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If you’re anything like me, you look back at your years as a student and think “wasn’t I in great shape then”? Yes, I drank a lot more beer. But I also had a lot of time to exercise and play the sports I enjoyed (turns out I used to be relatively good at some of those too).

The 80 hour weeks

Then you start work. And if like me, you started in consulting, there’s a huge risk that work becomes all-consuming. So you drop exercise and sports mid-week to make more room for work. And at the weekend you recover from the week and prioritise catching up with friends & family. This continues for a while (for me, over a decade now) and it dawns on you that the beach bod in your holiday snaps isn’t quite what it used to be.

Family duties

Oh and speaking of family, kids complicate matters further. I became a father for the 1st time 2 years ago. I wouldn’t change a thing (fatherhood is great) but the natural exercise slots – before & after work – disappear under a storm of bath time, story time, endlessly trying to get the kids out of the house and off to nursery/school time. Sound familiar?

So what can you do to build in some exercise?

This is what I’ve done:

Firstly, understand that exercise can help you to work better. How?

It releases endorphins (I always feel energised after a workout).
It gives you time to think and a change of scene. Some (actually almost all) of my best work ideas come to me when I’m running.
It gives you a break. So you are forced to work more efficiently. And feel rested enough to work with the intensity that requires.
Lastly, it helps you to stay fit and healthy. So you can actually work longer & harder when you need to.

So, it’s good for us and good for our work. But how do I protect time to do it?

Rethink your commute

For me, it’s all about integrating exercise into my journey to work. I live about 10km from the office. It’s a lovely route straight along the banks of the river Thames through west London (see the photos I’ve taken along the way – above & below). It’s also a lot more pleasant a journey than the overcrowded train (the alternative). There’s not much excuse not to run into/home from the office. And on the days I don’t run, cycle.

Now, this needs a bit of forward thinking. Somewhere to shower and get changed in the office. Somewhere to leave office clothing. But in most offices nowadays, this can be achieved.

This is how I keep (relatively) fit. The other methods I’ve seen work are:

Block exercise slots in your diary and ruthlessly prioritise them. A lot of my friends do a lunch time gym class. An intense 40 minute work out followed by a quick change & grab of a bite to eat. All achievable in 1 hour if you’re well drilled. Why do they ruthlessly block the diary slot – because they know exercise makes them happier and more productive too.

Do more walking. Most of us are familiar with the 10,000 steps per day goal (driven by the wearable craze). If you do some simple things like taking the stairs (rather than the lift); doing walking meetings (a blog post to follow on these – they are great) rather than sitting in the office; jumping off the train/underground/bus 1 stop early and walking the rest; walking somewhere 10mins away to grab lunch; it’s amazing how often you’ll hit the 10k goal.

I hope that’s helpful. I know I’m certainly feeling happier and more effective by giving my health and fitness a little bit more room in my days.