How To Stay Fit And Focused When Busy

I don’t run obsessively every day, and I definitely don’t examine every bit of food that comes across my plate.

But I’m generally in pretty good shape.

The reason for that is I generally live a fairly active lifestyle. Nothing too crazy, but I’m usually doing something that keeps me moving. I enjoy running when I have the time, and I’ve found coaching my kids’ sports teams keeps me on my toes.

Recently, I started riding an electric bike to work.

And that bike ride got me thinking about the connection between physical activity and mental sharpness. I like the bike because I don’t show up at work drenched in sweat. But it does involve quite a bit of mental exercise — navigating cars, construction, and the general chaos of the daily commute.

Every day, I show up to work alert and ready for action.

As a leader, or anyone who’s incredibly busy, staying fit is important for managing a crazy schedule.

The connection between exercise and energy is real — if you aren’t mentally sharp, you can’t perform your best. For a few decades now, studies have shown a link between exercise and mental performance.

Here’s how I like to think about fitness and how it helps me as a CEO:

Exercise for both mental and physical energy.

Everyone has trouble sleeping before an important day at work or school.

It often happens to me before board meetings, when I’m trying to prepare and worrying about all the little details. I go to bed, but I don’t get much sleep. Suddenly, it’s 2:00 AM — and I know I won’t be able to drift off anytime soon.

So, I get up and go for a run.

While it may seem counterintuitive, that run actually gives me the energy to make it through the day. If I stayed in bed and stared at the ceiling, I’d be groggy and unfocused for my meeting. But when I get that exercise in, I’m fully alert and mentally clear throughout the day.

That’s the great paradox of exercise — it actually creates energy.

If you have a chance to work out in the middle of the day, you’ll notice that you’re mentally sharper and more energetic for the rest of the afternoon.

Now, I’ve crashed heavily when I get home from a long day, but I know I was much more effective than I would have been without doing what my body needed at the time.

Give yourself a chance to restore your mind.

Go sit on a bench in your local park and watch the joggers cruise by one afternoon. You’ll notice they almost all sport a pair of headphones, pumping out their favorite workout music.

Personally, I think that’s a mistake.

I understand the reasoning behind it — they get a boost from high-energy tunes — but I think they’re missing out on one of the most important aspects of their exercise.

When you go for a run, a bike ride, or even a walk, that’s a time to be alone with yourself. To reflect and contemplate.

I don’t meditate in the classic sense, legs crossed and eyes closed, but I do find that running is a form of natural meditation. Because when you begin pushing yourself intensely, your mind automatically focuses. It’s a waste to squander that with distractions.

Next time you’re working out, leave your headphones behind and see where your mind goes. You may be surprised at how well you can focus without any interruptions.

Don’t think of fitness as work, but as preparation for opportunities that come your way.

When people talk about why they exercise and eat well, they usually relate it to their goal of staying healthy.

But there’s an underrated aspect of being fit that most people overlook — the opportunities that come along with it. There are all kinds of activities that happen spur-of-the-moment.

  • A friend asks you to go skiing with them next month.
  • A coworker needs an extra body in their soccer game tomorrow.
  • Your brother wants you to come along on a 10-mile hike next Saturday.

You may not have been training specifically for any of these things, but if you’re generally in shape, you can pull them off.

The best example from my own life is the time my friends and I went to Guatemala to hike a volcano. This was not something we’d been preparing for, but the volcano was erupting, and my friend said, “We have to go this weekend.”

That’s an experience you want to be ready for. If you aren’t, you’re going to miss out on something amazing with people you care about.

As someone with a busy schedule, it’s important to think about fitness not as another job, but as something you do in order to be alert and available for everyday demands and new opportunities.