Train journeys and beach combing are great, but they don’t happen everyday. If they did happen everyday they might not be quite as special as they are. Even though there are special times that happen every day. And one of them is walking to work.
For a couple of years I had a 20 minute walk to the office. My morning and evening strolls took me through Kensington Gardens and so it was a form of commuting that couldn’t go on forever. It was just too ideal.
But even if it’s not as easy to walk to work today, I’ve kept this part of my day in tact for 2 reasons — for what walking to work spares me and for what it gives me.
It spares me the rat race that got the better of me a few Wednesdays back. Nothing gets the day off to a more unhelpful start than having to fight your way to the office and nothing saps the final ounce of fight we may have left having to do the same all the way home. Walking liberates me from the worst part of urban living – the commuter crush.
But walking to work also gives me something on top of what it spares me. It gives me TIME TO PREPARE.
Walking to work I gather my thoughts before I am bombarded by the demands of others.
Boundaries aren’t my specialty. I’m wired to respond. No matter what else is more important to do first, I’ll cave into what other people want me to do first. If I’m not prepared. A walk to work prepares me. It bolsters my own sense of what needs doing.
A few years ago I was at my mother’s house. She’d invited over a handful of people for dinner. Like twenty. This is what my mom likes to do. Have people ’round. I got talking to two of them. At first we were speaking about writing a book. One of them had and he was saying how the only way he managed it was to force himself to write every morning for an hour. Which led us into a conversation where I said that I needed to start each work day by doing “3 things first.” What I’d meant was that if I don’t start the day with the things in mind that must happen first, then some of the most important things I need to do may not get done. They’ll get brushed aside in favour of other urgent/important things that I hadn’t even known about before I got to work.
Sure, sometimes these urgent/important new things are more important than my “first 3 things” but since there’s no end to new urgencies they can wait the 30 minutes I set aside to do my important 3 things.
I tend to pick things that I might forgo for more temptingly urgent work. Stuff that’s important but not so exciting. And I choose these 3 things on my walk to work.
I enter a trance like state — helped by walking the same well-worn path each morning — one involving very few traffic lights and walk signs (which require concentration, folks, wait for the green-sometimes-white man, what’s your hurry? let’s not run in front of moving cars!). Over the course of my trance, the to-do’s that have stuck in my consciousness — the ones that carry more guilt than the rest of my to-do list — float around the place like leaves in the wind and before I get to the office I choose 3 worth sorting out first.
When I finished explaining this (the shortened version without the leaves), I noticed the non-book-writing friend of my mother was staring at me expectantly.
“What?” I asked.
“Well, what are the 3 things, then?” she asked.
She had no idea that my 3 things were a principle and a modus operandi, not the same 3 things each day. Which was a reminder to me that some people don’t have the sorts of work where they have to manage their own time. This woman is a trauma nurse, she works in A&E . She goes to work and she executes. What she does is lying before her waiting for her attention. Literally.
The last time I had a job like that I was a waitress. Not that I’m saying that this is the same as nursing, but both jobs demand much more Doing than To-do Listing. Neither leave room for much procrastination because neither offer that level of autonomy or choice about what to do next. It’s possible to be a brilliant waitress or nurse and not even have a to-do list!
And even if inboxes can require as much triage as an A&E room, I knew then that my “first 3 things” were somewhat lost on the life-long nurse to whom I’d be talking.
But anyway, that’s what walking does for me – it puts me into work mode before I get to work, so that I get at least 3 things done before succumbing to the chaos of the day.