I’ve often heard people claim they don’t have time for exercise. I have never actually had this problem, but there have been times when I wasn’t organized enough to make the time. I think this might be the case for some others, as well.
Becoming intentionally organized with my time has helped me feel as though I have more of it. The feeling of being on top of your day can leave you with that precious hour or two that you can choose to spend exercising.
I first faced a major time-management problem when I started working from home. The lack of structure as compared to working in an office meant that if I took things at too leisurely a pace during the day, I would find myself scrambling to finish tasks and projects in the evenings. I had no time to exercise, and any social plans I might have had suffered. Not only that, the added stress from that disorganization was a drain on my energy levels.
A few basic changes worked really well for me, and I am sharing them below.
Using the Pomodoro Technique
Work can be unpleasant and sometimes you just need some hot coals under your feet to keep you off Instagram. :p Well, hot coals or this neat app called Brain Focus. It’s based on the Pomodoro technique, which is a time management method created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s—he even wrote a book about it. What matters is that even though it’s going to sound so simple, this idea can change your life.
The basic premise is to break down your work into timed intervals tracked with a count-down timer, with other timed, shorter breaks between the work intervals. After a set number of work and short break intervals, let’s say four, you get a longer break. The Brain Focus app for Android, which is what I use to access the technique easily, let’s you customize how long your intervals are and how many intervals you’ve done.
I don’t know why this is so effective, but it’s like having a mini-competition with yourself during every work period, and it just doesn’t get old. For me, it’s a great way to get more done in a short amount of time.
Prioritizing by Writing it Down
Writing down all of the tasks I have to do, things I want to do, any meetings or appointment, etc., in a day on one piece of paper helps me to visualize and compare everything better than I could if I left it all in my head. This way, I can quickly decide what’s important and what isn’t, and hold off on things that can be left for another day, or those I don’t need to do at all.
This process also helps to keep me motivated because I can’t defer my tasks to an unknown “later” time.
I use a DayTimer agenda to do this, and I really like it. There’s a section for a to-do list, and a split section with an appointments column and a diary column, each going from about 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. I can list everything I want to do in the list section and then, in the appointments column, make a day plan, and in the diary column, keep track of what I actually do.
I wind up with what feels like less time on days I skip this process. It takes less than five or ten minutes in total, and you don’t even really need an agenda for it. Any piece of paper will do.
Breaking Down Each Workout
If you’re anything like me, you can easily get sucked into an all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to exercise. When I envision a workout, it includes about 45 minutes of cardio, an hour of Pilates, and maybe some Blogilates to follow. But this takes about two hours to do, and sometimes 20 minutes is all the time you have.
Giving yourself a tiered workout option is a great way to take away your excuses to get something in even on days with unplanned events or a tight schedule. Instead of viewing a workout as a non-negotiable one or two-hour commitment, see it as three separate smaller workouts: maybe 20 minutes on the elliptical, 20 minutes of weights, and 20 minutes of body-weight exercises. On days that you can’t get all three done, you can still do at least one. I think this is about setting a lower time-commitment bar for success.
Tacking it Onto Another Daily Task / Habit
One of the lessons I learned from the book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg was that you’re more likely to maintain a new habit by sticking it onto another one. You can turn it into a when/then statement: “When I get off work, then I go to the gym” or “after I walk the dog, I go for a run.”
Okay, but that’s really beside the point I’m making here, sort of. I know I have cumulatively spent many hours just dreading a workout. I think by veering exercise into something that is already a routine, you’re more likely to automate the process and take away precious time you might spend on the couch fearing your workout.
Sleeping at the Right Time
I can get more “mind” work done during my morning hours than I can in my evenings, so setting my alarm clock earlier and going to bed earlier has always been a great strategy for me to maximize the time I have. This is not necessarily the case for everyone; I know at least one person who works in a highly creative field whose muse seems to start inspiring at about midnight. But regardless of what works for you, try to manage your resting hours around it if you can.
I hope this helped! The good news is that exercise is an investment with a high return, and the payout comes pretty quickly. You’ll sleep better, look better, and feel better in body and mind, etc. So you’ll only need to bluntly motivate yourself for a few months before you innately prioritize and look forward to your inspired time at the gym.