By Dana Ayers

We all have moments where we are forced to multi-task. Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day to work out, and see friends, and succeed in your career, and keep up with House Hunters International.

I’m struggling in this New Year. I recently got back from my deployment to Afghanistan as a military reservist, and I started working again at the civilian job I put on hold when I left. I also started my second book, which is currently due to hit the market this spring. I also jumped back into the favorite past time of busy urban professionals around the globe: online dating. So you could say my fitness has started to take the back burner. Actually, most days, it’s not on the stove at all. It’s in the pantry. Behind the dark chocolate squares.

I find that if I’m going to get a workout in, it’s probably going to have to be combined with some other task on my To Do list that day. Which means it’s probably not going to be as rigorous as I’d like. Which means I have to talk myself into believing it’ll be worth the change of clothes.

This week, my attempts at fitness included:

  • Editing book chapters while riding a stationary bike
  • “Rucking” my groceries in my giant Navy backpack instead of driving to the store. Rucking just means walking with a weighted pack. Sure, in the military, the weight is usually survival gear you are moving from one point to another, but eh – why can’t it also be cat food, vegetable stock, and laundry detergent you move from the grocery store to your apartment? I’m going to say it counts.
  • Speed walking to the nearest metro rail station (ok that wasn’t really to get cardio in, it’s just been really cold in D.C. lately so I wanted to get back inside quickly.)

I’ve learned that some days I just have to multi-task and let that be enough. Am I working out at my peak performance level when I’m doing two things at once? No. I’m usually not. But I learned long ago not to let the idea of Perfect stop me from at least accomplishing Better Than Nothing.

So letting myself multi-task is one way I’m dragging myself into some type of physical activity. A more aggressive trick I use, though, is committing to a race. That gives me a deadline I need to work towards which helps keep me from making excuses for missing workouts. I recently heard an example of this same concept used in an entirely different context in D.C. and it reminded me of the power of a deadline.

I was attending an event where a former presidential speechwriter was sharing his experiences working at the White House. He was asked how he got to the point where he felt like a speech was “done” and he admitted – you really never do. He said sometimes the way he got a speech finished was by looking at the calendar, seeing that the President was speaking on a certain date, and accepting the fact that a speech would have to be done by then, no matter what.

He couldn’t let perfectionism keep him from finishing a speech. An event was happening, so a speech had to be written. Period.

When I put a race on the calendar, it does a similar thing to me. I could say my life isn’t perfectly suited for a fitness routine right now. I could say I’ll eventually get around to working out again, some day. Or I can put money down now on a race occurring on a specific date in the future and accept the fact that that race is happening, no matter what. Either I work towards being able to finish it, or it will happen without me, thereby wasting my money. Either way – it’s happening. So I should probably do what it takes to finish it.

If you, too, are struggling with too many items on your To Do list, consider multi-tasking to make getting in workouts more manageable, or setting race deadlines that force you to commit. Who knows, maybe I can start a new trend that combines the two: 5k-race course inside a grocery store, anyone?

Dana Ayers is the author of the #1 Best Seller “Confessions of an Unlikely Runner (A Guide to Racing and Obstacle Courses for the Averagely Fit and Halfway Dedicated).” Dana accidentally became a runner over 10 years ago and has logged a vast array of average finish times since. She is a former White House staffer, and current military reservist.