The key to finally finding time to exercise

Think you're too busy for exercise? Think again. Learn how to prioritize your time so there's room for fitness every day.
By James S. Fell
Woman smiling after yoga class Getty Images

I’ve read a number of time management books over the years (I fit into the small group of fitness trainers with MBAs), and they just confirmed my suspicions that the subject is overcomplicated. Allow me to un-complicate it for you.

1. Learn how to prioritize your time
Actions reflect priorities. No one lies on their deathbed wishing they’d spent more time at the office. Conversely, I think there are plenty of people who lie on that same bed wishing they’d spent more time exercising, especially since if they had, they perhaps wouldn’t be there in the first place.

When it comes to time management, nothing is more important than prioritization. An oft-used axiom is that if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. You must make the decision that exercise is important to you and you will put it before many other things.

This is why I always encourage people to find an activity they can learn to love, rather than just focusing on the best butt-sculpter or calorie-burner. If you love something, you’ll find time for it.

Also, know that being in great health can make you more productive at everything else you do. If you’re in shape you can be the best you — mother, wife, girlfriend, even a better employee. These things take up a lot of your time, but if you make an investment of time and effort in yourself then you’ll actually end up being better at those other things. That should alleviate the guilt of investing in you for a change.

You have to place a much higher priority on taking time to exercise or to find the holes in your schedule where it fits. If your schedule is jammed, it means something is going to have to give. An LA Times article of mine showed that people who exercise first thing in the morning have the highest adherence rates because the day hasn’t yet stressed them out and given them excuses to bail on working out. Perhaps this means skipping late night TV, going to bed earlier so you can wake up early for fitness.

Or maybe it means hitting the gym at lunch instead of going out with co-workers (which has the added benefit of making you bring your own lunch from home, which you can make healthier). Or perhaps you put on running gear and go for a jog while your kids are at soccer practice instead of watching them all clumped together chasing the ball around.

If you put a high enough priority on exercise, you will find the time. You will find those things you can place a lower priority on.

2. Plan
You know your life and schedule better than anyone, so you need to do a bit of figuring your stuff out. What time of day works best for you to exercise? Figure out your running or cycling routes. How you are going to fit in breakfast? Which gym has the most convenient location for you? Figure out your exercise partners. Do this, then make a schedule and effort to stick to it. Also, consider sticking it to the fridge and ticking each one off as “done.” This is a proven motivator.

3. Adapt
Things don’t always work out the way you plan, so don’t give up on the fundamental goals, just change the plan and try again.

4. Be efficient
Thirty minutes of going hard with the weights is far better than an hour of messing around in the gym. Running hard for 30 minutes burns more calories than walking for an hour. It’s also better for your heart, lungs, and cholesterol, plus improves your ability to train harder with weights.

Efficiency doesn’t just apply to exercise. You can pack an entire week’s worth of gym clothes and take them to the office on Monday so you never have to worry about missing a workout because you don’t have fresh attire. I found lunchtime was good for weightlifting and it allowed me to skip those fattening co-worker trips to the Chinese food buffet.

If you get creative, you can think of other ways in your life to be efficient, providing more time to exercise.

5. Think!
A lot of people forget that the brain is the most important tool when it comes to improving fitness. The brain is what makes things happen. If you sit in a quiet room with a notebook and just start jotting ideas down about how you can make fitness fit into your busy schedule, the ideas will come. They might need some coffee to get out there, but they will come.

James S. Fell, MBA, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary. He writes the syndicated column “In-Your-Face Fitness” for the Chicago Tribune and consults with clients on strategic planning for fitness and health. Get your free Metabolism Report here.


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