For five years prior to selling my first business I had a daily commute of ~2 ¼ hours by car to get to and from my office. For the first 3-4 years I didn’t mind. I was running on adrenalin (and fear). I had set myself a relentless schedule with little downtime. Weekends and weekdays were all the same to me. It was time available to do more work and it was all part of the crazy adventure that is a start-up.
Eventually however the combination of constant 10 hour+ days, the pressures of boot-strapping a start-up and a long daily commute through heavy traffic started to take its toll. I remember this acutely in the fourth and fifth years. On the positive side the business was going well and was rapidly establishing itself as the market leader. On all fronts we were achieving results far beyond what I had thought possible. But I was approaching burn-out and my effectiveness was diminishing.
By year five I was cooked – mentally and physically. I wound back my hours, worked from home more and ultimately decided to sell the business. Maybe without the commute things may have been different. I’m not sure. I do know that it’s tiring to fight traffic twice a day for years on end especially after leaving the office after 7pm every night. A 70 minute commute, 10 times a week, makes it so much harder to maintain this schedule.
A few years later I was a non-executive director of a company when we appointed a new CEO. The successful candidate was a guy who faced a daily commute even longer than mine (3 ¼ hours). While he was unconcerned about the commute I expressed my reservations to the other board members based on my own experience. Despite these reservations we collectively agreed to the appointment. And it was fine for the first 18-24 months. However, similar to my own personal experience fatigue began to have an effect and he began arriving at the office later each day after ‘meetings’ were held on the way to the office. It seems a common method to manage the fatigue, keep it interesting and not resent having to do it. Commuting interstate on a weekly basis is even harder.
Nowadays when I’m looking to hire someone or if I’m considering an opportunity to get involved in a new venture the length AND frequency of the commute will play a part in my decision. Experience has taught me that a reasonable, comfortable daily commute can be maintained for long periods of time without impacting performance, mine included. Conversely, long commutes are ok for a while but problems can emerge as fatigue sets in. No doubt there will be some exceptions to this rule – i.e. high performers with long commutes who deliver strongly for long periods of time – and I know a couple, but they are exceptions, in my experience.
Whatever else, the life of the long distance executive is not glamorous or easy – that’s for sure…