Hust how do you manage your day in the age of the “always available” culture? Read on to find out how to avoid burning unnecessary energy and taking more control of your fitness inside the workday.
Remember how we started this year together: habits, not resolution, for sustainable fitness outcomes. That includes a workday that will succeed in: 1) lowering your stress; 2) increasing your productivity; and 3) achieving a work-life balance that enhances your mental and physical health. This article, which is Part II in my habit series, focuses on managing the “middle” of the day – the part after the morning and before you retire for the evening. If you want to read about morning habits, consult my post here.
Habit #1: Start the workday by looking at your calendar and prioritizing your day
The difference between successful people and less successful people is this – successful people carefully plan their day, whereas the average person might have an idea of what they do for the day and stop there. Much of the mistakes I used to make were based on making my inbox my to-do list. A fit professional does not let the day run them – they run their day. Once I flipped the switch and took that matter into my hands, I became several times more productive and able to float multiple balls in the air with ease.
Start the workday by taking at least 10 minutes to plan your day and identify the 2-3 things that have to get done in order for you to consider it a successful day. That can and should include a workout or a wellness related activity, like meditation. By planning what you need to do every day, you have a sense of purpose and direction that gives you focus and efficiency. Moreover, writing it down makes it “official,” making it less likely that you will deviate from the established schedule. When you include fitness as an important part of that plan, it will make it much easier for you to stick to it.
Habit #2: Allocate time blocks throughout the day, including for taking breaks and emails
The average person checks their emails at least 15 times a day. But this is making us more stressed out AND less productive, according to Forbes Magazine. Ironically, checking email and messages is addictive – it creates a dopamine high the same way sugar, caffeine or even drugs can. But it can waste up to 2 and a half hours a day, according to yet another article by Forbes (clearly, Forbes is trying to communicate the secrets of execs – not wasting time on emails)!
Here’s why. We have stuff to do for work besides emails, right? Reports, memos, projects. It takes about 15 minutes for the brain to fully “get in the zone” of a given task, and if you interrupt that by taking 15 minutes checking email, you basically just wasted an entire hour because you will have to start over to get back to that sweet spot. By assigning blocks of time and allowing blocks to respond to messages and interactions, you won’t fall into the thousand open tabs trap.
So what is the right cadence? Forbes magazine suggests two time slots, morning and afternoon. I tend to stick to three, morning, early afternoon, and early evening. Also, ACT on every email immediately. That way you read them only once. Respond immediately if a response is required; delegate if you can; and defer to another allocated time slot if it requires an action that will take you longer than 5 minutes (read my DAO of getting things done for more on this).
Will this hurt your career by making you less available to colleagues, especially in our “always available” culture? Not so much if you are transparent about your ways of working and provide access for ASAP emergencies. One thing I do is tell people to call me on the phone if it is time sensitive. That rarely leads to a call! Because guess what. Most things CAN wait for an hour. And you will be more responsive and productive for your own priorities and those of your stakeholders.
Habit #3: Work out in the middle of the day
Remember recess? There was a reason we had this break other than enabling the teachers to take a smoke break by the bleachers; research shows in this BBC article. As adults, we still need to recharge in the middle of the day and there is no better way to do that than being active. Most people have access to either office fitness centers or gyms near where they live. Taking a midday workout class, especially one that involves meditation, like yoga, can make you feel grounded and rejuvenated.
If you think you don’t have the time because you have SO much to do, think again. Think of it not in terms of minutes and hours, but what you can get done. If I can get something done in 20 minutes that would have taken me 30 or 45 because I have a lot more focus and energy, and that adds up to several tasks, the return on my investment of 50 minutes in a workout is already recouped and I “profit”.
How to make working out in the middle of the day work
Here is a strategy I like to use: I block out the lunch hour; most people typically do not want meetings between 12-1, because that is usually when people get lunch. And I time my deliverables so I get a document or other work product to the next stage of review or delegate a certain task that is part of the process. I usually check my emails half an hour beforehand and focus on those that require actions or next steps and respond. That way, the ball is in someone else’s court for the time being; my hands are tied anyway, and being away for a bit allows that to all gel and have some kind of resolution usually by the time I get back. When I do get back, I look at my schedule for the rest of the afternoon and use the first half an hour to do the hardest task, because that is when I am the most focused. I
The best workouts to do for “quickies”
If you are at home you can hop on an exercise machine (i.e., Peloton or treadmill), or just power through a walk to go get some lunch or take your dog for a walk. Even if you don’t have a full hour, you can definitely use 5, 10, even 15 minutes to successfully get your blood pumping and calories burning the Peloton also offers shorter classes or app workouts). Most workout apps recognize the need for people to be able to scale their workouts, and offer ones that are are in as little as 5-10 minutes. One example is the 7 minute workout app, which you can do in one mat’s distance of space without any equipment. For more app recommendations based on your personality type and what you need, head over to my Fitness app decision tree.
