How I Structure My Work Day to Squeeze in a Workout at Lunch and Enhance Productivity
Have you ever sat down at your desk in the morning, and then before you know it, it’s lunch time and you haven’t got much to show for it? Maybe you were busy with meetings or you just got distracted reading articles or answering emails.
On the flipside, have you ever started work and are so busy that the next time you look at the clock, it’s 2 PM and you’ve forgotten to eat lunch?
It’s unavoidable not to have some days like the ones I described above. But if one or both of those scenarios is happening to you on a regular basis, chances are you are either not maximizing your productivity or you’re being so urgently productive, that you’re going to get burned out. Neither option is desirable.
I have languished in both scenarios during some periods of my career. I would start my work day around 9 AM, and then would go wherever the wind took me, taking meetings and assignments as they came, until it was time to go home.
There is a Better Way
This style of work isn’t necessarily bad, but I’m writing today to tell you that there is a better way to structure your day, which balances health and activity while also boosting productivity. It’s a win-win strategy and it’s something that I’ve been implementing for the past year. Not only has it has greatly enhanced my productivity at work, but also my overall happiness and quality of life.
This is how my day currently goes: I get into work in the morning and I work until noon. Around noon, I leave for an hour and go to the gym, which I will call an “activity break” for the purposes of this post. I pick up my lunch on the way back if I didn’t bring it to work with me. I come back from my activity break refreshed, and then begin the rest of my day until it’s time to go home.
This seems simple enough, but carving out that hour long activity break actually takes significant planning and time management. Since I like to have my activity break at the same time every day, I need to manage my schedule so that:
1. I do not have any meetings or calls during that time, and
2. I do not have deliverables that will need my attention during that time.
To do this, I had to take control of my schedule at work.
How I Take Control of My Schedule at Work
Taking control of your schedule can be very hard to do, and it takes practice! For some jobs, it may take you longer to do this and get into a rhythm, especially if you have clients or are in an entry level position, where you don’t have a ton of natural autonomy.
This is how I take control of my schedule at work, to allow for the mid-day activity break and maximize productivity so I can afford to take that hour for myself:
I try to have meetings either in late morning or early afternoon (after my return)
I make sure that I am at my desk during what I consider “peak” productivity times—i.e., the times where I naturally happen to be very focused and able to accomplish heavy work or deliverables. For me, this is early morning and late afternoon. Therefore, I try to keep those times free of meetings, as they infringe on my peak productivity time frames and thus my ability to get through work that I am responsible for.
For me, Mondays and Fridays tend to be slower because there are fewer meetings and calls on those days. So, I lean into that fact so I can fully use it to my advantage. I make an effort to avoid scheduling meetings on those days. Period. Of course, the occasional meeting is inevitable, but by being an active participant in my own day and schedule, I am able to guide scheduling of most meetings to other days. I use Mondays and Fridays as heavy work days, where I catch up on reading, writing and other strategic deliverables that require more brain power. I also use those days to catch up on administrative tasks, that may not take brainpower, but are tedious and time-consuming all the same.
I do my best to concentrate meetings on the days in the middle of the week: Tues, Weds and Thurs. This allows me to minimize distraction on Monday and Friday, so I am less likely to be interrupted when I am trying to get into a flow of productivity.
So, to recap, here’s are the guidelines I use to control my schedule:
1 hour break around noon
No meetings on Monday or Friday
Meetings Tues-Thurs should be scheduled in the morning (preferably late morning) or early afternoon
Here’s an Example of my Strategy in Action
I’ll give you an example of my strategy in action: When a group meeting is being scheduled at work, an email often comes around asking the participants when they are free. When this happens to me, I take full advantage of this scheduling opportunity. I NEVER say, “Oh, just look at my calendar, it’s up to date.” Instead, I provide timeframes based on my guidelines. Because, even if I don’t have a meeting scheduled, that doesn’t mean that time is necessarily “free.”
In this way, I am able to guide the scheduling in my favor. Does this work all the time? No. Do I still have meetings at times when I don’t want them? Yes. But the key is to minimize those occasions.
Final Thoughts: Why Bother?
What I outlined above takes a lot of strategic planning and forethought. But it’s worth it. And here’s why:
I have discovered that when I take a mid-day activity break, I am able to derive a lot of health benefits from the activity, but also, I beat the afternoon slump. When I return from my workout or activity of choice, I am refreshed. It’s almost like I am starting the day again fresh, rather than completely exhausted from the morning. It is an extra burst of energy and it fuels me in a way that maximizes my productivity in the afternoon, which creates all sorts of professional benefits. And I’m not the only one. Research shows that exercise can actually help overcome fatigue.
The other important benefit is that these guidelines force a routine. Effective routines are great for productivity, because it decreases brainpower that has to go into planning and scheduling. Successful people have stringent routines. Since I have a clear set of guidelines for my schedule, all I have to do is stick to them. I don’t have to dedicate a lot of thought, because the guidelines don’t change.
How do you structure your day? Does anyone have similar strategies that they use at work? I’d love to hear about it!