CoolTimeLife Podcast: Driving Me Crazy

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Driving Me Crazy. It explores the relationship between driving, food, and overwork. Have you noticed, for example how frustrating it is when the other lane of traffic seems to be moving faster than yours? This frustration not only leads to road rage, it also leads to “event-to-event thinking” in every area of your life, which leads to crammed schedules, overload, and no time allowed to eat lunch. It doesn’t have to be that way. So much more can be achieved from taking a slower approach, to driving, working and eating. You will get more done when you just slow down a little.

Let’s Take a Drive

More than century has elapsed since the development of the first horseless carriages. During that time automotive power has risen from 12 horsepower inside a 1904 Duryea Phaeton to 762 horsepower in the battery-powered Tesla S and 1200 hp in the Bugatti Veyron. James Bond’s beautiful Aston Martin DB5 was considered a super-car in 1962 but can now easily be outpaced by a well-tuned Honda. But as speed has increased, so has it decreased.

1904 Duryea Phaeton, the Tesla S and the Bugatti Veyron.

Though the available horsepower in a typical family car has increased twentyfold, people are not able to travel twenty times faster. For although cars themselves are capable of a great deal more speed, they seldom get to exercise this ability on major streets and highways. This is due not to any physical fault of the car, but to congestion, caused most often by the poor driving habits of aggressive, speed-obsessed drivers and lane- hoppers.

In China, where the desire for personal advancement has itself taken a great leap forward, 30,000 new cars are being added to the streets of Beijing each month. That’s 1,000 additional cars every single day. I’ve been there. The traffic jams are unbelievable, meaning that the traditional bicycle remains the fastest way around town.

Is this L.A.? No. Toronto? No. It’s traffic congestion in China.

But regardless of the country, this rush hour paradox—faster cars but slower traveling— is a classic example of what happens when people think speed rather than efficiency.

There have been many studies performed over the years to identify whether aggressive lane-hoppers really benefit from constantly switching lanes when driving in congested traffic. It’s a concept called roadway illusion, which makes the other lanes on a congested roadway appear to be moving faster than the lane you are in, even if both lanes have the same average speed.”

The findings repeatedly show that unless there was an actual lane obstruction such as an accident, no lane is faster than any other during high-volume rush-hour traffic. It appears to a frustrated driver that the cars and trucks in the other lanes are moving more quickly, but this is because most observers only really take note of such vehicular injustices when they themselves are being passed, and they are not so likely to see them when their own lane temporarily becomes the faster one. In addition, cars that pass an observer tend to remain in the field of view (up ahead) longer than those that have been passed.

Other traffic studies have shown that the slowdowns and bunch-ups that are commonplace during rush hour are caused, more often than not, by erratic acceleration and braking patterns rather than actual accidents. One car picks up speed, for example, and then is forced to brake as the traffic ahead slows. The driver of the car behind then often tends to over-brake, in order to allow for additional stopping distance. This creates a ripple effect, which quickly extends many miles backwards through the traffic, creating the slowdowns that seem to have no cause.

What would be truly amazing – and probably only a few years away – will be  a lane dedicated to cars that talk to each other. Not necessarily self-driving, but at least able to maintain a safe distance that eliminates erratic braking. It should be possible for a long line of cars to cruise at 55 miles an hour, just six inches apart. That would be a true fast lane. I’m pretty sure it’s coming.

For the time being, our own research into discovering the existence of a true truly “faster lane” has led us to conclude that on a congested road, the best lane to remain in is the outside lane—the one everyone merges into and exits from. This is primarily because as soon as the other drivers merge in, they quickly switch to the middle or inside lanes, expecting them to be faster. So, even though the outside lane handles more cars, it quickly disperses them. As a result, the best advice for getting somewhere quickly and coolly in congested traffic is to aim for the slow lane, because it’s the quickest.

