How to fit exercise into a busy schedule (also known as a normal life)
In a day and age where we are constantly being oversaturated with images of fitspo and thigh gaps on the Internet, it’s seemingly becoming easier and easier to run our eyes over someone else’s health and fitness than it is to find the time for our own. While maintaining a balanced lifestyle has been the catch cry for the past decade, I prefer to think of it as a prioritised approach. As a nurse I’m a full time shift worker with little consistency or routine, prioritisation is how I keep myself on track. It all comes down to what’s the most important to you, and how you break up your day or week to attend to those priorities.
Here are my top six tips on how to keep your training on track with a busy schedule.
Tip One: 1. “Have to” vs “Get to” - it’s good to have some perspective.
It’s all about perspective. I made this big realisation a few months ago when I left work after caring for ill patients who couldn’t walk or eat or move by themselves, and there I was loathing the thought of having to go for a run. But a simple change in perspective, from “have to”, to “get to”, really made me stop and think. You see, I didn’t actually have to go for a run. In fact, I could have easily taken a nap, or watched a movie...no one was there forcing me to run.
How lucky I am though, to be able to get outdoors and immerse myself in nature, soak up the sun’s rays and drink in the fresh air, and MOVE! How lucky I am to be able to run and jump and skip and hop and climb and leap so freely and uninhibited by pain or disease or rules and norms. So instead of thinking of exercise as a chore, and that I have to do it, I’ve flipped my perspective and now am able to appreciate that I get to go for a run after work. Try it! “I get to go to the gym after work!”, “I get to go for a swim later this afternoon”, “I get to ride my bike tomorrow!”. I think of this as an important reminder not to take our bodies and our health for granted.
Tip Two: 2. Prioritise your time
Surprise, surprise, my next and most important tip is to prioritise. Both inside and outside of my work, I am constantly prioritising, reviewing, and re-prioritising what I’m doing. The things that are most important for me to be doing are forever changing throughout my day, week, or month, and recognising that sometimes priorities have to change to suit the present moment has helped me keep on track.
From little things like picking up the washing or emptying the dishwasher, to bigger things like training for that half marathon or writing that uni assignment, everything that you achieve within a day can be organised into most important to least important. It’s also a good idea to keep in mind what time you have available to achieve your priorities, so that you can delegate your time appropriately and get the most out of each day. Don’t forget you can also group some tasks together, like going for a power walk outside while the washing is on, or doing some home yoga while your sweet potatoes bake in the oven!!
Remember, we all have the same amount of time in a day, it’s what we choose to do with it that counts! If you’ve got time to insta-stalk your fave fitness account (guilty), then you’ve got time to get out there and get moving!
Tip Three: 3. Some things are just non-negotiable
Another way I keep myself on track is To Do lists. Although it may sound simple and cliche, writing things down on paper can help you make more sense of a situation, gather your thoughts, keep things in perspective, and recognise what’s most important. I write my To Do lists in order or priority, and then if something unexpected comes up I can rearrange those priorities to give myself the best chance of achieving what needs to be achieved.
Within my To Do lists, I also have a select few that are non-negotiable. This means that no matter what, I must complete these tasks today. Things that I often have on my non-negotiables include meal preparation (+ grocery shopping if required), work assignments / projects, visiting family, and date nights with my boyfriend. If I’ve pre-planned any of these activities for my week, they don’t get cancelled for anything else. Typically, the first item on my To Do list under my non-negotiables is exercise, but I never beat myself up if I only manage to squeeze in a short bike ride after work, or some light stretching before bed (I also consider my job incidental exercise, as I spend an average of 7 hours, 5 days a week, power walking and doing physical interventions such as manual lifting).
A great idea with To Do lists and non-negotiables is to look well ahead. I often have priorities for the whole week that are then broken down and delegated to each day. If you know Monday is going to be sunny but Tuesday it’s going to rain, then you can prioritise your bike ride for Monday, and your grocery shop for Tuesday.
Tip Four: 4. Enforce the Five Minute Rule
This one was and still is a big game changer for me. It’s a little rule I swear by that helps me get all the little fluffy jobs out of the way nice and quick so I can spend the rest of my time doing what I really want and need to be doing. The Five Minute Rule means that if it’s something you can do in 5 minutes or under, then do it straight away. Yes, that includes picking up the washing, unstacking the dishwasher, vacuuming your bedroom floor, and bringing the bins in. If you’ve got five minutes to scroll through Instagram, you’ve got five minutes to get little jobs done!
