My biggest tip for anyone working hard on a project at work, studying for finals or another big exam is to take time to exercise and eat well. Nothing makes me feel more sluggish than junk food, a lack of sleep and the sedentary lifestyle that follows. I like to remind myself that the ability to run without pain, cartwheel and dance is a gift. I’m fortunate because I have always enjoyed working out but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss workouts to sleep in a couple extra minutes or cram in a little more studying (or netflix) just like everyone else.
Everyone has a different workout style. I have friends who book workout classes at the beginning of the week and hold themselves accountable by treating their workouts like appointments. Personally, I am not a huge “class” person. A barre or yoga class with a girlfriend now and then is a fun alternative to happy hour, but for my individual workouts I prefer to hit the gym. What can I say? I love cardio! When the weather is bad I turn to the treadmill and stair mill for a good sweat session.
We all know the benefits of exercise, so why is working out the first thing to go when we get busy? Honestly, it’s when we are busy and when we are looking to perform at our best in the workplace or classroom that we need exercise the most. The past week has been a bit crazy. With my first semester of law school finals just around the corner, and the holidays just after that, my to-do list is never ending. I have endless studying, and I’m not just saying that for dramatic effect. Most of my law school tests don’t have a point maximum meaning the more correct information you can incorporate into your essay the more points you get. The law school grading system has successfully drenched me with a layer of guilt that stays at the forefront of my mind anytime I’m not studying (like now…or when I hit the gym).
I’ve maintained a pretty consistent workout schedule throughout November. While I would like to say I hit the gym every morning for an hour before class, I’m just not that good. I usually head to the gym for a study break mid-afternoon. Some days I am really feeling it. I clock in 5-6 miles on the treadmill and another 20-30 minutes on the stair mill, and do some mat exercises for strength. Many days I’m over caffeinated, I have a to-do list a mile long and I just want to get in the gym and get out. I give myself the option of running on the treadmill for 20 minutes and doing strengthening and stretching for 10 minutes. That’s it! If I get myself into the gym for 30 minutes I tell myself I can get back to studying or reading all about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and I am pleased with myself. However, once I have completed 20 minutes on the treadmill I am open to a teeny bit more, but if I’m not, no big deal.
I always notice a difference in my productivity if I get a workout. When I spend most of the day sitting, I am antsy and unfocused. I get distracted while studying and my mind wanders. I think humans are a lot like puppies, when we are worn out we are well behaved and focused but when we haven’t been walked we are all over the place. Over the next week for finals period, it is my goal to get moving for at least 30 minutes a day. If you are working towards a goal at work or studying for finals yourself I challenge you to do the same thing.
Of course, we all need a little motivation when it comes to hitting the gym! Here are a few tricks I use to get going:
- Treat yourself to a healthy smoothie or a cup of coffee after your workout. I’m not saying go all out and eat a chunk of cookie dough the moment you get home from the gym (like I tend to do) but if you are working out for general health/mental benefits and not to lose weight, I don’t think it’s a big deal to indulge yourself with a somewhat healthy snack when your stomach is growling after an hour at the gym.
- Download a great podcast or audiobook to listen to while you work out. I only let myself listen to podcasts at the gym or while I am doing chores, so they become an incentive for me to be productive. I love to listen to The Brain Candy Podcast, The Skinny Confidential Him & Her Podcast and Kaitlyn Bristowe’s Off the Vine while I do cardio. Since I usually have to take my headphones out when I do mat exercises, a good podcast motivates me to run that extra mile just so I can hear the rest of the show. I am always into podcast recommendations so send your favorites my way!
- Track your workouts! If you are a type A planner who makes lists in her sleep and thinks of spending an evening bullet journaling as enthralling- you will probably find tracking your workouts beneficial. Whether you keep track of the miles you run, the weight you lift or just the days you make it to the gym, it is motivating to see yourself achieving more. Sometimes I set monthly goals for myself (# of workouts or # of miles) to keep me motivated. This month I am doing a simple squat challenge to motivate myself to do a little strength training every day (a challenge for someone like me who always wants to do cardio and never wants to do strength).
- Have a workout bag in your trunk filled with clean exercise clothes, hair ties, deodorant, headphones and makeup wipes. I can never pull together a workout bag in the morning (seriously it shouldn’t be so hard) but if I have one sitting in my car the night before or for the week ahead I have no excuse not to hit the gym after class, or go on a run when I unexpectedly have more free time than I anticipated.
- Make your workout a source of joy! I know not everyone inherently loves working out but I promise you can find a way to create a joyful routine around exercise. You need to find a workout that you like (for me that’s running, for you it might be yoga or weight lifting or power walking) and build your routine around that. If all exercise makes you groan, motivate yourself with a friend. Nothing makes me happier than a run around Green Lake with my bestie, Nicole. We talk the entire run around the lake so the 3ish miles are over in the blink of an eye. Sometimes cute workout clothes can be motivation and other people find support through online communities on instagram/facebook/etc.
Writing this post has me so pumped for my workout this afternoon. I can’t wait to put in my headphones and zone out on the treadmill. Who knows, I might (probably will) treat myself to a bite of cookie dough afterwards while I run through contracts flashcards. Working out helps me focus immensely, so the rewards go beyond a great bikini body or whatever!
If you have tips for staying motivated to workout or for using exercise to increase productivity send them my way. I love learning how to live a more balanced life with good food and exercise (without sacrificing the occasional cookie dough and ice cream of course).
All photos in today’s post are by Madeleine Wilson.