Life in the Fast Lane

The relationship between cars, speed, and traffic jams highlight by extension, the high-speed mode of thinking that causes problems in other areas of life. Delays cause stress primarily because any stoppage becomes an impediment between where a person is and where they’d rather be. Life has conditioned us into a mindset that runs “event-to-event.” Think about the relentless sequence of shows and commercials on TV, for example, without factoring in intermediary time. People plan their days and fill their agendas as if they knew (or hoped) they had access to the transporter room on the deck of Star Trek’s Enterprise.

Think about meetings, for example. The problem is not only that they often run less than optimally, but also that they are so often booked too closely together. This is because the people doing the planning as well as the participants are trapped into thinking “event-to-event,” and “meeting-to-meeting.” How many times have you had to deal with a schedule full of back-to-back meetings? How often have you attended a conference in which the second event starts late because the opening address ran over long, past the scheduled time? People tend to schedule things according to the old notion that one event must follow another in close succession, since they feel gaps of wasted time are evil.

I’m going to challenge that.

Certainly, gaps of wasted time are not what people want in a day. But gaps need not be wasteful; in fact, they can make the difference between a reasonably productive day and a fully productive day. Meetings, activities, or events that run back to back, for example, are physically and mentally exhausting.

Late starts impact the quality of the information to be delivered, and late wrap-ups impact subsequent events. Often it is the breaks that are sacrificed, which further threatens the success of the entire occasion. These kind of difficult days offer no opportunity to regroup, refresh, and prepare, which results in participants whose mental tachometers end up distressingly low.

How many different types of event-to-event situations can you identify in your day? What about getting up in the morning and getting your family and yourself out of the house and on their way? How about your commute in, your morning meetings, your travel itinerary? How about back-to-back phone calls, or ad hoc requests for your time in an already busy day? There are so many situations in which we force ourselves into an event-to-event mindset, and as each task block butts up against the one before it, we start to suffocate intellectually and the blur thickens.

Bumper to Bumper Lunch

I’m always amazed at the number of people who tell me they work through lunch. It’s easy to see why. There’s so much to do. No matter how much gets done, there will always be a reason to do more, and event-to-event thinking creates the expectation that work must continue, no matter what.

Personal time is so easy to sacrifice. After all, what value could it possibly have compared to that of doing more work? Personal time is intangible and subjective, and therefore easily becomes secondary to work in terms of its significance. Personal time is not as definite or as firm as a scheduled event such as a meeting or a conference call. Consequently, when you meet someone in the elevator or kitchenette carrying his lunch back to his desk, you’d think little of it. It’s normal. It’s expected.

Lunch should not be considered a self-indulgent act. What if individuals and teams could be educated towards the idea that slowing down and taking a few minutes away from work actually increased productivity during the afternoon? What if people were able to see how taking a break from work for just 15 or 20 minutes to eat a healthy lunch (not fast food), not only replenishes the body with vital nutrients for the afternoon, it but also gives each employee’s creative mind a chance to step away from the momentum of the tasks at hand and refocus and condense the energies that go into delivering quality? That might mean something: the idea that rest actually pays off.

A short midday lunch break also bolsters the metabolism in two important ways:

First it energizes your body against the dreaded mid-afternoon trough, a period that occurs roughly around 2:30 p.m. and lasts between 30 minutes and an hour. For nine out of every 10 people, tasks become harder at this time, the brain becomes a little sluggish, and the body becomes a little sleepier sleepy as it seeks to take a quick afternoon nap. This physical depression is due to our innate 12-hour echoing of the deep-sleep period that occurs at around 2:30 a.m., but it can be lessened substantially by eating the right types of foods at the right pace. That means taking both at lunchtime, and by snacking on healthy foods throughout the day.

Taking time to eat, and eating the right types of foods, helps to level out your metabolism and maintains  energy throughout the day, while simultaneously bolstering the immune system against colds and infection. This is profound. It has direct economic value: By simply slowing down enough to eat a small lunch, and therefore minimizing the afternoon trough, each of your staff members or colleagues stands to gain one hour of extra productivity per day. If you have eight people on your team, this simple technique will win you back one person-day each week. By assisting your people in fighting off colds and other infections, you also help to cut back on both absenteeism and presenteeism, adding hundreds of more fully productive person hours per year.