It’s little tasks like these that can contribute to everyday stress, and get you distracted from achieving your real goals and reaching your full potential. Use this rule to get them out of the way fast and make the most of your day!
Tip Five: 5. Always be prepared
I’m sure you’ve heard it all before - preparation is key! Being prepared becomes extra important when you’re a shift worker or on a busy schedule, and even the simplest form of preparation can help keep you ahead and on track. Similar to prioritising and creating To Do lists, thinking ahead and being prepared helps me utilise my time effectively and fit everything into my day.
Some may call it being prepared, and some may call it OCD, but nonetheless, the small actions I take the night before help me start each new day on the right foot. Things I prepare the night before include; setting out everything for my breakfast, choosing and laying out my outfit, pre-packing my lunch and snacks, and packing workout clothes for after work. Typically, I do this every night before I have a morning shift (7am-3:30pm), so that I know that I’ve given myself the best chance to be successful the following day. Having my food and clothes already packed and prepared leaves no space for excuses - I can’t make an excuse and say that I haven’t eaten enough or that I don’t have the right sports bra because it’s all already packed! I’ve already set myself up for success and now it’s just time to implement it!
Another important aspect of preparation for me whilst training for an event on a busy schedule is preparing for the whole week. For the majority of the time I do my grocery shopping for the whole week (unless I eat all the food early and have to go back for more mid-week), and I follow the ‘Cook once, eat twice’ rule, where I cook a big meal and eat it for two (or sometimes three) main meals the following days. This helps me save valuable time before or after work, and I can use it to exercise instead of doing household chores!
Tip Six: 6. Give yourself a break!
Perhaps one of the more underestimated facets of successful training (and success in general), is rest. During rest and sleep is when our bodies recover and repair, and without it (or with very little of it), we place ourselves at a greater risk of injury, burn out, fatigue, and loss of enjoyment. Finding the balance between “Listen to your body” and “No excuses, just get it done!” is always a challenge for me, and I often find myself caught between the two, feeling physically fatigued from work or a busy day, but mentally wanting to train. It’s in these circumstances that I review my To Do list and my priorities, and if there’s room to shuffle around some of my priorities so that I can compromise and get the rest I need without completely skipping a workout, then I’ll take it.
I think it’s important not to give yourself a hard time if you skip a workout or a training session in preference for something else more important. Similar to how eating one healthy meal won’t make you instantly skinny, skipping one workout doesn’t make you overweight or unhealthy. If you’re exhausted, or unwell, or run off your feet with the perks of everyday life, then sometimes working out can be more detrimental that it would be beneficial.
On days where I find myself not feeling up to training, I respect what my mind and body is telling me, and instead look for opportunities to sneak in some incidental exercise, like parking further away from the shops and walking in, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Just remember, sometimes you just need to give yourself a break, before you give yourself a breakdown!
You can actually do it!
Training for an event on a busy schedule is hard, there’s no doubt about it. Spreading yourself evenly between work, social life, personal time, exercise and well-being, and everyday duties, and finding “the perfect balance” can be difficult and at times unachievable. Instead, I choose to look at life in terms of priorities, which allows me to arrange, assess, and re-arrange what I’m trying to achieve in any given day or week according to what’s going on at the present moment. There’s plenty of times where I’ve gotten it wrong, and ended up having no time for myself or my training, but through experimentation, reflection, and determination, I’m slowly beginning to learn how I can best organise my somewhat chaotic lifestyle to suit my wants and needs.
If you’re struggling to find the time to get outdoors and sweat, it’s time to stop and think why. Perhaps it’s time to change things up a little and try a different approach to how you organise your days, weeks, and months, and see where it leads you. Ultimately, mindset is everything, and having the right attitude is the first step to successful living. Writing things down, prioritising, being accountable, and being prepared can help you realise what’s most important to you, and keep you on track when white noise creeps in and tries to distract you.
Be accountable, take control, push your limits and try something new.
If you need some real inspiration, check out my Triathlon training diary here >>