How to Fit in Exercise with a Busy Job
When I worked in a private practice law firm, I could easily go a week working 12 hour days as standard and then pulling a few 11pm – midnight finishes. Occasionally I would have a mid-week client event where I would need to put on my business face and gamely drink free booze until it was socially acceptable to leave (read: when everyone else is so drunk they don't notice). It was very easy in those days to excuse not making time for exercise as the toll of working crazy hours, and spending half the working week knackered or hungover, took its grip.
These days in my current role, I start around 9am and usually finish by 7pm and I manage to fit in daily workouts. However, although I work less hours, there's no doubt my days are more intense, essentially my work condensing into a shorter time frame. In addition, with my daily hour-each-way commute, my days still last at least 12 hours. So how come I've found the time?
The simple fact is, I've made it a priority. Talking to my friend Bex, who still works in a law firm and works crazy hours, I felt inspired to write my tips on fitting in exercise to your life, when your work is your life:
1. Try and exercise in the morning or, gasp, even at lunchtime – earlier workouts are easier to rearrange if things move around, you feel better having done your workout early on, and you are less likely to need to cancel if you have the kind of job where you can end up working late at the drop of a hat. For regular lunch workouters, this may not sound like a big deal, but if you don’t already do it (and it’s not the ‘done’ thing in your office) then it can feel slightly rebellious skipping out the door in the middle of the day in your trainers.
You may find that it’s not the ‘done’ thing purely because no one else is actually doing it, rather than someone senior has openly frowned upon it. If you are in that environment, once a few of you start going at lunchtime, soon everyone else will realise it's not a biggie (and FYI, other people are probably already going on the sly – it’s not like you need to jump up and announce it, GUYS, I’M OFF TO THE GYM AT LUNCHTIME TODAY - it's your lunchbreak).
And on that note, don’t feel guilty about going to the gym at lunchtime! Unless you arrive at 9am and leave by 5.31pm, you can afford to take the extra 10-15 minutes getting ready as you are already making up for the hours every day (or go to a short class - 1Rebel pictured up top have shorter classes at lunch). If you have colleagues that don’t take a lunchbreak and get funny about it, think that (a) you will be a lot more efficient if you’ve had a break from work to refresh yourself; and (b) most people do take a lunchbreak even if you/they don’t think they are – the next time your colleague ‘pops out’ for half an hour to get a sandwich, then spends 30 minutes reading BBC news at their desk whilst they eat it, and takes multiple fag/coffee breaks during the day, you’ll see what I mean.
If lunchtime workouts don’t work, even grabbing an hour mid-afternoon or early evening could be the key for you. If you’ve ever been to the gym at 3pm, you’ll notice there’s no one there and it's a total dream. Again, don’t feel guilty – if you work long hours and are going to be at your desk til 10pm, you can reasonably workout whenever you want in the day as long as you are getting your work done.
2. Get organised and plan your weekly workouts. Every Sunday night I work through my work diary, with my paper personal diary in my lap, and plan my week’s worth of workouts. At the moment I am on week 10 of Kayla Itsine’s plan so I need to do at least two of those, one long run and one sprints/easy run session, my swimming lesson and then one session of whatever works for me. Obviously I’m not going to fit all of these in without being organised. I use my work diary because I can see which days I have a lunchtime free or it would be better to go in the morning (mornings are not good if I have plans the evening before – see later point on this).
3. Schedule your workouts in your work diary, as if they are meetings. Literally block them out so they show you as BUSY. You can mark them private so Julie in accounts can’t see that you’re off to BITCH BOXING or whatever, and I like to colour them in Outlook so I can instantly look at my diary and see the sea of happy green exercise boxes peaking back at me. Obviously if you need to be flexible and your boss wants a last minute meeting at 12.45 then so be it, but generally it’s easier to stick to when they are booked in. Your workout is no less important for you than someone else’s meeting at the bank/manicure/physio session is to them.
4. Rope colleagues in to working out with you. It’s a lot easier to leave the office for that lunchtime spin class with three colleagues in tow than it is on your own. Maybe think about starting a lunchtime run club or an afterwork netball league.
5. Make exercise your ‘thing’. Yes, as per point 1, you don’t need to announce it but I found that once I told colleagues I was training for a marathon, it became a lot more acceptable to leave on time to get to a class. People almost expect you to.
6. Think wisely about morning workouts. Don’t even bother to schedule in a morning workout when you have plans the evening before, or you know you are going to be working super late (easier said than done, I know). If you’re anything like me, going to bed after 11pm (latest) means I won’t get up at 5.50am. Even dinner out until 9.30pm (rock and roll), followed by an hour’s journey home and 30 minutes of faffing/getting ready for bed/packing my stuff for the next day is going to push it.
7. Aim to cut out/down on mid-week boozing. As well as meaning you’re more likely to stay out later, an impromptu few drinks after work is not going to lend itself to a morning workout. Everyone’s different but I get a hangover from anything as small as two ciders. I then eat really badly the next day (cheese and bacon Pret turnover for breakfast anyone?!) and cba with my workout.
8. Keep spare kit at work. You never know when that conference call might get rescheduled and you could nip out for a half an hour hiit class or even just a quick run around your local park.
9. Incorporate your run/cycle into your commute. If you have a lengthy commute, try and fit running or cycling into your travel time. I recently ran-commute part of my journey which was a manageable five miles each way broken up with an overground journey. Clocking in 10 miles in a day is an easy way for me to put some miles in once a week. If that feels a bit much or you don't have showers at work, maybe just run home once or twice a week.
10. Take a look at your time management. If you genuinely don't think you have time in your day to exercise, maybe have a look at how efficiently you use your time. Do you work with your phone next to you and spend half the day checking WhatsApp? Do you faff for the first 45 minutes of the day or spend ages replying to unimportant emails?
I sincerely believe everyone can fit working out into their day, even if their job and the hours they work make it seem impossible/unacceptable. Care less about what other people think as they are probably not monitoring your comings and goings. Until someone tells you that your work ethic is suffering as a result (which it won’t be), you get to prioritise your own day.
Do you work in a busy and stressful job and manage to fit in exercise? What are your top tips?