April 24, 2008

When work conflicts with working out, what do you do?

humorous pictures

[By Merry]

Them: No pressure, just get it done right away.
Me: Instead of the other 12 things I have to do asap?
Them: No, in addition to them. You don’t mind, do you?

Pop quiz:

Is the above a
a) scenario for assertiveness training?
b) nightmare that you hope to wake from in a couple of minutes?
c) way to make sure that you do not get any exercise today?

The answer is: d) what my day was looking like yesterday. Technical writers, even the most prepared and organized of them, live their lives to the rhythm of Forces Beyond Our Control.

So one week things are calm and fairly rational, I only work 40 hours, and it’s not that hard to fit in the exercising around the work day.

Other weeks I can chose two of the following three options:
1 – work
2 – sleep
3 – exercise

That’s when the fun really starts. (I keep telling myself it’s fun. Nothing wrong with a good healthy self-delusion.)

Best solutions that I've found so far to manage working and working out:

1 – Take five minute breaks during the day (at least one in the morning, one in the evening) to go up and down the stairs. Stairs get the heart rate moving real fast. Plus, if I present a moving target, it’s harder for people to grab me and say “hey, are those docs ready yet? Never mind if the product doesn’t work, just write the manual anyway. And make sure everything's accurate.”

2 – Take a whole 20 minutes to step outside at lunch and run away. (And come back, alas.) I can eat at my desk – I know it’s not the best way to go, but it beats not eating and it beats not exercising. A steady 20 lunchtime minutes of getting the blood pumping and the respiration even slightly elevated helps keep the stress down, too.

3 – Alternate days when I exercise and days when I just go home (after 12-15 hours) and sleep. If I’m too tired to eat in the evening, that’s better than skipping breakfast.

4 – Take ten minutes at the end of the day to breath and stretch and turn off the brain. Andrew Weil has a whole CD devoted to breathing exercises. They do work, when I have the patience to listen to them and practice them.

4a - Sometimes I’m so stressed I want to kick the calm, relaxing CD player across the room – I can’t relax, I’ve got too much to do! – but in that case I take ten minutes to pace on Manuel, my new treadmill.

I’m probably going to get banned from certain blog-feeds for saying this, but Manuel still needs lubricant before he’s really useful… okay, I can’t even type that without blushing. I suppose I will have to learn to stop referring to my exercise equipment by pet names.

But you probably have better ideas

So what do you do when you’re absolutely nose-to-the-grindstone crunched for time?

You get extra points if you can describe your exercise activities, if any, without using words such as ‘lubricant’ – Crabby has standards, even if I don’t.

And yes, this is the last time we're going to mention the Lipton Tea Bike Contest. The contest ends tomorrow morning at 5:38 a.m. Oregon time (Pacific Daylight Time). That will be your last chance to leave a comment about how to stay young and win a bike! (And trust us, if we could find a way to have all of you win a bicycle, we would! Crabby and I both think you guys deserve lots of nice stuff like free bicycles.)


  1. I'm a fan of utilitarian exercise.

    Instead of having work possibly conflict with exercise, I have work be the reason I exercise - I get to work by cycling there.

    (But no, I didn't enter the contest, because I live in Ireland)

  2. We have "standards" here at Cranky Fitness???

    Whoops. I guess I should probably stop saying f*ck so much. Sigh.

    Actually, I think demanding jobs are a huge challenge for getting exercise. Sneaking in little 5 or 10 minute walks is an excellent idea.

    A lot of us work-from-home bloggers, especially those without kids, can be kinda insensitive sometimes to how difficult "just do it" type advice can be for those with 60 hour work weeks. There are a lot of people who would love to "just do it" but can't realistically quit their jobs in order to go jogging or go the gym for an hour or two a day. And skipping out on sleep isn't exactly healthy either.

    Christine, biking to work is an excellent idea!

    And I'll be curious to hear how other people deal with exercise when their jobs get extra demanding.

  3. I found the ultimate way to work out work conflicts. I left being an employee and only work for myself now. I know that's not a solution for many people but thank God, it was for me.

    In my last place of work, I was bullied. I'm pretty good at standing up for myself but when you are bullied by the ultimate of bullies, you end up crumbling. I wasn't her only victim, but I did put up a hell of a fight.

