D espite what you’ve heard, and probably read, time is not a limited resource. That’s right, it’s possible to create time. Hear me out on this.
We, as humans, are a system. A complicated system, at that. Sure, we’re made up of a nervous system, a circulatory system, and all the other systems we learned about in primary school. But we’ve also learned that it’s ridiculous to treat those components as isolated from the others. How much sleep we’re getting impacts our short-term cognitive ability, as does how much we’re exercising. The food that we eat impacts our energy levels, which in turn has an incredible impact on our productivity and engagement with the world around us.
We’re not petrol-powered vehicles. Fill up the tank, run the vehicle, empty the tank, fill it back up again. Pretty straightforward. Nope, we’re more complicated than that. Exercise might leave us feeling tired immediately afterwards, but it actually raises our energy levels. Somehow, we burn fuel and yet feel like we have more energy. Not just physically, but mentally as well. When I exercise in the morning (yes, I’m the 5am gym guy!) I can tell a difference in my mental clarity and ability to focus for the rest of the day. I won’t lie, though, when I first started this 5am routine I was more physically tired but that phase soon passed and I progressed into the more rewarding phase.
This is how we create time. Not just by living longer due to the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, but by interacting with the time that we have more effectively. By fully engaging in our personal lives, in our work lives, and with the other people in them. We might not be able to add actual minutes to the clock, but we can fully engage with the minutes we do have.
As an entrepreneur, just consider how valuable your time is. Whether you’re starting a side hustle, or trying to turn your side hustle into your main gig, or running a thriving startup with a dozen employees, your days are full to the brim. By investing just a little bit of that time every day by being physically active, you can actually get all of your principle back with earnings on top of it. You’ll feel better both physically and mentally, making the most of the time you’ve got. You’re actually going to get a return on investment of your time.
You don’t have to do what I did and go through a complete body transformation and compete in the world’s toughest obstacle races. With just a bit of effort each day, you can get and stay fit all whilst building the business of your dreams. Infact, I’d go as far as saying that in order to grow your business, you need to be in good shape to sustain the energy levels, to be creative, and to have a better quality of life.
Here are 6 easy ways to do just that:
1. Walk more quickly (and further) than you normally would
Pay attention to your normal walking pace. Do you leisurely stroll to Starbucks for your morning coffee? Do you walk at a pretty good clip from the car park to your office? Whatever your typical pace, try to go faster. Feel your heart rate increase and your breathing quicken. This will give you that little extra cardio boost that will help increase your stamina, reduce your resting heart rate, and lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This type of walking can be classed as Low-Intensity Steady State (or “LISS”) which is essentially the opposite of HIIT (which is short bursts of high-intensity states).
Don’t just increase your pace. Try to increase the distance you walk every day, as well. Popular culture dictates that you aim for a minimum of 10,000 steps per day, but this number isn’t a rule to follow. If you drive to work, choose a parking space further away from the office. If you take a bus or train, get off a stop or two early. Walk the long way around to pick up lunch instead of taking the most direct route. A couple of simple choices like this every day can increase your step count by a couple of thousand steps. Over the course of a year, this could equate to as much as an extra 250 miles of walking. That will absolutely show up in your fitness levels.
2. Use the 5-3-5-3 breathing technique
This simple breathing exercise will help you feel more present, focused, and energised. Breathe in slowly through your nose, counting to 5 as you do so. When you get to 5, hold your breath in for a count of 3, then slowly exhale through your mouth as you again count to 5. Lungs emptied, count to 3, then slowly inhale again for another 5 counts. Repeat this cycle 5 times, and notice how your focus and clarity increases. If you concentrate, you may even be able to sense the energy pulsing through your arms and legs. This would be a great time to go for a brisk walk!
Try this several times per day, either as a standalone exercise or as part of an unguided meditation. It only takes a few minutes, if that. Once in the morning shortly after getting out of bed, perhaps over your morning coffee or tea. Once in the evening just before turning in for the night. Two or three times over the course of the rest of the day. In the chaos of your day, it will be difficult to remember to do your breathing exercises, especially at first. Set a repeating alarm on your phone as a reminder, at least until you’ve habitualised this practice. After a couple of weeks, you’ll notice an absolute difference in your energy, mental clarity, and mood, and this will be enough of a reminder to stop and breathe a few times each day.
3. Carry a backpack
Carry a lightly loaded backpack with you wherever you go. Walking the dog, shopping, walking between meetings, etc. Carrying a backpack with 4-5kgs in it while you’re going about your daily routine will help strengthen your core and leg muscles. You’ll also burn more calories than you would otherwise. For example, for each minute of stair climbing, you’ll burn roughly 10 more calories if you’re carrying 5kgs on your back. If you spend 10 minutes per day on the stairs, that’s roughly 36,000 extra calories burned per year, or 18 days worth of a sensible diet (2,000 calories per day).
