I don’t know about you, but it seems every time I turn around there is another article about how someone’s life was changed by getting up at 6 am or (god forbid) 4 am. The articles generally are written in a tone that suggests once acclimated to the new schedule a person wakes up in some sort of Disney Princess fantasy world where birds sing with you as you wash your face and various woodland creatures fetch your garments so that you can dress (without the drudgery of hiring a qualified lady’s maid, because as we all know, good help is so hard to find these days).
I suspect these articles are written by people who are natural morning people just trying to eek out a little more productivity.
I am not one of them.
And this is not that sort of a tip.
I will admit I actually tried it. The getting up at 5 am thing. If it works for you great, more power to you. I can admit, I am slightly jealous. It went horribly wrong for me. I tried it for two weeks to give it a bit of a chance. My productivity actually dropped and my coffee intake doubled.
But to get back to the point. Scheduling itself is a very powerful tool. I work at home and for myself so I generally set my schedule. I know some of you are sighing with envy, but there are complications. There are the expected ones where other people’s schedules need to be taken into consideration. There are instances where something needs to be done during the work day and because you can more easily rearrange your schedule, you get tapped to do it. Usually the phrase ‘it will only take five minutes’ appears in the conversation. There are also people selling things from raffle tickets to religion periodically knocking on your door when they see your car in the drive.
Then there is the unexpected guilt.
Working at home as your own boss means that you are your own task master. When I switched from working in an office to working at home I was unprepared for the level of guilt I would feel if I took some time during my day to do something non work related. It was as though my brain said if you aren’t constantly working then you aren’t pulling your weight.
While I got over this initial rush of guilt, mostly because I realized I was pushing myself like a crazy person and not getting as much done as I thought I was due to mental fatigue, the guilt resurfaced once I started adding exercise into my day.
If you read articles or books or watch tv shows about incorporating more exercise into your daily routine, the person speaking usually uses something along the lines of ‘incorporating 20 minutes of moving time in your day is easy.’ Or ‘just skip one television program a night to do your workouts and you will be well on your way to a healthier new you.’
If you only have a little weight to lose, or are just getting started and getting your body used to moving, this is great advice. And it is advice I followed in the beginning. I still use the breaking it into small chunks advice that they tout. But as I moved forward, the time needed to achieve my goals took up more of my day than I expected.
To get to the gym it is a fifteen minute drive each way (not too bad actually). I am there generally about 45 minutes. Then I drive home and take a quick shower (15-20 minutes). This means it adds up to an hour and a half three days a week for weights. I also walk about an hour and a half each day, sometimes more on the days I don’t go to the gym.
The time adds up.
And my guilt level skyrocketed.
So did the number of excuses not to exercise, especially when deadlines loomed.
So I started scheduling. I went from a general to do list, to timing things out. (although I still use lists. Its a permanent habit) I use a simple free daily schedule available as a template for excel. There are billions of ones out there so I’d encourage you to find one you like. Because if you like it, you will use it.
I put my work things, my errands and my workouts on the schedule, treating them all with the same degree of importance. By writing it down, I feel I have committed to getting my workouts done. While I have to take the gym in a solid one and a half hour block, for obvious reasons like drive time, I tend to break my walks up into forty five minute chunks.
The night before, I list out my most important have to get done things for the next day. This is my immediate list. The quick e-mails, the final review of a cover letter, whatever it is, if it is on this list, then I can check it off quickly. On the calendar I actually block out an hour first thing call ‘The Immediates’. SOmetimes it is a little longer depending on what is coming my way, but it never exceeds two hours. Usually I cap it at an hour and a half. So the next morning I pour my coffee and quickly blow through that first list of immediates, checking each individual item off the list while working through my block. It makes me feel productive and on top of things.
Inevitably, there will be an e-mail I need to respond to that takes more thought, or a phone message I need to work through or a response I need to think over. There is almost always one thing I can’t respond to without thinking it through a little bit than the other items on the immediats list. So I will set that to the side and after I’ve blazed through my quick list, I will fit the more difficult e-mail, phone call or decision into my brain, change into walking clothes and go on my first walk of the day.
When I walk, I listen to music. I put my i-pod on shuffle because even the radio announcer’s voices tend to intrude on my brain. If I hear morning trivia, or traffic or even a weather report, my brain will shift off topic. So I stick with music. And I mentally shuffle through the one difficult task I postponed to do after my walk.
I know there are loads of people who advocate focusing only on your exercise while you are doing it. While I’m sure there are benefits, I can’t do it. If I try then I will start thinking about the absurdity of walking so many miles in what is essentially a giant circle and getting no where or if at the gym I will fixate on the absolute ridiculousness of some of the machines we use to tone muscles that we clearly aren’t using in daily life (otherwise they’d be toned and wouldn’t need machines to isolate them to work out). So I work through knotty issues instead. having that one focused issue keeps me from wondering if I need to get groceries or any other little things that can spring up in my mind. I focus on the one task I need to think through making the workouts a part of my work day and not my home life.
When I arrive home, I generally have a plan for my issue and with a minimal cooldown I am able to dive right into the thorny issue and check it off my task list. By the time my next exercise block comes up, generally there is something else I need to take some time out to think about. By scheduling my walks and gym time, I not only get them on my calendar, but I find I can schedule the things I need to think about before dealing with. This actually makes me more productive, because I don’t sit at the computer writing and re-writing an e-mail or staring at a message trying to figure out what to say on my phone call. It has also kept me from sending messages I later regret. I can work out plot issues for the story I’m currently working on and get my exercise in.
Oddly enough, this method ramps up my productivity, drops my caffeine intake and since my workout time is also technically working time, my guilt level at taking time to do something just for me drops down. In addition, since the gym is across town, if anyone needs me to run an errand that ‘will only take five minutes’ I can add it either before or after the gym (depending on my required appearance) which takes fewer additional chunks out of my day.
There is no getting around the fact that if you add something, whether it is exercise or not, to your day, you will have to take time away from something else. There is simply a finite amount of time each day. You will have to adjust. My schedule is a little more free form than a lot of people have, but there are ways to incorporate exercise into your schedule. If you get an hour for lunch, instead of going out every day, schedule two or three days a week where you bring a sack lunch. Use half your lunch hour to eat, then change shoes and spend the other thirty minutes walking up and down the back stairwell, or around the building.
One of the key things I found to increase my exercise was to break it into smaller chunks so that I didn’t feel as though it was taking over my day. If getting up earlier or staying up later helps, go for it. But whatever you do, put it on your schedule, treat it as an important appointment, and if you can, make it do double duty as you work through a work related problem you need to solve.