How many times have you thought about working out, and then immediately your brain exclaimed, “I don’t have time for that! I need to [insert one of the one billion things you need to do in a day]”
And you go along your busy, stressed out way, skipping the gym for the 100th day in a row.
That’s a common response. But I hate to break it to ya: your “I don’t have time” excuse is poop.
I know you are busy. I know every day feels like you are stretched at the seams by responsibilities. But really, that excuse - like most excuses - is stinky, crappy, POOP!
Why? Well, I’m glad you asked!
Why your excuse is poop
Laura Vanderkam – a time management expert – put out a Ted Talk in 2016 called “How to gain control of your free time”. You can watch it here – but wait, stay here, with me! I’ll give you the HUGE take home message and more. No need to scurry away!
Basically, her message is:
It’s not that you don’t have time. It’s that you haven’t made time to workout. Because you haven’t made working out a priority.
Laura gives an example to explain that everyone has time: she describes how, if your water heater broke, you would be able to find time in your schedule to fix it, even if your schedule was packed to the gills. Because having a not-flooded basement is a priority. And time is made for priorities.
But I don’t want you to associate working out with something as stressful as your water heater breaking. Exercising shouldn’t cause you stress and make you want to pull your hair out. It should really do the opposite.
But-BUT, the same way you would prioritize a water heater breaking – it is something that needs to get done NOW, and you probably need to rearrange your schedule to make it happen – is how you should treat exercise throughout your week.
More than words to show you feel
If you expect to magically start working out because you wrote in your journal, “I really should make time to work out more often”; good luck. Unless you change your perspective, habits, actions, and behaviors, you will continue to fall into the same routine that results in missed workouts.
Like when Michael Scott “DECLARES BANKRUPTCY!!!!!” – sorry to be a Toby, but it doesn’t work like that.
You can’t just say working out is a priority; you need to believe it and act on it for that denomination to mean anything of substance.
How the HECK do I do that?!
Step 1: Conduct a Future You Performance Review
First, we need to establish your priorities.
Our pal Laura offers an extremely helpful mental exercise to set your priorities. She recommends you give yourself a Future Performance Review.
Picture You-a-year-from-now (herein referred to as Future You) getting called into The Boss’s* office. (*This isn’t your boss at work; instead, The Boss is head of Reaching Your True Potential Inc. and they care very deeply at you being happy and feeling fulfilled)
Now, imagine Future-You has spent the past year (i.e. the year ahead of present-you) just superbly. They ACED IT. It was an incredible year for Future-You and your loved ones!
The Boss sits down Future-You, and announces s/he is really impressed. The Boss is smiling big and proud.
The Boss goes, “Wow, Future-You, I am absolutely mesmerized by you this year. You really excelled in all the right places. I am really taken by how you excelled by doing _______, ________, and _________; since those achievements are of the utmost importance here at Reaching Your True Potential Inc!”
What are those three things The Boss is impressed with? What are 3-5 things that you want to spend the next year working at to make the real Future You look back at the last 365 days with pride?
Remember, this is what will make YOU happy and satisfied – it’s time to get real & honest with yourself. Take a few minutes, grab a pen and some paper, and brainstorm what those 3-5 things might be.
You got them? Good. Let’s move along!
Step Two: Promote Your Personal Fitness to “Non-Negotiable” Status
If any form of a Personal Fitness Goal – be it working out regularly, losing/gaining weight, PRing your deadlift, training for a marathon, or doing a strict pull-up – is on that list of 3-5 Achievements, it is something that you NEED to make time for. It needs to be made mandatory - just like a Liz Lemon party.
Now, those 3-5 things will also include goals you have for your Career, your Relationships, and other Self-related pursuits – you can’t commit your entire year to working out only! Obviously, you have other stuff going on!
The intention behind this imaginative scenario, though, is to place your Personal Fitness Goals on the same plane as your Career & Relationship goals. Excelling at work or school and being an awesome friend/partner/parent/child are definitely important to your wellbeing – but to become the healthier, happier Future-You you imagined in Step 1, Present-You needs to prioritize exercise as much as these other items you treat as Non-Negotiables.
Every week you are gifted with 168 hours of budding potential!! Assuming you work 8 hours for 5 days a week and sleep 8 hours a night for 7 nights a week, you have 96 hours already accounted for.
And it’s about time you consciously devoted some of those remaining 72 hours to Non-Negotiable Personal Fitness Pursuit Time! Woohoo!
Step 3: Make time for Fitness
Congrats on making the decision to treat Fitness with the same dedication you show towards eating, sleeping, working, and going to the bathroom!
Because you are introducing a new Non-Negotiable into your life, I suggest you start by making a weekly strategy to keep yourself on track. I use the word Strategy here because it’s not just about wanting to workout badly enough – it’s about making sure your schedule is catered towards ENSURING you get that workout in, so much so that you feel like a total Silly Billy NOT working out!
Creating a weekly strategy won’t be necessary forever, but it’s helpful at least until you create strong enough habits that daily exercise starts happening like clockwork.