You don’t need to put dumbells in your backpack for this. Just load the backpack with personal effects — your laptop and cables to go with it, a big bottle of water, notebook, perhaps even a hardcover book you can pull out and read when you find yourself with some time to kill at lunch or waiting for an appointment.
We’re more likely to follow through on something when we make a specific plan and commit to it in writing. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, refers to these specific plans as “implementation intentions”, taking the following form:
I will [BEHAVIOUR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
So, for example:
- I will do 50 situps and pushups at 6pm in the back garden.
- I will run for 30 minutes, immediately after writing in my journal, around the neighborhood.
- I will lift weights for one hour after lunch in the gym.
Take five minutes every morning to write down a physical activity implementation intention, and also to get whatever’s on your mind out of your head and onto the paper. It’s a form of mental decluttering and will free up space for you to concentrate on the important tasks of the day. A great time to do this might be right after your morning breathing (#2 above) when your mind is clear and you’re fully present. Also, I strongly recommend using a physical paper journal for this activity. Yes, there are lots of journaling programs and apps out there, but the risk of distraction is simply too great. You’ll be too tempted to “quickly” have a peek at your email and social media, and before you know it five minutes will have become twenty. Another great option to get started with is The 6-minute Diary if you’ve never journaled before.
In the evening, perhaps just before bed, pull your journal out again. Take five minutes to process the day’s activities in writing, again decluttering everything that’s built up in the day’s memory. You’ll likely get to sleep more quickly, and will probably sleep better as well. Look back at the morning’s physical activity implementation intention. Did you follow through? If so, congratulate yourself and note how you felt after exercising, and how you feel now knowing that you followed through on this commitment. If not, what got in your way? What will you do the next time a similar obstacle comes up? Note how you feel knowing that you didn’t follow through on this commitment, and resolve to get back on track tomorrow.
5. Host walking meetings
I spend a fair amount of time in meetings. Two to three hours per day, just in one-on-one meetings with my team and potential partners and clients. I try to take advantage of this time by walking while we’re conversing. This has benefits beyond boosting my physical activity and step count for the day. Luckily for me, almost all of my meetings are virtual and done over the phone or on Zoom so this part isn’t so difficult for me, and for most of you reading this you will probably be in a similar situation that you don’t need to physically have in-person meetings as often. Simply walking around my office while on my calls keeps me from being distracted by everything else in front of me — my laptop, etc. I’m more engaged in the call and can truly focus on connecting with the person or people on the other end of the line. FYI I use this Bluetooth headset for my calls which is far better than the standard iPhone earplugs or holding your phone to your ear – Jabra Evolve 75.
If you do have regular in-person meetings, though, I’ve found that going for a walk can break the monotony of the office or conference room. Walking in a nearby park or green space, or even just around the block, during 1-1 meetings has the effect of boosting creativity and freeing your mind up to consider alternative solutions than you would while trapped in an office. Even walking to the coffee machine or cafeteria and back will have a similar impact. You’ll also get to know the person better, as you’re likely to be more open with one another when you’re not staring at each other from across a desk.
6. Limit distractions from technology
A favourite productivity hack of mine is the Pomodoro technique. It’s dead simple and really works. I’m not going to get deep into the details — you can read about them here. At a high level, the technique involves significant periods of intense, focused work, with short breaks interspersed throughout. Lots of people instinctively reach for their phones during the breaks, spending that time checking social media or reading a quick news article. This is especially easy since they’re probably using their phone to time their work sessions (this is part of the technique). Instead, go for a quick, brisk walk around the office (or your house if you work from home). You’ll feel even more energised to tackle the next Pomodoro, and you’ll boost your blood flow and get those endorphins going. I personally add to this technique by plugging myself into some deep binaural beats or concentration music on Spotify. A simple deep focus playlist that I really like is this one.
Similarly, limit tech distractions first thing in the morning and before going to bed. See if you can spend the first 30 minutes of each morning without reaching for your phone. Instead, just be present in your morning routine — perhaps by meditating, reading, or using the breathing exercise mentioned above. Have a cup of coffee or tea without scrolling mindlessly through your social media feeds. Just enjoy the scent and taste, and think about the day ahead. This will have a carry-on effect for the rest of your day. You’ll feel more focused and energised, and more likely to up your level of physical activity.
Also, try eliminating screen time of any kind for at least 30 minutes before bed. I’ve noticed a big difference in my resting heart rate on nights when I’m on my phone right up to bedtime, versus nights where I read a (hardcopy) book before dozing off. Resting heart rate influences sleep quality, which in turn influences the next day’s energy levels.
You don’t need to be a health nut or fitness guru by any means to run and grow a successful business. Well, unless it’s a healthy lifestyle or fitness-based business, then it’s probably important! For the rest of us, some simple daily choices to increase your activity level can have a profound impact on your energy, ability to focus, and productivity which in turn will help you build a better business which allows you to work less, earn more and love the lifestyle that comes with being an entrepreneur.