When you work for yourself, you set your own schedule. You determine your priorities. You choose what type of work you do and when.
You’d think that would mean it’s easier to find time to exercise and stay fit. But too many entrepreneurs wish they were in better shape. They find it difficult to exercise because they’re spending so many hours on their business. They also don’t have someone telling them to be at the office from 9 to 5, which means the workday often turns into 8 to 8 instead… which leaves little room for anything else.
While my habits around working from home have plenty of room for improvement, one thing I’ve done well is keep physically fit. I exercise more consistently now than when I worked a day job, and I use my flexible schedule to my advantage.
If this is something you struggle with, here are a few tips for staying fit when you work for yourself. And even if you’re working for The Man, some of these ideas might help you get back on the exercise train.
Actually, scratch that — because you should put family and relationships first. But right after that comes exercise! You should treat working out like it’s more important than work — because it is. If you’re not healthy, you won’t be able to continue to do all the things you manage now, including work. Heath should be your top priority.
Don’t just say heath is a top priority; act like it. I do this by blocking out time each day to work out. Just like I’d hold a spot for a client phone call, I do not schedule anything during my workout time. No one else is going to set a schedule for you, so you have to set one for yourself.
To accomplish this, block out your exercise schedule at the beginning of every week just like you would your work schedule. Don’t say you’ll fit it into the day somewhere, because you know what will happen: other things will come up that will feel more important, and you’ll do those things instead. Then, when those blocks of times hit…
This is easier said than done, but if you force yourself to go for a run or hit the gym even when it’s the last thing you feel like doing, it will become a habit. You’ll get used to exercising every day, even when it doesn’t sound like fun.
Watch out, because it’s easy to form the opposite habit, too: If you let yourself off the hook every time you feel a little tired or stressed, you’ll get used to not following through on your promise to yourself.
Remember: when you’re stressed, you probably need that workout more than you realize. As a friend’s dad used to say, “The more you don’t feel like exercising, the more you need to.”
Sometimes, you’ll get out on your bike and end up having a wonderful ride, which can turn a negative day into a positive one. If you get out there and still feel sluggish and tired, go easy on yourself. You don’t want to slack on a regular basis, but if you’re just not feelin’ it, cut your workout from an hour to 30 minutes. The important thing is that you show up consistently. Consider it an investment in yourself.
I fail at this more times than I succeed, but when I do succeed, my workouts are far more meaningful. When I check email before hitting the road on my bike in the morning, all I can think about is how I’ll respond to client emails and which tasks I need to complete when I get back to my home office. I feel stressed about all the things I have to accomplish that day, rather than enjoying the ride.
When I go to the gym before checking email, I feel more free. I enjoy the workout more, and I often come up with great ideas for my work — because my mind isn’t cluttered with all the seemingly urgent tasks that wait in my inbox. That’s when I come up with my best ideas.
One of the dangers of working from home is the availability of snacks. They’re right there in the kitchen, so why not have a few more chips? Especially if you don’t leave your office for lunch, it’s easy to snack into the afternoon rather than have a set meal. And when you do that, you might not even realize how many calories you consume.
I was nervous to start counting my calories because I have obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and I didn’t want to become obsessive about every little thing that goes into my mouth. But it has worked surprisingly well.
Why? Because it’s so straight-forward. So long as you don’t cheat, counting calories is a fail-proof system. You eat only as many as you burn, and you’re good to go.
Second, it has taught me to eat mindfully, rather than snacking at my desk just to help the day pass. I’m now in the habit of thinking about whatever I’m about to put in my mouth. When you only have a certain number of calories to work with each day, you don’t want to waste them on foods you don’t need or truly want.
Lots of apps and gadgets make it easy to count calories. I like My Fitness Pal because it only takes a few minutes to record my daily intake, and there’s a social component. When your friends are in it with you, it holds you accountable.
You’re much more likely to exercise consistently if you like the activity. If I had to go to the gym every day and use the elliptical for 45 minutes, I would never do it. I find gym machines so horribly boring that I’ll do everything possible to avoid them.
It can be difficult to find an activity we actually enjoy, and it’s not because we don’t like moving — it’s because we are often intimidated to try something new. Joining a running group, for example, is hella scary because you worry you’ll be the slowest person there or won’t have anyone to chat with. Trying a new class at the gym is nerve-wracking, too, because you don’t know what to expect or whether you’ll be able to keep up. Discovering fun ways to exercise often means pushing yourself outside your comfort zone.
I was forced to do this over the last few years when I had to give up running, my main form of exercise throughout my 20s, because of a persistent injury. I miss running so much, I could write an entire post about it. But because I had to look for a new way to be active, I discovered yoga, which I now love. I’ve found an instructor who challenges me, and I’m now learning all sorts of headstands and arm balances I never imagined I’d be able to do.
Working from home can be isolating. Doing group exercise, either by coordinating with a friend or joining a class, is a great way to kill two birds with one stone: you get your sweat on, and you get to talk to someone, too. If you push yourself to try a few new activities, you might even make some new friends.
What works for you? How do you make exercise a priority? Leave your tips in the comments so we can all benefit!