The surprising way to feel less busy

The idea that there isn’t enough time in a day has become widespread. Everyone is busy—so busy that not everything we want to get done, gets done. Despite our best intentions, all our to-dos don’t always get checked off the list. I’m sure you can relate.

Unfortunately, physical activity too often falls to the bottom of that ever-growing list. Not having enough time is one of the most-cited reasons for not exercising. No matter how much we seem to rush, a free hour never seems to appear.

But, perhaps that’s the problem—the rushing.

How slowing down can help

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast is a common expression in the military because often the best way to complete tasks as quickly as possible is by first slowing down. Rushing causes problems. You miss things. You go too quickly and start making mistakes.

Imagine trying to unlock your car door in a sketchy alley. Often you try so hard to get your key in the lock that you end up taking longer than usual. Your hands get jittery. You drop your keys and have to find them in the dim light. You end up kicking yourself for not going slower.

This instance gives us insight into a broader problem—thinking that we’re busy often leads us to use our time less efficiently.

Multi-tasking is the classic example. While it may seem smart to do as many tasks as possible at once, most productivity experts, like Dr. Greg Wells, would now tell you that single-tasking is more efficient. Because our brains can only focus on one task at a time, constantly flipping back and forth is a horrible waste of time. 

Other studies have shown that people are bad at managing scarce resources. Our culture has become fixated on the idea that we don’t have enough—not enough food, not enough money, not enough time. This is referred to as the “scarcity mindset.” Unfortunately, believing we don’t have enough leads us to cut corners that cost us more in the long run.

Slow down to speed up

Slowing down can help you assess how best to spend your time, how you're currently spending it, and how to make the most out of each and every day. 

1. Why it’s time well spent

Slowing down can give you time to reflect and realize that moving your body is always a good use of time. Physical activity can help with focus, productivity, decision-making, problem-solving, energy levels, and time management. In other words, it helps you make the most of your day.

Of course, better time management is just the beginning. Being active regularly can positively impact almost every area of your life. People who are active tend to be happier, healthier, and live longer lives. It’s fun, satisfying, and life-affirming. If you’re looking for a good way to spend your time, physical activity checks all the boxes.

2. Why you should assess your time

So, why don’t you have time for physical activity? While it’s true that many people are legitimately busy, it’s also true that we have more leisure time than ever. Chronic busyness is mostly a matter of perception.

With that in mind, try to objectively assess how you’re currently spending your day. How many hours do you spend scrolling through social media? Watching television or Netflix? Checking emails? Conduct a self-audit: where are you spending your time each day? Try to identify all the activities that when you really think about it, you’d rather spend less time doing. And then replace them with physical activity. If you really don’t have half an hour of free time in your day for your health and wellbeing, you truly are too busy.

And don’t forget about sleep. We are a chronically sleep-deprived nation, mostly because of all this “busyness.” Sleep experts recommend approximately 8 hours of sleep per night, but more than 30% of Canadians adults are getting 6 hours or less. Getting in your hours of quality sleep each night will ensure you have the energy the next day to tackle your schedule and sneak in some physical activity.

3. How to find the time

When it comes to finding time in your day to exercise or run or play a sport, there are two things to keep in mind.

The first is that you need to schedule time for physical activity. No matter how much you hustle, spare time isn’t going to just appear. You have to make the time. Rather than letting it fall to the bottom of your to-do list, put it at the top and use it to help you get everything else done. Pencil it in just like any other appointment. Your health and productivity depend on it.

The second is that getting active doesn’t have to mean running or lifting weights for an hour. It can mean a half-hour walk at lunch. On a particularly busy day, if you only have a few minutes, try this 7-minute workout from the NY Times. If your schedule is hectic, finding an hour can be tough—10 minutes should be easier to come by.

What is there time for?

While being busy is often seen as a badge of honour, most reasonable people agree that being too busy to exercise isn’t something anyone should be proud of. Too often we say we’re busy, when we really mean we’re distracted. Distracted from our goals, from our health, and from the life we’d rather be living.

In many ways, physical activity is a part of the solution to this constant state of distraction. It helps us focus on tasks, on our long-term goals, and on better managing our time.

If you currently think that you’re too busy to exercise, you likely need to the most.