Q: “I used to run several distance trail runs annually, but now I have nowhere near the fitness level I used to because I work full time and am completing a doctorate degree. How can I find more time to run?”
A: Like a lot of hard-working, extremely driven people who run, keeping busy and being highly productive feels good to you. And that’s one of the reasons you’re so drawn to running: it’s a deeply satisfying, invigorating practice.
But that’s not enough to satisfy your analytical mind that is constantly aware of how much is on your to-do list.
Yet productivity has less to do with time than it does with attention. Studies have shown that one’s ability to focus on a task has a greater influence on their productivity than the amount of time they dedicate to a particular task.
Other studies have shown that the time it takes to complete a task expands to fill the time allotted, a phenomenon known as Parkinson’s Law. This is why setting boundaries and limitations around your time is really important.
One way to do this is the Pomodoro Technique, which involves batching similar tasks together and setting a timer for the amount of time you allow to complete them.
This works so well that even some European countries are mandating shorter work weeks. As a result, they’ve seen that working fewer hours actually helps employees accomplish more while experiencing less burnout and stress.
What does this mean for your running? Finding time to run—even when you have a pressing to-do list—depends not on finding free time, but rather, is about making deliberate use of your focus and attention.
Put another way, getting out for a daily run isn’t about choosing to run over getting other things done. Running happens in support of getting things done.
For example, you block a three-hour period to spend working on your dissertation. But instead of working the entire time, you spend the first 45 minutes running, 15 minutes transitioning back into work mode, then two hours actually working on the dissertation. Since running oxygenates your body, refreshes your mind and slows distracting thoughts, you find it easier to stay completely focused and produce better quality work during those two hours than you would have in three.
In order to make running a non-negotiable, seamless part of your day, look at your routine with an eye for creating space and opportunity to run. Here are some questions to get you started:
- Where can you decrease the amount of time dedicated to a task or project?
- What can you stop doing that’s not that important to you anyway?
- When can you run for 20 minutes today? That’s right; some days all you need is 20 minutes.
- Can you reduce the number of times you transition between tasks each day? Eliminating several short periods spent in limbo can free up a great deal of mental energy, boost productivity and give you the window you need to go run.
Over her nearly 30-year running and wellness career, Elinor Fish has helped thousands of runners improve their technique and health through Mindful Running (explained in her interview with Active Junky on the art of Mindful Running), as well as through her writing, workshops and running retreats. Have a look at RunWildRetreats.com to learn more.