Office work & Commuting in the UK after 12 yr gap: Hacks & Tips please!
May 14, 2014 10:50 AM   Subscribe

I will shortly start a new job having worked from home for many years and I've unexpectedly been asked to start ASAP. There's some great advice on Ask about podcasts & commuting and some about 'returning to corporate hell', but I'm wondering about the practicalities of organising your life in advance for a working week, and especially wondering about what I don't know.

Last week for example I went to an induction day & laddered my tights and realised that organised people would have had a back-up pair. So what else will I need back-ups of?

I'll be gone from 6am to 7pm and the aim is to sit down to a family dinner most evenings. I can give instructions to Aspie OH & Manchild to heat things up but cooking will be mine. Any tips to avoid my whole weekend being laundry & cooking?
Also do you select your wardrobe a week in advance? What's the best product for coffee in the car on the go? Backpack for back-up clothing? Bringing lunch into work, (mainly soups & stirfry?)

What I've done so far: Arranged a pick-up service for family prescriptions, started to have supermarket deliver, put all of us on the iCloud for sharing calendar etc., arranged a cleaning service once a week, changed to internet banking (I know, I know...)....what else? How do you stay organised and on top of your commuting life?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Congratulations on the new job!

One thing that will be handy for you is to figure out not just the quickest route to and from your new workplace, but also a couple of backup routes in case that one gets snarled up. Judging by the hours you say you'll be out of the house, I'm assuming that you're commuting two hours each way, presumably with some motorway driving? If so, figure out at least one alternative route that doesn't touch the motorway if possible. Be especially wary if any of the other viable routes take you past a school at either opening or closing time. (One route I used to take to work varied by twenty minutes end to end depending on whether school was in or out and the precise time I passed it of a morning; half term and the school holidays were commuting bliss in comparison to the frankly vicious scrum of desperate parents and commuters that I was usually greeted with if I hit that area five minutes later than I normally would.)

Seeing as you're commuting by car, you can leave anything you feel you need a spare of in the boot for emergencies. Never bothered myself, but a spare outfit for coffee-related emergencies and some non-perishable food wouldn't do any harm. Where I work is casual, so I usually do my ironing two weeks in advance and wear whatever takes my fancy on the day, but a mix and match wardrobe makes the decision easier.

Aside from that, you might want to get plans in place for the nights you can't make it home in time for the sit-down meal (something needs doing at work, the traffic is lousy, etc). I don't know your situation and whether you're keen on ceding some of the household tasks, but you might want to speak to your other half and offspring about picking up at least some of the slack to help you out, otherwise it'll get pretty grindy pretty quickly. That's a long working day, and throw in a large amount of driving and you'll probably be pretty tired when you get in. Oh, and buy and use a slow cooker; spaghetti bolognese is particularly tasty when made in one of those.

Good luck!
posted by peteyjlawson at 11:48 AM on May 14, 2014

As to your wardrobe, look at the weather forecast and your calendar (meetings? rain?), and then go from there. You could even set up five hangers with tops and necklaces or scarves and then pick skirts/pants/jacket or other third piece.

In addition to spare hose ("laddered" took me a minute, there), I suggest a spare dressy tee or two in case you are a messy eater like me.

For your desk, stock some feminine supplies, snacks, your favorite tea, mug and water bottle/glass, notecards for quick condolence or thank-you notes, some change, and an umbrella.

Could you get a wash-and-fold service for some or all of the laundry?
posted by jgirl at 11:49 AM on May 14, 2014

Also, you may not be into them, but dresses are easy.
posted by jgirl at 11:50 AM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you have a programmable coffee maker, set it up the night before and have it start making the coffee when your alarm goes off.

I lay out four mugs: one for each of us to have a cup before we leave the house, and one for each of us to bring in the car (insulated, sealed travel mug: ours are Contigo but I don't know what's available in the UK).

I figure out what I'm going to wear while I'm showering in the morning.

I also try to get all the dishes squared away before I leave the house in the morning so they don't need to be dealt with when we come home.

When I get home in the evening, turn on the oven. We usually do some kind of meat/veg combo that can all cook at the same time in the oven so that all we have to do is throw it in there. While the oven is heating, I evaluate whether we have enough dirty clothes for a load of laundry or not. If we do, I start the washer and gather everything up and get that going. Then I get the food into the oven. Then I have about half an hour to an hour to do other things (pay bills, read, surf the web, change kitty litter, get the garbage ready to go to the curb, etc.) while dinner is cooking. Also usually by now the washer is done and I put everything in the dryer.

Another thing about cooking: try to make big batches of things so you have leftovers at least one or two nights a week, which means just heating things up rather than cooking a whole nother meal from scratch. Cook a whole chicken one night and then have a quick stir fry or bean and chicken burritos the next night. Also, I sometimes throw beef stew or chili makings into the crockpot in the morning so dinner is ready when we get home. I try to save that for nights when we're going to be running late or extra busy. I also put expiration dates on any leftovers that go into the fridge so I can easily see what needs to be used up soon.

After dinner we wash up any dishes and wipe down the kitchen and set the coffee maker up for the next day, then we are done with chores for the evening and have an hour or two to relax, read, watch TV, whatever. Occasionally I put laundry away right away, though truthfully it usually sits until the next load goes in and I'm forced to put it away.

Saturday mornings I do meal planning and grocery shopping for the week, plus I've been adding things I've noticed we've run out of into my shopping list app on my smartphone so I only have to do one shop per week. Saturdays are also for picking up and vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom, and doing any other household tasks that need doing. Sometimes I make pizza dough in the bread machine on Saturdays, a double batch so we can have pizza one night that week and the other half of the dough goes into the freezer for a future pizza night.

