I have a little trick I use when facing a task I dread.
If I can’t bear the thought of making yet another salad, or I really, really don’t want to clean the guinea pig’s cage, I set a stopwatch and time how long it actually takes me to complete the task I’ve been avoiding for an hour.
In the case of making a salad, the answer is less than five minutes
“Well, that wasn’t so bad,” I think when I’m done.
Maintaining healthy habits often seems overwhelming. You might find yourself thinking, “On top of all my responsibilities and worries, I have to eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep? I don’t have time for any of that!”
The truth is, healthy habits often don’t take much time at all. Some healthy habits are surprisingly quick and easy — like making a salad in less than five minutes. When I’m feeling overwhelmed and resistant to a looming task, I think of my stopwatch trick and tell myself, “Just do it already. In less than five minutes, you’ll be done.”
Here are some of my favorite healthy shortcuts, and suggestions on how to find more time in your day by giving up some unhealthy habits. (And let’s just agree not to say anything more about the guinea pig’s cage.)
1. Healthy Food Can Be Fast Food
In an ideal world, we’d always have a refrigerator full of fresh, healthy food, prepped and ready to consume. This doesn’t always happen. Despite your best efforts, at some point you will find yourself both short on time and hungry. Or you’ll be so worn out from a week of varied and lovingly prepared meals, you can’t face the idea of spending any more time in the kitchen. (This is me every Friday night.)
When I need dinner, fast, I pull out a carton of eggs and a bag of spinach and make myself a spinach omelet. Mix the eggs together, add cheese if you eat dairy, sprinkle in salt and pepper, and heat up a pan. Cook the eggs, throw in the spinach to get your dose of vegetables, and you have a delicious, healthy fast-food alternative.
No eggs in the house? Open a can of tuna and pull out a bag of mixed lettuce. (Always, always keep a bag of pre-washed mixed lettuce on hand.) Drain the tuna and sprinkle it over the lettuce, then drizzle it with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. If you have any vegetables hanging out in the fridge, throw those in the salad as well.
What if you have none of these ingredients in your house? Instead of going through the drive-through, stop by a grocery store. Grab a bag of almonds to tide you over while you pick up eggs and spinach, or maybe some pre-cooked chicken and a bag of salad greens. Head home, change into sweat pants or pajamas, and spend five minutes putting together this easy dinner. Instant relaxation, no fast food.
2. Workouts Can Take Less Time Than You’re Already Wasting
We are all busy, but we also all waste time. This is fine. We’re not robots and we should all have leisure time. If, however, you find yourself saying you have no time to work out, pull out that stopwatch and start measuring some of your favorite time-wasting activities. How long do you spend on social media? How much TV do you watch? If you have time in your day for those habits, you can fit in a ten, seven, or even a four-minute workout.
Next, schedule your short, high-intensity workout in such a way you won’t back out. I used to pack my gym clothes in the morning, and head straight to the gym after work, knowing if I came home and sat on the couch I’d never get up. If you want to exercise first thing in the morning, put your gym clothes in a prominent location, so they are the first thing you see when you wake up. Make exercise—even if it’s ten minutes or less—a non-negotiable part of your schedule
3. Cook Less and Boost Wellness with Low-Stress Get-Togethers
I have a wonderful group of female friends who are interesting, kind, and hilarious. We all live in the same neighborhood, and our kids go to the same school, but if we don’t make plans to get together, the most we see of each other is a quick wave from across the elementary school playground. If we want to hang out, we have to plan something.
We tried going out to dinner once a month. With eight or more people, it was hard to connect with everyone once we took our places at the long table. Plus, splitting the bill was a hassle, and we felt strange occupying the restaurant for hours. The monthly dinners fizzled out.
Then, one of our friends bought a catered dinner at an auction, and we spent a delightful night in her backyard eating food none of us had to cook and drinking reasonably-priced wine from the grocery story. Our backyard takeout dinners were born.
Now we trade off hosting. The host provides the location, the drinks, and picks the restaurant. We all chip in for the food, and once it’s delivered we relax in the comfort of someone’s home without the stress of cooking or cleaning.
Maintaining supportive relationships is an essential, but frequently overlooked, healthy habit. Most of us put off entertaining because it seems time-consuming, overwhelming, and stressful. The trick is to find a way to take out the stress and the work while committing to connecting with the people in our lives.
Sarah Grey came up with a solution she calls “Friday Night Meatballs.” Each week she sends out an invite, and the first eight friends who RSVP by Thursday night are invited to dinner Friday, when her husband cooks up a big pot of spaghetti and meatballs. She and her husband don’t worry about the house being clean, about place settings, or anything else other than providing meatballs and a place to congregate.
Think of ways you can schedule a regular, low-stress get together with the people you love. Take out all the excuses you make for not having people over—too much work, the house is a mess, I don’t have time to cook—and focus on connecting with your friends.
4. Skimping on Sleep Is Never Actually a Time-Saver
When life gets busy, sleep is often the first thing to suffer. If there don’t seem to be enough hours in the day, it seems logical to carve them out of the night.
Resist that temptation.
Cutting short your sleep will exacerbate every other issue in your life. Sleep deprivation affects your metabolism, your mood, and your memory. It is associated with heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
There are times when we don’t have control over our sleep. I know, I have two kids. I understand work and travel often make poor sleep unavoidable. This is why it’s important to have good sleep habits when life is normal, so you can bounce back from those busy times.
Think of a normal workday or a normal weekend. What does your sleep look like? If you’re staying up late to binge-watch your latest Netflix find, or if you’re endlessly scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, you are creating an unnecessary problem in your life. You may be cramming more hours into your day, but what does that matter if you spend the entire next day feeling terrible?
If you have trouble forcing yourself to go to bed at a reasonable hour, try setting a bedtime alarm. iPhone has a new feature called “Bedtime,” next to the alarm function. With Bedtime, your phone will remind you to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
Even if you don’t have an iPhone, you can set a nighttime alarm for fifteen minutes before your targeted bedtime. When the alarm goes off it’s time to drop whatever you are doing and get ready for bed. The TV, your phone, the book you’re reading—they will all be there tomorrow.
Take Control of Your Time
No matter how busy your life becomes, remember to stay mindful of how you spend your time. If you find yourself saying you are too busy to eat healthy or exercise, take a close look at how much time these good habits actually take.
For those who are too crunched for time, here’s what to remember:
- Healthy food can be fast and easy
- High-intensity workouts can take less time than you’re already wasting
- Strengthen your relationships with low-stress get-togethers
- Always make time for a good night’s sleep
The next time you say you’re too busy to eat well or exercise, take an honest look at how you are spending your time. You’ve got more time in your day than you think. And that reminds me — it’s time to clean the guinea pig’s cage again.