I have found that one of the keys to successfully maintaining a healthy lifestyle is time management. It often isn’t a lack of motivation or that we don’t know what is required to lead a healthy and active lifestyle, it’s that life often gets in the way of our best intentions.
We fill the fridge with vegetables intending to whip up some nutritious meals, but by the time we get home from our busy day, we are too tired to do all that prep work for dinner. At the end of the week, it is a crisper full of compost. We sign up for the gym, committed to exercising right after work, but then we forget to pack our running shoes or our water bottle. On Saturdays, we can’t commit to a plan—I’ll go before lunch, I’ll just get this one thing finished and then I’ll go for a workout, definitely after dinner—and the next thing you know it is time for bed. Proper planning and good time management can help to avoid these common pitfalls.
The first step to more effectively distributing your time is to take a good hard look at your weekly schedule. Consider when your schedule is the most flexible and also when you have the most energy versus when you tend to be tired and the least motivated. This is not the time to be idealistic and naïve about what you can realistically accomplish in a day. It is okay to admit that there are times when we’re exhausted: that we have a tendency to grab take out or eat Kraft dinner and chicken nuggets with the kids; or that we can be a bit scattered and disorganized in the mornings and run out of time to pack a lunch or gym attire. Identifying these types of patterns means we can then come up with a plan to work around them.
Here are some simple changes that can help make those healthy choices a bit easier to fit into your hectic schedule:
- Plan ahead and stick to it. Set aside time in your weekly schedule for exercise and meal preparation. Physically enter the time into your calendar, and make that commitment to yourself that this is important and that you will follow through. This is also a great time to think about meal planning for the week. What will you make for dinner, take for lunch, and have on hand for nutritious snacks? Think about when you will have the time to shop and to prepare meals.
- Condense cooking time. If you find you are consistently too busy or exhausted at the end of the day to prepare an ideal dinner, consider doing a bigger cook a couple of times a week and portion out leftovers. I have found once you are already making one meal, that making another one or making larger portions at the same time isn’t that much more work. I like to take time on Sundays to prepare lunches and dinners for the first half of my week. I can come home for 2-3 nights and just warm up leftovers, and throw together a quick salad. With little effort, dinner is on the table in less than 10 minutes. I usually then do a big cook on a Wednesday or Thursday night to get through the rest of my work week. After grocery shopping can be a good time to prep food. If cooking in advance doesn’t work well for you, you can still do some of the time-consuming prep work earlier in the week. Wash, peel, and chop up your vegetables and store them in a Ziploc bag until needed. Dice up your garlic and onions and put them in Tupperware. This way you can simply come home and throw all your prepared ingredients into the pot and put your feet up.
- Do it the night before. Let’s face it, no matter how organized we try to be, mornings are a disaster. The alarm doesn’t go off, your kid upends their cereal bowl all over their nice clean school clothes, and the traffic report warns of an accident on the bridge. It is always something, and that lunch you intended to make never gets packed and your gym shoes are still buried in the closet. I can admit it—this is me. And that is why I started doing everything the night before. Adding an extra 10 minutes to your bedtime routine to get ready for the next morning can make a huge difference. Pack your lunch and put it in the fridge all ready to go—even better if you can store it in your lunch bag. No matter how crazy the morning is you can grab your lunch and go. If you have done some lunch prep earlier in the week, putting your lunch together the night before will be quick and painless. Also, get your exercise attire ready the night before. Double check you have everything you need in your gym bag and store it at the door next to your shoes, or even better, in the car. If you exercise after work, I encourage you to pack an extra little snack to help sustain you if you tend to get hangry by the end of the day. Take all excuses to not workout off the table.
Being a little more organized and distributing your time a bit differently can help you stay on track and reach your health and fitness goals. Maximize those times when you have the most energy and flexibility in your week to compensate for the more hectic and unpredictable moments. Set yourself up for success.