Tools to Help You “Find The Time”

Printed with permission from the Cooper Institute.

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What are you doing with your time? Are you a super-parent taking care of children and earning a degree at the same time? Are you going to college and working a part time job? Are you working two to three jobs to make ends meet? Many of us have family scenarios like the ones listed above and we can’t imagine how we would make time to exercise.  In fact the number one reason given for not exercising is “I don’t have enough time.” For many this is a real barrier, not just an excuse as they try to reason out their situation, but a true barrier. The good news is, as with any barrier standing in our way, there are solutions. Consider this: many of our former Presidents as well as our current have found a way to fit exercise into their schedule. Surely they are as busy if not busier than we.

The things that are important to us all cost time.  For example: Want a college degree or technical institute degree? You’ll have to spend the time in study and course curriculum. Want a better marriage or better relationship with your children? Spending quality time with them is the key.  If our health and fitness are important to us, then we have to spend time working on them as well.

So if time is a commodity much like money, how do we budget our time better or improve our investments in time? Behavioral research provides some helpful tools and insights to help us find the time to do anything we say we want to do.  So let’s explore some of the tools for finding exercise time, self care time or healthy eating time.

1)    A Time Study Worksheet

One of the best tools to use is simply to fill out a “Time Study Worksheet”. All that means is you list whatever you are doing from the time you get up in the morning until the time you go to bed for an entire week. Don’t fudge. If you hit the snooze 3 times before you get up indicate that too.  If you are checking emails, tweets and Facebook while you get dressed in the morning, list that time also. How much time do you have for lunch and what do you do during lunch time? List it all. TV time, phone time, reading time, goof off time, fantasy football or basketball time, computer and computer game time. Again, list it all.  Weekends can look quite different so be sure to fill that in also. Once you are done, look it over like you are the ‘paid analyst’ that has to figure out how to find more time to exercise or engage in the healthy behavior you have desire. The time is available.  Often it is a matter of priorities, or getting creative, multi-tasking, or even finding the right support but it is there even if it isn’t exactly ideal. Check out this blog we wrote on free time for an interesting look at making this time more active.

Here is an example of a time study worksheet that we have available as an activity on which you can access if you have created an account on the website (remember it’s free!). Really exploring this will take some time (ha) but will be well worth the investment.

2)    Collaboration and support

There are people in our lives who can help provide different types of support to help us achieve our goals, often in the form of helping us to “get stuff done.” For example I have a friend who is married and a mom of two boys. She already had one college degree but began to realize that she wanted to pursue a different degree for a better job but that would mean she would have to have study time and class time. So she sought the support of her family.  She taught the three men in her family each how to cook one meal a week for dinner and she cooked one. That took care of the Monday through Thursday meals, then Friday was always pizza night and no one cooked.  She bought the groceries and stocked the pantry so all ingredients for the evening meals were available. It worked!  She bought time through collaboration and support.  What can you do for similar results? Whose support at home, at work or in your neighborhood would buy you some time? I have another friend who asked her family to wash and put away their own dishes after mealtime. This kept dishes from stacking up which would take a significant time to address and would often leave her feeling overwhelmed.  With everyone pitching in every time it was a form of “divide and conquer.”

3)    Multi-tasking

You may already be a superstar in this department at work but how about employing the same strategy for getting in your exercise?  Things like working out at home while watching your recorded TV shows. Stationary cycling while reading or studying. Walking while talking on the phone instead of seated and sedentary.

4)    Prioritize

Assess what you must get done for the day and what is most important. Author Stephen Covey teaches “Working in the Zone” and has four quadrants for us to list our tasks. The first quadrant (QI) is named “Important and Urgent” and refers to responding to a crisis, a pressing problem, or tight deadline. Quadrant II (QII) is “Important but Not Urgent” and includes preventive maintenance, relationship building, creative thinking, planning and recreation. The third quadrant (QIII) is “Not Important but Urgent” and includes phone calls, mail, meetings, and often only urgent because someone else thinks they are. The fourth quadrant (Q IV) is “Not Important and Not Urgent” this includes some mail, trivia, time wasters and pleasant harmless activities.  If you spend too much of your time here you will be totally ineffective. The key is to prioritize and spend more time in QII because this will eventually lead to a decrease in QI which is the key to effective management and efficiency.

Another suggestion, this time from Timothy Ferris author of the book The 4-Hour Work Week, is to only look at and answer emails twice a day (leave an out of office message that provides a number where you can be reached in case of an emergency).  When he applied this, it reduced almost all the junk or unimportant emails he was receiving and freed up a lot of his time to do more important things.

5)    Simplify

Examine and think about your daily activities at home and at your job. Is there a way to simplify to free up some time?  Some people cook their meals over the weekend and have things ready to pull out and just heat up when they get home.  They cook up several chicken breasts and may vary the seasonings and use during the week in salads, sandwiches, for fajitas or just a well seasoned chicken breast reheated for the dinner entrée. Some people have meal options on hand that don’t take more than 5-10 minutes to prepare on nights that they don’t feel like cooking like hot cereal with frozen berries; pasta, jarred marinara sauce with some frozen veggies tossed in; low sodium canned soups; toasted cheese sandwiches with some fresh vegetables and dip. (Click here for some more quick mealtime solutions.)

Are there activities you can step away from? Volunteering and giving back are important but do you have to belong to every committee? Does your child have to be on every sports team? Can fun family time revolve around physical activity?

It is my hope that some (or all) of these behavioral tools will help you find time to accomplish anything you want in life, exercise included. Share your ideas on how you find the time on our Facebook page.

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