  4. Marijke, good for you on standing up for yourself! And also on working for yourself (I'm sloooowly trying to build up freelance writing/web design credits on the side, in the hopes I can one day leave tech support.)

    Merry, all I can offer are commiserations (I'm officially "user support and testing" but also in charge of documentation!) And, if it's any help, some of my tips on squeezing exercise around a work day:


    (Hope it's not horribly spammy to post those here -- sorry if so, Crabby!)

    I like the "moving target" idea, by the way, will have to try that one out! :-)


  5. Im a sneaker as well (nike air rift. dont forget to tip yer weightress Ill be here all week) as my life ALWAYS seems to intrude in one form or another.

    there is something about the energy a fast bout of officedoorshut hulahooping can bring which cant be beat!

  6. Years ago, when I had a clerical position with the provincial government, I used to slip out to the stairwell during coffee breaks and do some exercises.
    It helped keep me alert as the job was beyond mindless.

  7. When in in the office by myself (it happens quite frequently) I've been known to do jumping jacks or down load an aerobic video and do it.

    The other day I got on YouTube and figured out how to do the soulja boy dance to impress all of my younger, more immature friends. (Ok, so I did it because it looks cool on the video!)

    I'll do anything at work just to move.

  8. I take the stairs every morning to my 7th floor lab. When I'm feeling really stressed, I power walk around the floor for a few minutes to burn off the stress and re-energize. On heavy computer work days, I stretch my upper back and chest about once an hour - it helps keep your back from getting stiff and sore. And finally, we poor grad students are forced to park in the farthest lot from the hospital. I like to park in the farthest away place and make sure I have a long walk to the building. A little is better than nothing!

    Oh, and I do triceps dips and push ups in the dark room. Sometimes squats and leg lifts too. But only if no one else is in there!

  9. Lately I've been trying to do a few yoga poses and stretches whenever I notice that my posture has been in Quasimodo mode for the past four hours. (I swear, I'm going to be a hunchback by the end of the month.)

    Of course, working at a healthy-way-of-life magazine helps! :)

  10. I am a SAHM, so the way I fit in workouts involves waking up before everyone else.

    My husband uses his lunch break to go running at a high-school track that is close to his work. It doesn't hurt that his office has a shower for people working on late-night deadlines, so he can come back and shower when he's done (he always works 60+ hours per week). He also never takes the elevator, and walks to people's offices to answer their questions instead of calling or emailing them.

  11. Well my solution is to just quit the job, but I realize that doesn't work for everyone. =) While I WAS working a stressful job, I followed your first two suggestions. I also

    - Woke up early and got my exercise done with
    - Cycled to work
    - Took stretch breaks in the lady's loo
    - Went outside and walked around the building (fresh air is highly underrated)
    - Walked and swam on the weekends.

    Marijke - I just started working for myself yesterday. Any tips? =)

  12. I get up at gawd awful times to fit it into my day. And riding my bike to wrk most days in the summer adds in exercise too when I just can't drag my ass out for a run or ball exercise DVD. I just make myself do the exercise first thing in the AM even if I have to get up at 5 to do it...cuz otherwise between work and home and other stuff it just won't happen...

  13. If it's just one day, I usually don't worry about it. Missing a single day isn't going to ballon a gal of 120 lbs to 300. Instead I try to just eat a little less in the evening and either get plenty of sleep or get out ahead of the next day's work by logging in from home in the evening.

    I don't allow it to happen for a second day in a row, though. Whatever I have to cut from my "at-home" time, I cut it. End of discussion. It would take a highly unusual set of circumstances for me to feel like I had to miss more than one day due to work crises.

    I've been working very diligently to train my boss and co-workers on this matter and they seem to be finally catching on that I'm grouchy and do poor work when chained to my desk for longer than 9-10 hours at a stretch. They get it now that if they let me go work out, I'll log back in later that evening and still meet deadline.

    The solution, then, is to train your boss!

  14. I started cycling to work When I realised I dont have time to exercise in the morning because I have to wake up early to beat the morning traffic.


  15. I've loved having my dog because she forces me to walk her. There's nothing I can do about it, no matter how busy I am!

  16. I do lots of exercising at work, and to be honest I'll organize my work so that I'll be able to take mini breaks to exercise (during the school year I try to arrange my classes so that I'll have spares in the middle of the day in which I can go for walks/runs). As for sleep? Psshh!

