Guest Post: Crazy Work Schedule? Go Easy on Yourself

Too Busy to Exercise? | Corporette Has life ever gotten so crazy that there was NO WAY you could work out? Sure, exercise is important, and everyone should do it regularly. We all know that. But Jewish Girl, the blogger behind Stuff Jewish Girls Like, reminds us that you shouldn’t feel guilty if it seems impossible right now to fit in regular workouts. Life (i.e., a crazy work schedule) sometimes gets in the way. I forget how I first discovered her blog, but I’ve been a reader for a few years — her life as a busy associate in a BigLaw firm (and adventures with shopping and fun stuff like the 30 Day Shred) sound, well, very familiar to me. Welcome to the blog, JG! – Kat.

Hello, Corporette readers! I’m JG, and up until last month (when I left private practice for a government job) I was a third-year associate at a big civil litigation firm. Before leaving, I found myself assigned to a particularly challenging trial team. The hours were extremely long, the room service was extremely plentiful, and within no time my pants followed suit: they became extremely tight. The experience taught me something new about exercising in the midst of utter professional chaos. I’m not talking about the chaos of working a few late nights or early mornings. I’m talking about the chaos of suddenly moving to a new city, living out of a hotel room, and working a seemingly never-ending string of 17- to 20-hour days.

Two weeks into the trial, somewhere in between my 3:30pm mango papaya smoothie and my 3:30am order of buffalo wings (with both ranch and bleu cheese dressing, because this girl loves her options), a fellow lawyer told me about a handy-dandy seven-minute workout anyone can do from the floor of their hotel room. It’s apparently perfect for those occasions when you are short on time and can’t devote yourself to a full hour in the gym. Great idea, right? After all, EVERYONE has seven minutes! Right? Sure! What’s more important that physical fitness, after all? Certainly NOT an extra bleu cheese dressing (just in case the ratio of cheese chunks to dressing was off in the first batch). Certainly not that.

The thing I learned about exercise while on this particular trial team — something I think we are taught to believe is never, ever true — is that sometimes you don’t even have seven minutes to exercise. Sometimes, you absolutely don’t have a single second to do anything other than work, eat, or curl up in the fetal position and cry until you fall into the fever-dreamish sleep of being completely, utterly, soul-crushingly overworked. And that’s okay. Sometimes, the biggest health-related victory of the day is simply not ordering the buffalo wings for a third night in a row. Sometimes, that’s okay.

Now, I’m not saying making time for exercise is unimportant. I’m not saying we shouldn’t find ways to stay fit and healthy when our normal routines are upended. Certainly, finding ways to squeeze in a workout even when we don’t have a lot of time is an important skill. Certainly, smoothies and buffalo wings and no exercise do not a sustainable lifestyle make.

But I believe that there are some times when the most loving thing we can do for ourselves is forgive ourselves the buffalo wings, put on our emergency stretchy pants, and resolve to do better once things settle down.

Maybe I’ll start with that seven minute workout.

(Pictured: Room, Serviced, originally uploaded to Flickr by ageing accozzaglia.)

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* As always, this guest poster has been invited by Kat to post on a subject of interest to the community. We value having different and diverse voices here, and indeed part of the benefit of guest bloggers is broadening the dialog beyond Kat’s own views. To that end, please note that opinions expressed by guest bloggers, like opinions expressed in comments, do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Kat, Katfry LLC, or any of our sponsors or other contributors.

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Comments

  1. Gently Now :

    I totally agree- when I am really stressed I think of how I would treat my sister or my best friend if they were in my shoes. Self-care is so important, especially when stressed.

    I’d tell them to go easy on themselves, I certainly would not say “well, eat cake for dinner, have half a bottle of wine, then force yourself to get up at 5am and go for an hour run before spending another 14 hours in your office”. I’d say “go home, have a salad or soup, take a 10 minute bath and go to bed as early as is possible, get as much sleep as you can, and go for a five minute walk outside in the morning”.

    • lawsuited :

      “I think of how I would treat my sister of my best friend if they were in my shoes”

      Great advice. We sometimes forget to show ourselves the same compassion we show others.

  2. I guess. This seems like a slippery slope though. Excuse the lack of exercise I guess but stay away from the buffalo wings.

    • A slippery slope to what? Taking the best care of yourself you can manage while doing an impossibly difficult job? Have you were worked 20 hours days? Weight control isn’t a priority.

      • Yup, my priorities on days like this are 1. Make it out alive, 2. Be sure to eat, and 3. Get as much sleep as is possible. That’s it.

        • Sadly, on my most hectic, hectic days, my only goal is: make it out alive.

