more. If I can roll in at 10am, get my work done quickly, and roll out at 4 or 5, it could benefit everyone. I’m more than willing to take the cut in hours and pay if it means preserving my health and sanity. And if I had to work an 8-hour shift, 10-6 or 10-7 doesn’t seem unreasonable.

It would be interesting to see how this strategy, well-argued, would go over in a job interview. Would employers appreciate the intelligence behind it, or would they simply demand I show up at 8am like everybody else? Would I want to work for a company that doesn’t appreciate this logic? How important are employee health and sanity? How much does a bad commute contribute to stress? Do employers realize that the time spent away from a project can be as productive (indirectly) as the time spent working on it (directly)?

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