Working vs. Working Out

Sometimes I feel like I have to choose between work and working out. When I’m particularly busy at my full-time job or when I pick up a time-consuming freelance gig on the side, I’m often tempted to cut out workouts and use that precious time to accomplish more work. But I’ve learned the hard way that having more time does not necessarily increase my productivity. In fact, skipping the gym usually has the opposite effect.

One Friday, I arrived to work an hour and a half early hoping I could check enough of my list so I could avoid working the weekend. I promised myself that no matter how long my workday went, I would go running after work. Normally I spend my lunch break at the gym, but this particular day I decided to work through lunch to get more done. Though my morning was productive, I could feel more focus waning in the afternoon. By the end of the day, I finally accepted that matter how long I sat behind my computer screen, my brain power was gone. I would have to bring some work home that weekend regardless. After an almost 11-hour workday, I was tired and hungry, and decided to go home instead of going running.

In retrospect, I should have at least tried to talk a short walk at lunch. Moving around a bit and putting my long to-do list out of my mind for a short time would have been more helpful than sitting all day and willing myself to work harder. This reminded me that a gym break is not just about burning the calories from the morning’s breakfast. My productivity counts also on an active, alert, and well rested brain. If I don’t take time to take care of my body, my work suffers.

I can’t always control my workload, but I can control my game plan in how I handle it. No matter how much work I have to finish, it’s important to prioritize exercise for my both my physical and mental health. If I can’t squeeze in a full workout, I can try to do half, or even less. Running one mile is better than nothing. Otherwise, I’ll end up feeling more drained and I’ll spend more time staring at my to-do list than crossing things off it.

I should never force myself to chose working over working out. Yes, sometimes work has to take precedence. But eliminating the one of the things that gives me the most energy will not make me work harder or accomplish more. So even on the weekends when my work follows me home, I’ll make sure to get some working out in there, too.

Betsy Mikel |