I shudder to think of the spam this blog post title is going to get me, but so be it. This needs to be said.
At the tail end of a work phone call today, my friend and colleague P. gave me some great advice. I’d told her that I’ve been trying to make a morning exercise routine stick. I’m currently on Day Four of what I hope will become a permanent lifestyle change that involves walking, biking, hiking, or swimming for an hour every morning, six or seven days a week.
In the past, I’ve been able to get up early and work out maybe a week or two at a time before letting my job and the ever-present search for money suck me back into my coffee-breakfast-email trio. Unfortunately, I’ve found that if I get into that particular morning habit, my day is shot; it’s much more likely that I’ll spend my entire day rooted in that chair, taking breaks only for meals and errands. This one choice–the laziest possible choice for how to spend the first hour of my morning–culminates in weight gain and a generally unhealthy lifestyle, the type of lifestyle I’m sure afflicts many stay-at-home workers and writers in particular, fond as we are of caffeine and salty snacks.
In contrast, P. is a very healthy person. As I learned when visiting her house for a business meeting, she starts almost every day with a one-hour row on her lake. Some days, she can’t free up all that time or energy. She says (I paraphrase), “It’s okay to have a day where you only go out for fifteen minutes. Have a shorter route or exercise plan ready, and then go do that. You won’t lose weight on that day, but you will get your heart rate up and you’ll do something for yourself before you do anything else.”
Other bits of advice from my wise friend P. (who, as I’ve just alluded, is lucky and smart enough to live year-round on a lake), filtered through my own thoughts:
- Morning exercise may seem less critical than the pile of work on your desk, but remember: if you work out first, you’ll have more energy and focus all day.
- Try never to miss more than one day of your morning routine. If you do miss one day, make absolutely certain you get outside the next day. Two days of non-activity is the creation of a new bad habit.
- Have a short workout prepared in your mind. On days when you ‘re not motivated or are tired and overtrained (or sick), do that short workout. This allows you to keep your routine. It’s always better to do something (even a compromised workout) than nothing.
- Even if the weather is lousy when you get up in the morning, you can fall back on your short workout. It’s not so bad to walk in the rain. (In my case in California, it’s more like, “It’s not so lousy to walk in the heat.” Walking in the rain’s always been a joy for me.)
- Have a few routes ready. Knowing what you’re going to do prevents you from having to think and decide.
- Remember that people in offices are often not that productive. You work from home. You don’t have water-cooler to stand around. People in offices may stay there eight hours but work only four. If you worked four great hours, why are you still at your computer?
- You work from home. You have no commute. Substitute exercise (biking, hiking, swimming, whatever) for that commute. (And now, here comes my favorite tip…)
- If you have a really big or hairy work project, take a quick glance at the project specs or details before you head out for your workout. [I’m thinking it’s best to do this while standing by a window.] Then think about that work problem while you’re outside. There’s no law saying you can’t brainstorm and problem-solve while you’re riding a bike.
All of this sounds so simple and elementary when you see it written out, but anyone who’s ever worked for herself from a home office probably knows how easy it is to put coffee and job first. The more attached we get to computers, the more that Ray Bradbury future becomes real, with our bodies becoming afterthoughts. What we sometimes forget is that exercise and a real, balanced life benefit the mind and soul as well as the body. Exercise makes for a sharper brain and a happier human.
Having conversations like the one I had today are also invaluable. If you work from home, try and find a creative, energetic work buddy to talk to on the phone–real, true telephone or Skype, not IM–once or twice a month. My calls with P. and a few other of my self-employed friends are energizing and I always walk away from them with new ideas. (And sometimes, too, with new projects, passions, and clients.)