  17. About 12 years ago when life and work in general started interfering with my ability to get my exercise in, I changed when i did it. So, I get up every weekday at 4:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time and try to get out the door by 4:45 for a morning run or gym workout. Why 45 minutes to get going you ask? Because I need my cup of coffee for lubricant.

  18. When I get crunched for time I usually schedule a late afternoon "client meeting" by which I of course mean "go home early and run."

    It's nice to have that flexibility.

  19. I go to I Can Haz Cheeseburgers and amuse myself...lol...that site is so darn funny!

    When pressed for time I'll do things like park in the farthest spot in the parking lot to get more walking in. I'll take the stairs instead of elevators. Instead of emailing or IMing a co-worker, I'll get up and walk to their cubicle. I find ways where I can just move around more.

  20. It definitely helps that I have to be at the gym at a certain time, since I teach the class. So when I interview, I make sure to mention those restrictions, so they know up front that I won't be able to stay late. Thankfully, my job is such that it hasn't been a problem and I can leave at a decent hour even when not going to the gym.

    Beyond that, I work about a 15 minute walk from the subway, so whe the weather is nice, I walk. On the other end, there's a 10 minute walk across a park to work. In the winter I substitute the bus and the train instead of the walking, but I much prefer the walking.

    I'm also constantly up and out of my desk all day - getting water, making a snack, going to the bathroom, chatting with co-workers, walking to the printer/photocopier, etc. I tend not to walk to people's offices to ask them questions because I like to have everything in writing (my brain can be an absolute sieve), but I normally get up enough that I don't need to.

    Today at lunch I took a nice long walk across the park to go look at handbags. And even better for my checkbook, I didn't find any I liked, but still got the benefit of the walk! :)

  21. Sit on a bouncy ball while I write instead of a desk chair (you can choose to use lubricant or not); also, I like doing butt squeezes while waiting for the bus. I once read Sarah jessica Parker does them all the time and OMG do you remember her tush in LA Story? Fab!

  22. @ monica:

    good for you!!

    Advice? Yeah. don't do what I do. I'm getting by on a wing and a prayer because I'm so disorganized and have the attention span of a gnat. And that's likely being insulting to the gnat. (sorry gnat).

    Now, what were we talking about? Oh yes, working for yourself.

    Seriously, my advice is to take all advice with a grain of salt. Some people will tell you that you HAVE to have set work hours to be taken seriously. Others, like me, work whenever the heck we feel like it and get the work done. Some will tell you that you have to get dressed every morning and act all professional. Snort.

    Take all the advice you can get and then pick and choose what you think will work for you.

    Oh, and network, network, network. I am not a joiner but I have joined a couple of groups and it's made all the difference in the world. You have like-minded people for bouncing ideas or to smack you back to reality if you need it.

    good luck!

  23. Great ideas. This is something I deal with a lot and even though I technically "work for myself" there is the amount of work to do in a day is frequently X+1 when the hours left in a day are only X.

  24. Sometimes I get up really early (4:30) to exercise before work. But that's a challenge!
    Lately (and probably because it's warmer and getting dark later) I've been exercising after the work day. If I get home late, I try to fit in a walk with the hubby after dinner. And then there are days I figure, "Ah, phooey!" and turn on the computer to read blog posts!

  25. Oops... Susan just described what I did tonight. I feel busted :(

    My dog is going to report me to the Canine Neglect Board if I don't go outside and play ball for a few minutes. I don't know about training my boss, but I bet Miss Tanji could do it for me -- she's much more focused :)

  26. I am back just in time to leave a comment and maybe win a free bicycle! But mostly, I am just glad to be back in general. Because you guys here at Cranky Fitness crack me up always! I just quit my old job, and have two weeks off before my new job starts. Work cannot get in the way this time! :) Great post, Merry! Now, off to win that bike!

  27. Slipping in those workouts. When I worked in a office, I'd do stairs at breaks if I could. (single story buildings kind of quashed that), and hit the sidewalk for 20 minutes during lunch.

    I'd stretch and do some arm presses or curls with whatever heavy book I had near my desk.

    Now I grab the stability ball and use that instead of my chair when I'm working at the computer. Does not get the heart rate up, but makes sure I'm not getting all slouchy. And if someone comes by that I don't want to visit with, I down it to a kind of bridge, and say: you don't mind if I just stretch my back a bit while you're talking, do you?"


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