…But I Work Around the Clock! Fitness For a Busy Life

“I just don’t have the time” is no longer an excuse. I don’t care if you’re a full-time student and a full-time employee. I don’t care if you’re working 100+ hour weeks, if you have 5 kids, or if your significant other is eating up all of your time. I know people who embody these things and they manage to stay in great shape.

Yes, this may sound harsh, but I was raised with a whole lot of tough love, and that’s what I’m giving you now. If you want something badly enough, you will find a way to get it. No wall is too high; no obstacle is too hard. Your excuse, my friend, is invalid.

What about me? I’m just a chick who takes on a full class load, plays a sport, tutors, and runs a business on the side. And I’m teaching myself how to program and play the guitar in my spare time. But that’s all I do. Oh yeah, oh yeah… I also lift weights and stay fit. It’s taken a bit of trial-and-error – several of those “OhmyGodwhydidIdothat” moments – but I think I’ve figured it out now. What’s “it”? How to maintain your fitness when you’re crazy super busy. It’s surprisingly simple. Ready?

1. Decide that fitness is going to be a priority in your life.

Cut the bull crap. Do you actually want to be fit or do you enjoy talking about how “one day” you’ll get there? Dig deep and try to figure out if getting healthy and fit is something you want to actively strive for. Make the decision that you’re ready and willing to put fitness at the top of your list – ahead of booze, ahead of late-night HIMYM marathons (guilty as charged), ahead of Chinese take-out, ahead of that profession you’ve mastered called Ass Sitting. If you haven’t made any kind of real effort yet, you’re not allowed to whine.

The couch is comfortable, yes, but glorious glutes don’t build themselves. Merely talking about how badly you want something isn’t going to get you anywhere, either.

Buckle up and put on your Big Girl – or Big Boy – panties.

2. Make your time in the gym count

What is the absolute minimum time you can devote to fitness in a week? 5 hours? Great! 3 hours? That’s good. We can work with that. 2 hours? Oof, it’ll be tricky, but it can be done.

Alright, so now that you’re in the gym… don’t stand around and socialize. This one should be a no-brainer but it’s easy to find yourself distracted. Plus, once you get sucked into a conversation, sometimes a whole 20 minutes can go by before you realize what’s happened. It’s a bad feeling.

Stick to your rest periods. You should have an idea of how much rest you need for each exercise. If you’re deadlifting, you may need more rest. Superset your exercises if you need to – that one’s a real time saver. Pair an upper body exercise with a lower body exercise or a pushing movement with a pulling movement.

Keep an eye on that clock!

Eliminate the froo-froo. Hey, you’ve only got so much time in the gym today; why are you spending the last 10 minutes doing tricep kickbacks? Don’t waste your time prancing around on the Bosu ball. No isolation exercises. Get in, foam roll, mobility work, lift, get out. 50 minutes? 40 minutes? Cool.

If you have time to afford to do more than just lift, opt for metabolic work over steady state cardio. We’re all about maximizing every minute, aren’t we? Even just a 5-minute metabolic finisher after you’re done with your training can go a long way.

3. Do what you can when you’re not in the gym.

Just because you’re not in the gym doesn’t mean you can’t work on your fitness. Set up a pull up bar or squeeze in a set of pushups every time you go to the bathroom.

Walk when you can. I make an effort to walk to and from class on my off days. Instead of grabbing coffee with a friend, go for a hike or a walk. Take a brisk walk when you want to take a mental break from work. That’s a double whammy right there.

Never underestimate the value of non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), which is essentially anything that falls outside of formal exercise. Little bits of extras here and there throughout the course of a day really add up. Even just standing for an hour as opposed to sitting will burn double the number of calories.

You’ll be surprised at how easily fitness can be incorporated into your day.

4. Nail your nutrition.

Being on point with your diet is perhaps the most important factor of all, and it’s unfortunately also the hardest to get right. The less time you’re able to spend in the gym, the less leeway you have with your diet.

Plan ahead. As with just about anything, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Have your food ready the night before, or if you’re eating out, have a dieting strategy in mind.

Develop diet staples; sometimes the less creative you are, the easier it is. This eliminates a lot of time you would otherwise spend thinking about what you should eat.

Dick Talens, co-founder of Fitocracy and workaholic, has this to say about dieting:

“Remember how busy I was in December? I was working 100+ hours a week, but that was actually the best diet month of my life by far. I was able to use the distraction of work to my advantage. Postponing my first meal of the day until the afternoon saved me an incredible amount of time in the day and, though I ate out all the time, I always got the same foods. Also, one thing I’ve been doing recently to hit my macros has been to get a foot-long sandwich at Subway with double meat and no cheese on my workout days and also prepare a bowl of casein and frozen berries. This comes out to 125g protein, 150g carbs for my first meal and takes me not even 5 minutes to make.”

Read that above paragraph again. You see what he did there? Instead of lamenting over his lack of time and grabbing fast food in the few minutes he had to chow down, he found a restaurant that offered diet-friendly foods and became a regular customer. He changed his mindset to view his workload not as an impediment to his fitness goals, but rather as an advantage.

5. Have checkpoints.

Whether you want to weigh in daily or weekly, assess yourself by what you see in the mirror or by the fit or your favorite pair of jeans, be sure to have checkpoints. Test your strength every couple of weeks or every few months. Evaluating where you are in your fitness journey allows you to make any necessary adjustments and also provides honest feedback about how you’re doing. If you’re dropping fat at an alarming rate, it’s probably a sign that you’re shedding some hard-earned muscle as well. If your strength levels are dipping, perhaps your dieting calories are too low or you’re not doing enough heavy lifting.

