In December of 2018 I was the biggest I’ve ever been in my life. The nice suits that I’d purchased just a year before no longer fit and I was down to just one pair of jeans that fit. Worst of all, I was having back pain that made it difficult to get my daughters out of their cribs in the morning.
In short, two years of putting fitness on the back burner as “life got busy” with two babies at home caught up to me. Does this sound familiar to you? I had to choose to either do something about my fitness or sail off into my forties with an ever-expanding waistline. I chose to do something about it. 25 months later I’m not only back in shape, I’m in better shape than I was before my kids were born.
Here’s how I’ve managed to get in shape and stay in shape while balancing the responsibilities of teaching, raising a family, blogging, and hosting professional development events.
1. Set clear, realistic daily/ weekly goals.
“Get in shape” is a fine goal, but it’s not a clear goal. It’s too vague to measure and it takes too long to accomplish to give you the gratification you need to keep working at improving your fitness.
Rather than saying, “I want to get in shape” or “I want to lose 15 pounds” set a goal of “30 minutes of vigorous exercise on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.” If that sounds too structured for you, try “150 minutes of vigorous exercise this week.”
Short term goals that focus on the process (time spent exercising) rather than the outcome (improved fitness) are easier to measure. It feels a lot better to say “I spent 150 minutes exercising this week” than to say “I lost one pound this week.” When you accomplish that measurable goal you’ll have the confidence that you can do it again which makes it more likely that you will keep going and do it again the next week. String together six weeks of accomplishing the goal of “150 minutes of vigorous exercise” and your fitness will improve even if you don’t see immediate changes in the mirror or on the scale.
2. Conduct a Time Audit
Most people, myself included, have some habits that eat away at our time without actually being good uses of our time. Take a good, hard look at how you spend time during your day. Are you checking Facebook for “just a minute” in between the essays that you’re grading? How many times a day do you check your email?
Identify those habits that are eating away at your time and cut them out or cut them down. Use that time toward more efficient completion of your “must do” tasks.
3. Go on a Social Media Diet
If your time audit reveals that you spend an hour a day on social media, it’s time to go on a social media diet. A simple way to do this is to turn off the notifications from the social media apps on your phone so that you’re not constantly losing a minute here and a minute there to social media. Another good option is to use a web browser extension that limits the amount of time you can spend on social media sites throughout the day. I use Stay Focusd for that.
Perhaps you don’t use any social media. If so, that’s awesome! But if you have other ways you waste time online, Stay Focusd can help with that.
4. Use Time Blocking and Automation
Time blocking is a strategy that I learned about from Cal Newport (author of many good books about productivity). The basic idea is that instead of doing a task like checking email ten times throughout your day you set a block of time when you check and respond to email. If you can stick to time blocking (I have weeks when I’m better at it than others), you’re less likely to feel distracted and will actually have more time throughout your day for the things that matter most. You can read more about the strategy and Cal Newport’s work on his blog. I’d recommend starting with this post or this one.
Time blocking can be aided by automating some of the more mundane or routine tasks in our lives. Using canned replies and smart compose in Gmail saves me a ton of time. Likewise, using the scheduling tools in Google Classroom allows me to use time blocking for developing and posting materials for my students. After sitting down and knocking out a block of lessons, I schedule them in Google Classroom so that I’m not scrambling every morning to post assignments. If you’re not a G Suite/ Google Workspaces user, there are plenty of automation tools available within the Microsoft ecosystem to explore (Mike Tholfsen’s YouTube channel is a good place to start).
5. Focus on “Why”
Two years ago I stumbled upon Dr. Judson Brewer’s TED Talk titled A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit. My big take-away from his talk was to ask myself “why am I doing this? And what will I gain?” whenever I am tempted to stress eat a bag of chips or plop down in front of the television instead of doing my planned exercise. 90% of the time just asking myself those questions gets me to make the better choice.
Finally, focus on why you want to exercise that day. For me the “why” is to help me hit my weekly goal. When I hit my weekly goals of time spent exercising my fitness improves and my health improves in the long run.
Extra Note for Those With Families
I have two young daughters (ages three and four). They can’t be left alone while dad and mom exercise. This means that we (dad and mom) have to communicate our daily/weekly fitness goals to each other so that we can get the time we need to hit our goals. When I decided that I wanted to participate in the Unbound Gravel 200 (I got in), I knew that I would have to up my weekly training hours. Communicating what the big goal is and the smaller weekly goals helps both of us get on the same page so that neither of us feels like we’re not getting the support we need.
We also try to include our daughters in activities that help us reach our weekly fitness goals. For example, my daughters are learning to ski right now. Rather than riding the surface lift AKA “the magic carpet” with them, I skate up along the side as they’re going uphill and I meet them at the top. That gives me a good interval workout.
The bottom line is that you need to communicate your fitness goals to your partner and get on the same page so that neither party is feeling unsupported.