It’s great for maintaining consistency until it feels weird to go a week without working out.
Let’s make this personal: THIS IS WHAT I DO
Personally, I create a strategy every two weeks. I sit down with my calendar – like a pen and paper from-the-stone-age type of calendar – and write in EVERYTHING. I do so in this order:
- I write down the Non-Negotiable Happenings in the week (work, volunteering, appointments, etc.).
- Then I schedule in one (sometimes two) Non-Negotiable social activities – for example, Wednesday night is reserved for Date Night – because that’s important to me and it keeps me sane throughout the week.
- Then, I create time for my Non-Negotiable workouts.
I look at my weekly schedule and figure out when I want to make time to work out. I choose a time for my workouts that is free and easy for me to get to the gym – for example, during my lunch or immediately after work.
I assign specific times to my workouts and treat them the same way I do my appointments.
That’s right – the same way I write in “Doctor’s appointment – June 10th – 4:00 pm”, I write in “Workout – June 5th – 12:00-1:00 PM”. You can pretend there’s a cancellation fee if you miss it; whatever you need to do to take this self-directed Health Appointment seriously!
By doing this, I achieve the following:
- I am planning ahead and choosing a time to workout that I know is open and available
- I am setting a date and a time so I don’t keep putting it off on the set day until, “Oh no, it’s ‘too late’ to workout!”
- I am treating my workouts seriously and making a thoughtful commitment to myself in writing
- I can easily track when I workout and having it on a calendar makes it harder to “forget” to workout
- I am creating a balanced schedule that allots the time required for each of my Weekly Essentials!
But wait, there’s more
Because working out is something that needs a bit more lovin’ than my social activities (I am realllly good at socializing!), I also schedule in what I’ll call Non-Negotiable Ancillaries. Or NNA's for short.
These extra measures are top-of-the-line body armor for when I’m walking about with my well-intentioned Make Time to Workout Plans and accidentally step on a Unprepared, Distraction, or Lack of Motivation Landmine! They have helped me progressively build and strengthen my Fitness Habits and reduced the impact of setbacks dramatically!
NNA #1: Schedule Necessary Preparation.
I do everything I can to make starting my workout as seamless as possible.
Ex. If I will be working out on my lunch on a Wednesday, I schedule in “Pack lunch” and “Pack gym clothes” on Tuesday night.
A few months ago, after falling off the fitness wagon for about a year, I decided to get back on it. I started by scheduling, “Workout” three times a week. Yet, plagued by old habits, I would show up to work without a lunch and/or without workout clothes. “I’ll grab lunch then workout after work” or “I’ll go home after work, get my gym clothes, then come back to exercise”. Never happened.
Failing to plan is planning to fail – so I started planning better and I have been way more successful since!
NNA #2: Schedule Anti-Excuse Mechanisms.
I anticipate tasks/activities/excuses that could derail my fitness plans and incorporate them into my schedule.
Ex. I know that I can talk myself out of working out if I provide myself with a socially acceptable excuse like, “Well, I really should go home and clean my house instead”.
So, what do I do? I also schedule regular clean ups! I incorporate a regular vacuum, kitchen and bathroom scrub down, and litter box cleaning (it’s my cats, not mine; that’d be weird) into my weekly schedule so I have less excuses to pull me away from working out.
Yes, cleaning my house is a priority – but it should NOT take away from my Workout Priority. Therefore, I make time for both. I anticipate what can pull me away from my workouts and I keep it from becoming a distraction by creating a time and a place for it in my schedule, too.
Another example: I get hungry before my after-work workouts. Rather than tempting myself with the idea of going home, eating, then coming back for a workout, I add “Pack a snack” to my schedule the night before! TAKE THAT, EXCUSES!
NNA #3: Anticipate Scheduling Burnout
I give myself unstructured time and allow for flexibility.
Ex. I don’t schedule my Non-Negotiable Workouts on weekends
I know my ability to stick to a schedule goes down the toilet as soon as I wake up on Saturday; and giving myself unstructured time gives me a mental break. I love control, but too much of it makes me feel trapped.
As a self-aware person, I account for this: I keep my weekdays controlled and – for the most part – allow myself to go with the flow on my weekends.
Usually, I end up on a bike ride or hike or snowshoe (depending on the season) on most weekends, and sometimes I feel like working out and end up spending some quality time with a barbell! Then I get to give myself a pat on the back for going “Above and beyond” the Fitness I intended for that week! But, if I decide to have a super duper social weekend or catch up on Netflix, there is no shame because I kicked BUTT during the week!
This need for a scheduling break is something I have accepted - rather than mercilessly fought myself on - because I know giving myself some flexibility makes sticking to my schedule sustainable the rest of the time.
Do I wish I could drag myself to the gym and work on my pull ups every weekend? Yes and no. Yes, because I want to be better at pull ups; no, because I fricken love weekends, sleeping in, lazy breakfasts spent with a book, and spending the rest of the day outside.
I set myself up for success by allowing myself to take breaks when I need them because too much scheduling makes life feel monotonous, too little feels like chaos, and my happiest place is somewhere between the two!
