How much of your life will you lose by going back to the office?

The following story appeared in the Washington Post. This was a frequent topic many of us discussed over the years as we spent many hours of our lives going back and forth to school and then to work. If you want to calculate how many hours of your life you spent commuting, click here. If you have trouble opening it, let me know.

For many people who have been able to work from home during the pandemic, the prospect of commuting to the office again can feel like a challenge. But fear not: Graphics columnist Sergio Peçanha has developed a handy interactive calculator to help people better understand how much time they spend in transit.

My one-hour commute to and from work each day, for example, adds up to more than 10 full days each year — enough time to watch 150 films, or all of “Squid Game” 30 times. By the end of my career, that might add up to 14 months of my life. Yikes!

But time is just one way to quantify the cost of commuting. As Peçanha points out, transportation is the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. And the financial costs of office work add up significantly, especially when you include the price of buying lunch or coffee.

In 2019, Americans spent an average of about one hour commuting to and from work each day. That may not have seemed like a big deal before the pandemic, but it has become a hard sell for many who’ve worked from home for more than a year now and learned that the show went on just fine from a distance.

If you are an American with average commute time, you would spend about 250 hours in transit each year — that adds up to more than 10 days. By the end of your career, you might spend nearly a year of life commuting.


absurd america office commute revolver

If instead of commuting an hour, you used that time learning a language, in one year you would probably be fluent enough to get by in a foreign country. In a lifetime, you could learn multiple languages, become a black belt and a life-of-the-party guitar player.

If you spent the time binge-watching Netflix, one year of commuting would be enough to watch more than 150 films. Or all nine episodes of “Squid Game” back to back 30 times.

You could also spend that time with friends, gardening, getting fit, cooking, knitting, sleeping or doomscrolling. Even people who do something pleasant or useful during their commutes could find a more comfortable place to do those same things.

Or, if you’re like me, you could scatter all those activities throughout your days, because you’re too undisciplined to make anything really useful with the time you just found. What you do doesn’t really matter: The point is that the pandemic gave that time back to us. It makes no sense to lose it again.

And time is just one way to quantify what we lose if we revive the commute. There’s also the pollution we produce and the money we squander and the loss of the unmatchable joy that comes with working in our pajamas.

Transportation is the largest contributor of greenhouse gases in the United States, mostly from cars, SUVs and small trucks. The average annual cost of commuting is somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000, depending on where you live. If you spend even $10 more a day on coffee and lunch at work, that adds up to about $2,500 per year (eating at home costs about half that).

As for the pajamas, they are just a metaphor for the small privileges of working from home that add up to quality of life — from keeping up with the laundry to spending more time with people we love and working with our pets nearby.

It is hard to argue that the benefit of commuting more than once a week or so is worth the toll on the planet, on the purse and on your quality of life. I don’t mean that meeting colleagues in person is not useful, sometimes important or even fun. The first time I saw my boss after a year and a half, I hugged him — and I meant it.

But when we used to meet every day there was no hug. What is the point of going back to a life where you don’t regularly hug your boss?


Calculations were based on 250 work days per year, 40-hour workweeks, eight-hour workdays and a career length of 40 years. The calculation for full-length feature films was based on 90 minutes run time.

Sources: U.S. Census; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Netflix.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s