Not to mention that studies have shown that eating over the keyboard is a health hazard, pure and simple. It has been proven that a computer keyboard and mouse, being locations that are constantly touched after having touched other common surfaces, contain 100 times more bacteria on their surfaces, nooks, and crannies than a kitchen table, and 400 times more than a toilet seat.

Consequently, you might be able to squeeze 15 minutes more out of the day by working through lunch, taking a bite of her sandwich, then working a little on her computer, then taking another bite, but when you have to spend the next few days sick at home as an absentee, or sick while still at work, a condition called presenteeism, all tasks, from the simplest phone calls to the most challenging knowledge work will take at least twice as long.

Eating at the Wheel

Hagerty Classic Insurance, a provider of classic car insurance, used data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to identify the 10 most dangerous foods to eat while driving, since up to that point this was data that was up until this point, largely unavailable to insurance companies. Even though I would have personally thought it would have been lobster, they discovered that two of the biggest offenders are chocolate and coffee.

You’re most likely to spill or burn yourself with coffee, and chocolate will most likely get you into a swerving situation, or worse. Chocolate is sticky, it gets onto the steering wheel, and even worse things happen when it falls into your lap and starts to melt. With chocolate, it’s not the eating that’s dangerous, it’s the cleaning up.

The other eight members of Hagerty’s top-10 list are: hot soup, tacos, chili, hamburgers, barbecued food, fried chicken, jelly-filled or cream-filled donuts, and soft drinks. And oh yes, when was the last time you sanitized your steering wheel?

But people need to get where they’re going. And as long as we live and think “event-to-event,” lunch on the road becomes like lunch over the keyboard—a space of negligible personal time that can be sacrificed in the name of keeping up.

Driving while eating robs the mind of its driving talents. The first to go are realistic, defensive assessments of braking distances, followed by acclimatizing to changing road surfaces or obstacles (particularly in construction zones).

Driving while eating further robs drivers of the ability to anticipate other drivers’ actions. Reading a driver’s body language can help predict fast lane changes, for example, or can help assess the safety of intersections in which other people are turning in front of you or running yellow and red lights.

I have spoken to many a road warrior who has learned, sometimes the hard way, that there is greater value in pulling over for 10 minutes to grab some lunch, rather than eating it on the fly. Here are some of the comments they shared with me:

  • “I find I eat slower if I stop driving. Then I don’t get heartburn in the afternoon.”
  • “I don’t get so hungry so quickly if I eat slower and stop driving. It’s helped me lose weight.”
  • “It really cuts down on highway hypnosis.”
  • “I get a chance to check my schedule. If I can call people and tell them what time they can expect me, then there’s less waiting around for me. I can actually see more of my customers by calling them just after I eat my lunch.”
  • “Sometimes I have to give my client a lift. Sometimes even my boss. It’s really embarrassing to invite someone into your car when all of the lunch stuff is still there. When I stop to eat, I can also make sure my car is presentable. That means a lot in my business.”
  • “It’s just nice to get away for a while. I’m in my car, with my music on, or sometimes a book on CD or Audible. It just feels good.”

Later I asked the person who made the fourth statement above, what would happen if he realized his schedule was too tight and that he couldn’t make all his appointments that day.

He answered, “That has happened to me, and it’s not a problem. My customers like to know that I’m looking out for them. If I tell one that I can’t see him today, but that I will be able to come by tomorrow, he’s fine with that. He’s busy, I’m busy, and we know that. He’s actually grateful for the call. It shows that I respect him.”

This is a great example of how “high- touch” wins out over “high speed.” The customer is happy. He feels looked after. The road warrior is happy. He feels in control. His health is better since he has eaten slowly and carefully, and he will be in a better position to drive safely and still make his other commitments in the afternoon.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Driving Me Crazy. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here.

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