NNA #4: Schedule time for Reflection and Reassessment
If something in your schedule isn’t producing desired results, change it. Ease off if needed or add more to inspire growth; be forgiving and self-aware as you schedule.
Ex. Sunday evenings are my time to assess how the week went. Every two weeks, I begin a new strategy: I keep what worked; change what didn't; and if I had a 2 weeks, I add new 1 tiny habit!
Although I try to keep my weekends mostly schedule-free, I consider Sunday 8 pm and onward as much a part of a weekday as Monday at 10 am. So, I ease myself back into Go Mode every Sunday evening. I take 5 – 20 minutes (depending on how the week was) to Reflect on my week. Somethings I ask myself are:
- What worked, and what didn’t work?
- Did some days feel cluttered? Empty?
- Did I give my Career, Relationships, and Self adequate time and attention?
- How do I feel at the end of this week? (ex. tired, content, stressed, accomplished)
Also, I don't beat myself if I didn't stick to my schedule. Perhaps it reveals a flaw in my design rather than a lack of will power... which leads me to my next point!
Every 2 weeks, I Reassess my strategy. I avoid doing this every week because I like to give my Strategies enough time to show benefits and pitfalls.
With every reassessment, I also try to tweak or upgrade my habits a little bit. For example, I might add “Finish workout with mobility” in 5 min increments every 2 weeks over 2 months so I develop the habit to finish every workout with 20 minutes of Mobility!
#1: Start small
Start with very specific and achievable goals. Especially if working out is new to you. And especially at the start. Come up with a few habits you can ingrain into your daily/weekly routines that you will be able to muster energy to complete, even when your motivation is low.
Despite our greatest efforts to prioritize get working out into our schedule, other responsibilities in life might come up that pull us away from our Pathway to Our Better Self. But ask yourself this: is it a priority that I – I, MYSELF, MEEEE – complete this task? Or can I delegate it?
Can you ask your partner, children, parents, roommates, or anyone else to pitch in? Can you hire help to relieve yourself of time-consuming responsibilities?
What mechanisms can you put in place to ensure everything important gets done while reducing the amount of detractors and distractions that cause you to miss your workouts? (Kind of like Ancillary #3)
#3. Be Intentional with your Time
Sometimes, the thing we have been treating as a Priority – i.e. something we routinely do and regularly make time for, probably without even realizing it – is not deserving of that exclusive treatment. For example, watching Netflix for 2 hours a night or scrolling through our phone for hours a day might be Passive Priorities that make us feel like we "don't have time" for exercise.
Be intentional with your time: make time to relax, but try not to become passive and let the hours while away on something that isn't bringing value to your life.
#4. Make things easier for yourself
Invest in a comfortable pair of workout shoes and a workout outfit if discomfort keeps you from working out. Purchase some home equipment if the distance between you and your gym deters you from sweating. Find an accountabil-a-buddy to work out or check-in with if a lack of accountability allows you to sandbag it.
MAKE IT EASIER ON YOURSELF TO WORKOUT!
#5. Have Fun
Despite society’s lament about how horrible and tiring and draining working out is, working out can actually be fun. Start by choosing something that you are interested in:
Maybe Zumba? Aqua aerobics? CrossFit? Parkour? Biking? Hiking? Lifting? Running? Power walking? Fricken do it! If you do something that excites you and is enjoyable, it will be 100 times easier to turn it into a regular habit.
Of course, there is value in doing things we hate (*cough* burpees) but if the choice is between doing a fun workout or do nothing at all, just do the fun workout.
Find a people to workout with; find an awesome space to move around in; create a kickass playlist; and do something that makes you feel strong, powerful, happy, and motivated!!
#6. Start your day by eating a frog
Wait, WHUT?! It’s not as gross as you think.
Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do in the morning is eat a live frog, then you’re starting your day with your most difficult task and all of a sudden the rest of the day looks easier and better!
Not sure why you’d ever be tasked with eating a live frog… but the point is, if working out feels like eating a live frog and it’s really hard to get done, try doing it at the start of the day. GET! IT! DONE!
IT IS ABOUT TIME I WRAPPED THIS UP
Alright, dude; you’ve spent enough time reading this article and I’ve spent enough time writing it. It’s about time we both grabbed our Synergee Sliders and slid into our next workout!!
Coles notes version:
- Establish working out as a very serious goal you want to work towards
- Shift your perspective – treat it as a Non Negotiable, the same way you treat Work, brushing your teeth, going to the bathroom, etc.
- Come up with a plan to get your workout in and avoid excuses, distractions, and detractions in advance
AND DON’T FORGET TO HAVE FUN!!
 DISCLAIMER: In no way is this meant to be insensitive to anyone who faces social, health, mental, economic, or other very real barriers to working out or fitting exercise into their daily routine. This article is not meant to minimize anyone’s struggles to keep it together daily. But, if you want to workout, but don’t “have” time to – and yet you still have time to binge watch Netflix daily – you need to find a way to make time. This article will help with that!