      • Anonymous :

        Honestly, though, it’s just not possible to safely/healthfully work 20 hour days on a regular basis. Until attorneys, bankers, etc. decide for themselves that their health matters more than the job, the prestige, the salary, etc. and stop taking these jobs, it won’t change.

    • +1. For me, it is okay to skip work outs if I am very busy or even just plain exhausted. But when I do that, I make sure I don’t eat sugary and oily food.

      • I’m with ya. I feel worse about myself and also feel physically worse/ill if I eat a lot of junk food and am working crazy hours and sleep deprived. If I’m slammed, I’m ok with not working out but I’ll eat healthy to try to compensate.

    • I agree totally that it’s a slippery slope to gaining a lot of weight- and gaining weight would just make me more stressed out, and feel even worse. I’m better off skipping dinner and trying to fit in exercise.

      • Anonymous :

        Hi. I’m reality. It’s nice to meet you. When you are staffed on a busy trial team, you eat every meal together in a war room. There are no breaks. The notion that you’d leave to exercise is laughable and would be treated as a joke.

        • Wildkitten :

          Maybe Pince’s busiest isn’t on a trial team, but is in a different format where she has more autonomy over her scarce time.

        • This article wasn’t solely about being on a trial team. It was about what to prioritize during extremely busy or stressful time periods. This comment was expressing what this person would do in a similar (but not necessarily identical situation).

        • Not even all trials are like that. This was a very condescending reply to a perfectly reasonable post.

        • Alanna of Trebond :

          A different perspective: I have worked 20 hour days on a trial team and I actually worked out more (partly because I went crazy) — every morning at 2:30 or 3:30am when I finished my work for the day, except on the days that I worked until 5am, when I slept. Incidentally, even the people who didn’t sleep worked out (but that’s because exercise can also make one feel better).

          I am editing to say that the post is wonderful about letting yourself relax when times are tough. I suppose sometimes trial can be an adrenaline rush that makes one want to do more. I am much more likely to be blah about food and exercise when I am going through a period of boring work–not necessarily busier.

        • Somehow I made it through at 2+ month Federal patent trial (that we won) and managed to fit in exercise a few days a week and healthy eating. Probably because we stayed at an extended stay with a fridge and stove in our rooms instead of the Ritz. The other parties in the case questioned our hotel choice but they all probably gained 10 pounds. The problem is not this poor Associate. It is the people leading the trial team. They are unorganized and poor leaders and are used to “churning” up the bills thinking that 20 hour days are necessary. How productive is someone after the 12 hour mark???

  3. As an attorney with a new baby, I totally agree. I try to get workouts in on the weekends, but on weekdays I usually can’t squeeze one in without reducing my sleep….and I need my sleep. Oh well, weekend workouts will have to do for now.

  4. What you eat is much much more relevant to your weight than your workout routine, especially if your workout is mainly cardio. Running a mile burns (give or take) a bit over 100 calories. A three mile run barely covers a couple buffalo wings.
    If your time is severely constrained, if you’re concerned about weight, focusing on your diet will do much more than a 7-minute workout. Even if you’re eating all your meals out, there’s usually a better option that wings + bleu cheese.

    • Wildkitten :

      Eating healthy can require planning ahead, which can be hard if you don’t have an assistant. I don’t know anywhere that delivers a salad at 3:30 am – maybe in NYC?

    • Totally. I was on a 6-week trial, and while it wasn’t as bad as the poster’s, I was working 12-14 hour days. I just tried not to eat fried food, eat salads for dinner with dressing on the side, and if I needed a pick-me-up I had a mini candy bar or two. I think I managed to avoid any noticeable weight gain.

      You just have to accept that this is a period when you cannot keep your usual gym routine, and it will pass, and you will get back. Let it go, let it go . . .

  5. One of the things I really struggle with in this kind of situation is that exercise *is* a form of self-care… it’s just a harder one to get yourself to do than snuggling up with room service and the remote. I know that exercise will help me to be less stressed and feel better physically, but when I get overwhelmed it’s often the first thing to go.

    I don’t have an answer to that dilemma, and I 1000% agree that beating yourself up about any of that while working 14 hour days isn’t healthy.

  6. momentarily anonymous :

    I’m very diligent about exercising when I’m in “normal practice” mode so that when I have a crazy signing or closing (or 2 or 3 or 4 stacked on top of each other)…I don’t feel guilty about skipping the gym to work. It’s sort of like I “bank” my exercise for when I get busy. Then, once work lets up, I get back to my regular routine.