Then Sundays are for no work and all fun. And Monday morning the madness starts all over again.

I keep spare clothes and shoes at work so I don't have to take things back and forth. If that wasn't an option I would keep them in my car I guess.

Audiobooks on my commute make the driving time a lot more fun, it seems almost like downtime.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:51 AM on May 14, 2014

Soups, stews, pasta sauces and similar can be prepared in advance.

If you don't trust the help to cook much, you can still delegate the prep for recipes that are time-consuming but simple. Washing salads, scraping carrots, chopping up vegetables, setting potatoes to bake, making sandwiches, setting the table, washing up etc.

They can also start the washing machine, and peg things to a washing line. Leaving written instructions for jobs you want done (or shared calendar tasks if you're high-tech) makes them less likely to be accidentally forgotten.

Having a frozen pizza, canned soup or something in stock can be good if you get home late and can't be bothered with doing anything more complicated.

Don't iron anything that doesn't need ironing, and remember everything you wear that needs ironing you'll have to get ironed. For me that means ironing three dress shirts a week, and I'm still the best dressed guy there. Of course, some places probably have stricter dress codes than my workplace!

For taking lunch to work, I like that pyrex stuff where you can eat from the same container you heat it up in.
posted by Mike1024 at 1:57 PM on May 14, 2014

Also do you select your wardrobe a week in advance?

I basically wear what amounts to a uniform, white shirts, similar suits. Saves thought, enables advance preparation. Might not work for you.
posted by Segundus at 2:19 PM on May 14, 2014

That is a really long day! Expect to be absolutely knackered for at least the first month while your mind and body adjusts, and be kind to yourself. Try to schedule in some yoga or other relaxing exercise for you time as much as anything else.

Run errands at lunchtime instead of before or after work, if at all possible. See if your cleaner will do the ironing for you as well. I do a supermarket shop monthly, and get fresh food delivered weekly through Abel and Cole, but of course that is only possible if you have a decent sized fridge/ freezer and adequate cupboard space. I also loaded up on food I could keep at the office each time I shopped so I didn't have to bring or buy lunch everyday - a packet of Ryvitas, happy cow cheese, Muesli bars, packet soups, a loaf of bread in the freezer, butter in the fridge, vegemite and peanut butter, tins of tuna if you eat it, that sort of thing. If you are a cook everything from scratch type person, get over it - a frozen pizza or similar convenience food won't kill you occasionally.

Good luck!
posted by goo at 2:50 PM on May 14, 2014

You've got the main things sorted. Check your thermal mug actually in the car while driving before your first morning - make sure it a) fits in the cup holder and b) doesn't spill, leak, or do anything else weird when you tip it up. I have had ones that didn't fit safely and fell over, or sloshed about weirdly when I used them in the car. I keep a toothbrush and toothpaste in the car for emergencies, spare makeup in your handbag is also handy, spare glasses or contacts in the car if you wear them (I don't do that myself, and have had to drive from Brighton to London in heavy traffic with uncorrected vision as a result - not very safe). Join RAC if you're doing a lot of driving. Allow extra time for parking, make sure you have enough change if it's metered. A phone charger and car adapter is gold too. Do you like Radio 4, 3, or something else? If not, find some audiobooks because two hours in the car is a long time. I would take sandwiches until you're sure what's in the work kitchen - not everywhere provides a microwave or fridge. Expect to maybe not eat the sandwiches on the first day (they'll be fine in the work fridge overnight), people are going to be at their friendliest and might want to take you to lunch if there are any decent local options. If you don't get invited to lunch go out yourself anyway and explore the neighbourhood. A waterbottle or some other drink for your desk will be good too. Lipbalm, handcream, tissues, nice teabags, whatever else you might use throughout the day to keep in your desk drawer. I don't know how old you are, but tampons if there's any chance you'll need them. It took me a surprising number of years of forgetting them at home to realise that just keeping a couple in my desk drawer at all times was the easiest solution.

For house things, internet food shopping and a cleaner are the main things. Drop your standards a bit too - you won't have the time or energy to start ironing after a thirteen-hour day. Do washing throughout the week - if you leave it all till the weekend then obviously you'll spend your entire weekend doing it. Some washing machines can be programmed to finish at specific times, ie just as you arrive home. Do errands like dry cleaning near work in your lunch hour, it's dead time otherwise and getting out of the office is really important for your sanity. Go to the gym on your way home, you won't want to go back out again once you're home. If you can streamline your mornings (pick your clothes out the night before, make lunch in advance, etc) then do, because 6am is bloody early.

Most things you'll work out given time - I don't carry spare tights, if I ladder them I either live with it or go bare-legged. You might not want or need your own teabags. It's better to bring things in bit by bit than to turn up on the first day with a million things looking like you're moving house. There are things I've needed in some offices and had provided for me in others. As long as you have your phone charger and some money on the first day you'll be fine, you can take more stuff in as you realise what else you want. Last thing, they will probably take your ID photo on the first day if they haven't already so dress accordingly (make up if you wear it, etc).
posted by tinkletown at 4:41 PM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

This may sound silly to some people but I find drinking my coffee through a straw allows me to keep my eyes on the road and the coffee off my clothes. I buy frozen meals for my work lunches, every Monday I bring in 5 of them and then don't have to think about them. I also bring fruit. I don't wear clothes that need ironing or dry-cleaning, but my work environment is fairly casual. My commute is only 35-45 minutes each way so I just listen to the radio, but if it were longer I'd probably try audio-books.
posted by mareli at 6:25 PM on May 14, 2014

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