The dreaded morning commute. Whether it's by train, automobile, or some other vehicle, most everyone would like a shorter commute. Research I conducted reveals not only the factors that cause for a frustrating commute, but also how it impacts your decisions when you get to work.
Curiously, the amount of time you spend commuting is not a problem; what creates stress is impedance and unpredictability. If you have an hour-long commute with little traffic you likely will not find it to be stressful. But if you have a short commute filled with traffic that takes an hour you probably will find that stressful. Equally stressful is when you expect your commute to take a certain amount of time, but it becomes longer due to an accident or some other impeding factor. When you have a stressful commute be wary, as the effects can carry over to your job.
In the experiment 136 people drove different routes. Mood levels before, during and after the commute were assessed, along with the quality of their subsequent decision-making. Akin to Pavlov's research on dog's salivating in anticipation of their food, participants had elevated levels of anxiety just thinking about their upcoming commute. When the commute was challenging these levels rose higher.
Of critical importance is what happened after the commute. Given a chance to evaluate resumes for job candidates, accuracy was lower for those who had a stressful commute. In particular, if a candidate was clearly not qualified for a job, the ratings were overly harsh. The raters felt that they had wasted enough time already during their commute, and were not keen to squander more time to come up with an accurate rating for someone that was clearly not qualified. The individuals with the good commutes, in comparison, were much more accurate with their evaluations of the candidates, regardless of their qualification level.
If you have a stressful commute be mindful of the activities you partake in immediately upon arrival at work, particularly necessary but menial ones that you might consider a further waste of time. Thus, give yourself a buffer period before running into critical meetings, making decisions, etc. Use the time to get a cup of coffee, catch up with a colleague, or otherwise put the stress of your commute behind you. Then enjoy your day, and be confident in your decision making the rest of the way.