Are you too busy to run? Do you struggle to find the time to train? When you’re running are you constantly thinking of all the things you need to do when you get back? That can really spoil your enjoyment of the run itself and make you feel guilty for even heading out.

I definitely identify with this! I’ve put off many a run with the reasoning that I need to work, that I can’t spare the time. To become a runner I had to make time for it. I’m pretty obsessed by and very interested in time management. I’ve spent a lot of time reading and trying different techniques, striving to be super productive and achieve as much as I can in the shortest amount of time possible! That leaves more time for family, friends, and fun stuff like running. But what if you could combine running and work? What if you could lose the guilt about heading out when you have a work project waiting, a difficult conversation to have or a tricky email to compose? Well, there is an answer – productive running.

Productive running is a fantastic tool for busy people. But it’s also a wonderful way to come up with high quality ideas. Harness running and use its problem solving power to the max.

Here’s what to do:

  • Pick your problem. While you’re putting on your shoes have a think about what outcome you want. For example, I had a presentation I was struggling to create.
  • Plan your route. You don’t want to be worrying about where you’re going, your mind is going to be on other things. Somewhere quiet without road crossings is ideal.
  • Get thinking. Start right away. Just brain storm initially. When you’re settling into your run start ordering those thoughts in a logical way. For me I began with an overview of the main messages I wanted to get across in the presentation and then took it slide by slide.
  • Keep focused. Your mind will wander, it’s natural. If you’ve ever meditated you’ll know what I mean. Without realising it you suddenly find you’ve been thinking about something completely random for ten minutes. Don’t stress, just put those thoughts aside and return to the problem.
  • Keep moving. There’s a temptation to keep going over and recapping on the bit you have already solved. Don’t let this happen, keep moving forwards.
  • Capture it. The most frustrating thing about ideas you have when you’re running is that they can vanish the minute you stop! As soon as you get in, write them down – then eat and shower. Alternatively, what I like to do is to make a voice recording on my phone at a couple of points on the route. Just so I really don’t miss anything out.

It makes perfect sense that we can produce high quality results while we’re running. A study from Stanford University in 2014 showed that we’re 60 per cent more creative when we’re on the move. I certainly solve lots of problems and come up with ideas when I’m running. I have crazy thoughts such as running a marathon (done), writing a book (done …twice) and starting a business (done). Running has a lot to answer for but running has also made it all possible.

There’s the added bonus that the work I do after a run is often my strongest too. I’ll be more effective and efficient and achieve more after I’ve exercised. There’s good evidence to back up the science behind this with the boost in circulation, release of feel good brain chemicals and even an increase in the number of neurons (nerve cells) being made during endurance running.

Give it a try. Book a productive running slot in your work diary. Think of it as a meeting with yourself, the same way you might book a ‘walking meeting’. It really works! If you keep on track I think you’ll be amazed. It can take a bit of practice. I wouldn’t recommend doing it on all your runs though. Sometimes your mind just needs to be free and think about whatever springs into it, pressure free. It also doesn’t fit well with hard training sessions. It’s been a game changer for me. Work and run. Run and work. Have a go and let me know how you get on.

There’s more about productive running and also tips for mindful running in my new book Run Well: Essential health questions and answers for runners. Published by Bloomsbury and available to buy now. 

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