My best experience with “quickie” workouts has been shorter yoga workouts. This is because it stretches out all the tightness I get in my neck and upper back and by doing inversions like downward facing dog, I get my head beneath my heart, which allows blood to flow to my brain. One app I have reviewed is the down dog app, which allows you to customize yoga AND HIIT workouts in 5 minutes increments. If you think 5 or 10 minutes does not make a difference, you are wrong, it makes a huge difference. According to this article in Women’s Health, 5 to 10 minute “mini” workouts can absolutely make a difference and it has been scientifically proven that they can help you gain muscle, lose weight, and boost your metabolism. It is a matter of replacing your social media scrolling habit with being active!
How to avoid interruptions
One key way to make this a success is silencing ALL notifications, including texts, chats, calls and social media, especially if you are using an app or just doing freestyle at the gym. Notifications can be distracting and can actually ruin the whole point of a quick mid-day workout, because the temptation to entertain the distracton is usually too great and you waste time responding or reading whatever comes in. It’s a shame we have to rely on our phones or watches for music, accessing gyms and apps, and other reasons, but this is what we have to work with. If you are in an in-person class, leave your phone in your gym locker. It’s the worst when someone’s phone starts ringing or even starts lighting up during the class. Don’t be “that guy” (or girl). Be present! This is your time you carved out for yourself, so soak up every second.
Think superhero wardrobe
Everyone I am sure remembers, or has heard of, Clark Kent going into a phone booth and emerging as Superman. Think like this when it comes to your mid-day workout – what you wear in the morning can make a difference. If you are working from home, you can easily just wear your workout clothes and position the camera from the neck of, or follow my advice about athleisure below. Going to the office gym is more tricky but doable if you follow my tips below.
We are in the era of athleisure, way past when workouts mean wearing a leotard or some ugly pair of basketball shorts and a half-dogeared t-shirt. You can make the transition super easy by wearing athleisure as part of your work outfit. For example, many workout tops, like the Splits 59 Ashby, can double as a top you can wear underneath a blazer. I also recently nabbed this Koral workout BLAZER which I am super stoked about. A lot of times black leggings can pose as tights underneath skirts, or you can even wear a sweater dress like this one from Lululemon over a sports tank and mid-rise shorts, like one of these from Alo. For men, Lululemon makes polo shirts and slim fit pants that can totally be accesptable for business casusal.
Either way, make it easy to get on the go by always having a set of workout clothes and sneakers you can lace up in your working area, or in your bag that you take to work. (If you have a purse, I would recommend a tote bag like this one from Alo). Always have on hand facewipes, body wipes, dry shampoo, deodorant, a brush, and some basic makeup supplies to freshen up. One strategy I use is that I buy travel sizes of all of these supplies and keep them in there so they do not take up a lot of space.
How to communicate around your schedule
So with all possible distractions gone, this leads to the question…should you be transparent about the fact that you might be MIA for an hour because you are working out? For me, I don’t think it’s necessary to make that explicit – most people are not robots and have random pockets of time a day where for whatever reason, they are not available, including commuting, grabbing coffee or lunch, going to doctor’s appointments, picking up kids, or walking dogs. You do want to make sure you are responsive and trustworthy, so here are some more tips for navigating midday workouts in the “always available” culture.
If it’s a regularly recurring time block, for example, you take a noon workout class every day, or like to go running at 4pm before it gets dark, then it is probably fine to tell the colleagues you work with most closely that this is your protected time for that and that you can adjust if it’s absolutely critical, but in general, you are not available. Not only will this make people respect your boundaries, but it also creates a better culture for those that report to you by sending a message that carving time out for wellness IS important. I am very careful to set my gchat function to “away” and then specify around what time I expect to be back online, in that example.
Habit #4: Manage all of your productivity-sabotaging thoughts
Besides the outside world and the people in it being a saboteur, your own random thoughts can distract you and keep you from achieving your goals throughout the day. How many times have you been distracted worrying about something coming up over the weekend, or by your to-do list (“oh, shoot, I forgot to reschedule that dentist appointment!”). Then there are work meetings with action items and things you need to do after those (share files with the team, schedule more meetings, etc.). This can create a big giant knot of thoughts in your head that can keep you from thinking clearly and ultimately cause something to fall off the radar.
