A small group of business owners and entrepreneurs sit impatiently, waiting for Richard Branson’s productivity secret.
“Richard, how do you stay so productive?”
“I work out.”
That’s it. No weird smoothies, supplements, or mind hacks. Work out.
Watch it here.
This isn’t just a random video from someone’s phone. Richard has talked about how strongly he believes in working out with Inc, and even brags about it on his blog. He has started over 400 companies, most notably Virgin (music, mobile, air), and could easily be one of the busiest people on the planet. Yet, he credits working out as his biggest way to stay productive and healthy.
If one of the world’s richest and most productive people can find time each day to work out, maybe we can start to push ourselves a little bit more in terms of physical fitness. Many of the world’s most powerful and productive people make sure they take time each day to focus on their bodies and energy.
Realize that the majority of them are not professional athletes, and are just as time-crunched as you and me. It’s not uncommon to see a boost in personal fitness correspond with productivity. People begin running half-marathons, cycle 50 miles, join CrossFit, or sign up for the Simple Gym.
A 2011 study even showed that employees could work out on company time. They showed no loss in productivity compared to employees who weren’t exercising, but working more hours! This flies directly in the face of our tendency to believe that more hours = more productivity.
Tony Schwartz goes to so far as to say that we have the whole idea out of whack. He is famous for saying, and practicing, this mantra.
Manage your energy, not your time.
Forward thinking companies like 37Signals and Buffer are becoming famous for making this a part of their company culture. The answer to a problem is rarely to sit at your desk or stare at the computer screen. Managing your energy, the amount of brain power you can throw at a problem, is usually not found in the same place you’ve been for the past several hours.
Richard Branson’s Productivity Secret isn’t a Revelation…
…and isn’t that a good thing? The answer to solving those problems and boosting your productivity is simple, but challenging. Start working out, go exercise, dial up one of our workouts, or even just do 10 pushups. Just start moving. Want to know what happens when you start moving, what triggers in your brain?
It turns out that just 20 minutes of walking gives you a boost of happiness, increase your lifespan, and lower your risk of disease. The cost/benefit almost seems absurd, yet we struggle with it. John Medina, author of Brain Rules, gives strikingly similar advice. In fact, he lists exercise as the #1 Brain Rule, because it boosts brain power.
The optimal environment for processing information would include motion. That is exactly what one finds. Indeed, the best business meeting would have everyone walking at about 1.8 miles per hour.
Imagine groups of executives walking around town, having their high-powered meetings. People would be less likely to nod off, that’s for sure. From a productivity perspective, exercise increases oxygen flow to the brain, which always increases mental activity and sharpness. Medina himself isn’t what you would call a fitness buff, but makes time every day to at least go on a 20 minute walk. It seems even neuroscientists need to stay fit and boost their productivity!
So with all of these examples from billionaires and brain scientists, why do we have such trouble getting on board for a workout routine?
Our Definition of Exercise is Wrong
We often equate exercise with the big box gym, treadmills, machines, and heavy weights. Cleanse your mind of this picture. Exercise is movement, period. When you were a kid, playing outside was exercise, climbing trees, riding a bike, or whatever got you moving. While the loss of unstructured play is one of the great losses of growing up, it’s not all gone. Going for a walk, playing with your kids, taking the stairs, parking far away, all of these little choices accumulate towards making you a little healthier.
I know having kids changes everything in life, but it’s actually a great opportunity to re-frame your definition of exercise while showing your kids a great example of how important moving is. Your kids probably won’t care to do burpees with you, but they can kick the soccer ball, wrestle, you pick!
We Have High Expectations
Setting goals and having high expectations are not bad things, but they can be an obstacle to starting your workout plan. It’s easy to forget that 1 > 0. Doing anything is better than doing nothing. So if you find it difficult to stick to a workout routine, the answer is probably to start smaller. Instead of a 20 minute run, try 5. A 10 minute workout becomes 4 minutes, or the length of one song. Don’t think about running a 10k, just run around the block.
Congratulate yourself at the end! A little celebration will teach your brain that what just happened was a good thing, and worth doing again. High-five yourself, raise your arms above your head like Steve Holt, or a little fist pump will do the trick.
We Make Excuses
It’s too cold, too hot, I’m tired, there’s not enough time, my workout clothes are dirty, my shoes are too tight/loose, too early, too late, and more. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits obliterates your excuses in this challenging post. He makes it clear that fit, productive people have many or all of the same challenges as unhealthy people. The key is to realign your priorities and start small enough to make it a habit.
Anything that pushes you is uncomfortable. New jobs, new friends, new cities, new ways of living. Our brain is entrenched in the status quo, and is perfectly happy staying there. The cool trick about the brain’s love of routine is that it can be re-wired to be in a healthy routine just as easily. Our challenge is to push through the initial discomfort until we reach a new bliss, where we’ve killed the lizard brain and created a new way of thinking and acting.
Richard Rohr, a Fransciscan priest, likes to say:
We don’t think ourselves in to new ways of living, we live ourselves in to new ways of thinking.
Time is Short
This is understandable, to a point. One of the reasons I stopped going to CrossFit was because of the time it took. 30 minute drive, 30 minute workout, 30 minutes back – I didn’t have 1.5 hours to dedicate solely to working out 4 days a week. Going to the gym is costly, both from a time and money standpoint. While that’s a fine reason not to go to the gym, it’s not an excuse to not exercise at all.
The Simple Gym exists to bridge this gap. Do one of the 65+ workouts we’ve written, or pushups, squats, burpees, jump around, or go for a run/walk/hike. We’re even working on a solid routine of 5 minute beginner workouts, to completely sweep away any of your remaining excuses.
Exercise is a one of the cornerstone habits in our lives, says writer and researcher Charles Duhigg. It’s a habit that jump-starts positive traits and actions in other parts of your life. You would be hard-pressed to find a more powerful way to boost productivity, feel better, be more energetic, and live longer.
So what are you waiting for?