Along the same lines, have an accountability buddy. This is huge. Sometimes people will hire trainers and pay them just so they have someone to be accountable to. Recruit a friend to keep tabs on each other. This will make you think twice – or thrice – before you swing by that donut store on your way back from work. Remember my recent post? I made myself accountable to the entire Internet community. Knowing that there are eyes watching me really does a lot to keep me in check. The last thing I want to do is to let someone else down after I’ve committed to something.

Kitty is watching you….

Recall that I mentioned earlier that this was simple. I didn’t say it was easy, so don’t confuse the two. But you know what? Nothing worth having comes easily. This will be worth the ride – I promise you that.

You have everything in you to succeed. The question is whether or not you’re willing to tap into your potential and make it happen.

About the author  ⁄ soheelee

I am a fitness buff with a Stanford B.A. in Human Biology – Psychosocial and Biological Determinants of Health. I’m also an NSCA-certified personal trainer and a nationally qualified NPC bikini competitor. I've written on Bodybuilding.com, Greatist, and other awesome publications sharing tips on fitness, psychology, and motivation.

  • Annie

    Would love some exercises to do at home to start getting more fit. It’s not a time issue as much as not being sure what to do. I have resistance bands and hand weights in multiple sizes. I’m 47 years old want to get in better physical shape and lose 15 pounds. I know the diet part, but would like to get better at strength exercises. I read your article about the myth of cardio for weight loss and you have me hooked! I do like to play tennis, bike ride, go on brisk walks with my dog, and shoot hoops with my three kids.

    • Sohee Lee

      sure thing, annie :)

  • meijin

    Annie, for home,you can try body weight exercises. Convict Conditioning book has nice progression steps for them, starting with very easy ones. Not much equipment required – pull-up bar and exercise mat are enough.

    • Annie

      Pull up bar? I’m askeered. :)

      • meijin

        The pull up bar is only for later steps, don’t worry :)

  • Ash

    Absolutely spot on – love it

  • http://spoonmatters.blogspot.com/ Matt @ SpoonMatters

    “Put on your Big Boy panties.” haha! You don’t mind if I borrow that one from you I hope? I love that expression.

    • Sohee Lee

      go right on ahead 😉

  • Pondsy

    Dig Deep + Put on your Big Boy/Girl Panties == best attitude ever. I <3 this.

  • Lisa

    Hmm, at one point I had three kids (under 10, two under 4), full time school, full time work, home and hubby responsibilities and I prepped for a competition. It’s about priorities is all. Now, I’ve finished school, but still have the other things going on and now I’m preparing for my first marathon. I will get up at 3 or 4 in the morning to make sure I get my training in. For me, it WILL be done, just a matter of when =) Love your blog!!

    • Sohee Lee

      wow, that’s early. that’s not much later than when i go to bed, ha… night owl here.

      thanks for stopping by!

  • http://FITOCRACY.COM Big Daddy

    I’m all for the motivation posts and I’m sick of hearing the same “i’m busy” excuses too. I’m a father, a business man that works, literally, every waking moment and I play sports and maintain something resembling a social life along with a video game habit and other hobbies. I have decided to make fitness a priority and am on my way to achieving my fitness goals.

    Many people can make the time to do it but don’t. They just have to want it bad enough. It took getting to 270 lbs and nearly 35% body fat for me to realize this but even the busiest of individuals can make a little time to get in shape.

  • http://briandanleyfitness.com Brian

    Making fitness a priority in one’s life is absolutely essential–unless this is the case, excuses will inevitably get in the way from getting in a workout. Wanting to be more active is nice but the “wanting” must be internalized in order to make it happen. This means nothing else must get in the way of your fitness goal, period. Schedule your workout time as an appointment on your calendar and you will achieve your fitness goals. It’s that simple. Don’t make it complicated.

  • S.I. Lee

    Great post. For me, the most important task is to start by creating a detailed, visual picture of yourself some time in the future. Create the ideal picture of how you envision yourself – then work backwards to determine what steps you need to take NOW to get to that vision in the timeframe you have in mind. That way, whenever you feel that distraction or desire to take a side trip, your roadmap to your vision will be the guidepost to whether you actually take that side trip or not. Love the way you write – very effective and extremely visual!

    • Sohee Lee

      thanks dad for your unconditional support =D

  • Jaime

    A few years ago, I loved running. I ran to class. I participated in 5 or 10ks every month. I was even known as the girl who runs everywhere, which was a little odd and cool at the same time. Now? I despise running and feel slow. I still workout daily, but make cardio a short endeavor. Any tips? Any music that motivates you? Thanks!

  • Adam

    Hey, you don’t have to give up the HIMYM marathons – I decided a while back that in order to help make up for my movie-marathon habit, I’m not allowed to watch TV unless I’m working out at the same time. It might not be as intensive as only focusing on working out – I have a time for that, too – but it’s a little extra workout while you relax your brain, and in my case at least, I can sometimes do an extra fifty situps just because I’m too distracted by the TV to go ‘ugghhhh I’m tired I’ll stop now’.

    Now if only I could figure out how to work out while reading…

    • Sohee Lee

      haha, no can do in my case. can’t lift while watching TV… and i don’t do cardio ;P

  • Brandon

    Well done! As a full time employee, student, and father I can relate. Making strength or endurance or over-all health a priority is crucial. If you want something badly enough, you will find a way to achieve it.