The way I approach it is this: I keep two notebooks: One for work meetings, and one for getting random thoughts down. My “random thoughts” notebook is for writing down ANYTHING that occurs to me, whether it’s something I need to do, a random idea, or a nagging worry about something I usually can’t control. It does not have to be elaborate Carrie Bradshaw musing, sometimes mine looks like scribble scrabble and is not even in sentences. It’s the purging of the thoughts and clearing your head that gives you a reassuring feeling that things will be dealt with later. At the end of each day, I look at the page for the day, and if it has action items, I transfer them to my “todoist” app, which I discuss here in my post on the DAO of getting things done. The same is for work meetings. I take notes because it helps me pay attention and be present, and if there are action items, I star them, and transfer them to the Todoist app.
Habit #5: Eat a lunch that does not put you into a coma
The day can often creep by with back to back calls, and by the time 2 or even 3pm reaches, you are starving and not able to concentrate. This is when you are a target for eating anything that doesn’t move, including greasy fast food or something that comes in a bag.
Time for lunch, just like workouts, should be blocked out on your calendar, ideally around the same time every day to help solidify a routine. You want to make sure your lunch is already prepped or that you are able to prep quickly, and that you have snacks around just in case you do get caught up.
In terms of WHAT to eat, it’s as easy as P-F-C, and you can find more on that and how to plan meals at my Little Black Dress Meal™ Planning Post.
For me, personally, I like to keep lunch energized, so I usually have a starchy carb with some protein and either fruits or vegetables. Here are some examples of lunches that will pep you up and replenish after a midday workout:
- Salmon with sweet potato and arugula
- Slice of whole grain bread with nut butter and low-sugar jam or honey
- Greek yogurt with granola and fruit
- Whole wheat wrap with chicken, spinach, and avocado
~Side note, take the time to fully enjoy your food! That means focusing on each bite and really chewing! Chewing does more than just… well, chewing. Chewing properly enables the body to break down digestive enzymes in the stomach, allowing for better nutrient absorption, better digestion and gut health, and gives time for the stomach to tell the brain, “I’m full, I am good now.”
Habit #6: Watch your diet cokes and late afternoon coffees
Caffeine is a stimulant, and can power us through the morning. But if you drink it in the afternoon to get past that afternoon slump, you might not get a good night’s sleep. That’s because caffeine takes time to metabolize in the system and drinking it late in the day can interrupt your brain’s natural circadian melatonin rhythms, according to the Sleep Foundation.
Generally, you need a caffeine “cutoff” time. The recommended window from most of the research I have done is between 1-3pm. Also, don’t underestimate the strength of the caffeine in diet sodas, or foods containing caffeine. Having that square of dark chocolate after dinner may seem like a good idea for a healthy dessert, but it can disrupt your sleep.
So what if you do want a fun beverage? Try some Komboucha, herbal tea, or even flavored sparking water if you really miss the fizzy sodas. One thing my husand and I have been doing is mixing flavored apple cider vingar with soda water, we like the Ginger turmeric kind from CVS. It’s a great digestive, too! And if you head over to this week’s hot list, I have some recommendations for mushroom coffee that can mimick the taste of coffee but not have the same jitters.
Habit #7: Embrace people and animal interactions
A secret to happiness is focusing on social interaction. You may think I am crazy because being really busy means you have to lock yourself in a dark room and only talk business. But that’s the exact opposite of what you need. Personal interaction during the day is important. You want to maximize the interaction with your colleagues to build relationships and trust. So for the first 5 minutes of every call, follow the golden rule: ask everyone how they are doing and mention something that is not work related.
Also, reach out to at least one loved one in the middle of the day. For me that’s picking up the phone and calling my dad for five minutes. He usually tells me a joke and even if it goes over my head it still is nice to hear his voice and grounds me as to what is really important in life. Or it can be as simple as texting one of your kids or your significant other, “I love you.”
The best remedy to keep stress down during the day by far is being around animals. Not all of us have that advantage of being with them at home while we work but for those of us who do, take a break and give your pup a belly rub. The unconditional love that animals give us is incredible and it is as if there is a constant companion who is over the moon to be by you. Truly cherish the moment and watch how your mood uplifts!
In the next issue we will focus on learning habits to end your workday and separate it from your home life, then wind down for a good nights’ sleep.