    I also think it’s important to maintain some sort of routine when I’m busy, which for me means:
    – eating the same thing for lunch & dinner every day (healthy, filling, doesn’t cause an unexpected stomach ache)
    – wearing the same 5 outfits on repeat (my favorite ones, also most comfortable)
    – keeping my late night/weekend outfit in the office, and changing into it at midnight (minnie pants from j crew, thick jersey blouse and wrap sweater) for comfort
    – reading my normal blogs in the car home at night
    – texting my friends rather than calling them (easier to respond at my leisure)

  7. I totally hear what JG is saying. It is HARD to squeeze in even a 7 minute workout when you’re crazy busy. I’m not talking about “normal busy.” When you’re crazy busy, it’s not a matter of ordering in room service and relaxing instead of working out. The choices really are only: work, sleep, maybe take a 15 min walk/break to talk to your family. When we’re at trial, we’re working 20 hour days, food is ordered for the whole team so you don’t waste time going out to get it, and snacks are stocked in the work room for you….definitely a recipe for disaster if you’re not careful.

    The “self care” I try to do in the crazy busy times: (1) ask for healthy items to be stocked: non-fat yogurts, fresh fruit and veggies; (2) limit my caffeine…I find too much just causes me to have too many ups and downs, and then I feel sluggish; (3) walk outside every day! the fresh air can be amazing; (4) take at least 5 minutes in the morning and 5 at night to talk to my husband and have a meaningful conversation. When I can’t exercise, I feel better just knowing I’m making the best eating choices I can…hence stocking up on fresh fruit and veggies.

  8. BankrAtty :

    Not buying it. Even when I’m absolutely slammed, I can still find 20 minutes, three days a week–usually first thing in the morning–to move my body. There will always be a reason not to take care of yourself. Prioritizing self-care is important, perhaps most so when you’re being pushed to your limits.

    • That’s great for you, but not everyone can do that, or wants to. If I’m working until 1 AM, I’m not getting up at 6:30 to exercise (or at least I didn’t, this week). Like the poster below, I need to sleep, more than I need to go for a 3-mile run (or even a 2-mile run if I’m trying to save time) before work. I think it’s ok to excuse yourself from your usual routine under extreme circumstances.

    • Maybe that works for you. If I’m coming off of several nights with a max of 4 hours sleep, that 40 total minutes of extra sleep will do me MUCH more good than 40 minutes of exercise. I just can’t function on that little sleep, but some people can.

      • Also, the definition of “self-care” is not “daily exercise”. It might include daily exercise, for some people, or regular (multiple times per week) exercise, or 100% healthy eating, or 80% healthy eating, or nightly 10 minute bubble baths, or a quick roll in the hay when you get home at 3am, or whatever…it’s what works for YOU.

        I’m just not sure why anyone would get their knickers in a twist over whether or not other women are choosing to use their precious little free time on a super busy day to do X Y or Z. You do you.

    • Anonymous :

      What aren’t you buying? That other people have different priorities and appreciate a little reassurance that you’re not always going to be perfect, sometimes keeping your head above water is enough ?

    • Well, awesome for you! You’ll probably look better in your suit, and I will be kicking your *ss all over the courtroom.

    • Frou Frou :

      Sorry, don’t agree. In my last trial, I was up until 2 am, and then back up again at 6:30 am. There’s no way I’m squeezing in 20 minutes to move in the am when I’m expected to speak coherently in court on 4 hours of sleep.

  9. Also, sleep is just as important as exercise. Actually, more so. Not saying that 7 minutes of sleep vs 7 minutes of exercise makes a big deal, but trading an hour and a half of sleep for an hour of exercise + shower, if I’m sleep deprived, is absolutely worse for me.

    Worse for my ability to work well and efficiently. Worse for my metabolism. And worse for my craving of sugary or fatty foods.

    • I agree with Alice to the extent that you need to know what works best for you. For me, if I’m running full-steam at work for days on end, trading 1.5 hours of sleep for 1.5 hours of exercise + shower is absolutely better for me. I’m more productive, I have more energy (and sustained energy instead of peaks and valleys), I have more focus, etc. But I know others who, like Alice, are the exact opposite. Do whatever works for you.

    • For me, sleep >>>>>> exercise.
      It’s more important that my head is clear and I can do what I need to do without falling asleep on my papers. If I’m sleep deprived, I can’t drive, I can’t focus, and it’s just a big mess because all I want to do is sleep. haha.

  10. I’m not working hours that crazy but I love my sleep and after commuting, I’m gone 12-14hrs a day. I definitely need to work on fitting exercise in my routine and I sometimes beat myself up about it. However, when I started my job, I was paranoid about gaining weight so I made a conscious decision to eat less at any one time, eat more often and eat healthier. I need good energy from food. I travel a lot for work, so I made sure to stop eating when I was a 6 or 7 on the 1-10 full scale. I don’t order the tastiest item on the menu (unless we’re somewhere really awesome and unique. I know when to pick and choose). The one element of planning I always do: snacks. When I’m traveling, I stock up on fruit for the week. When I’m not traveling, I still try to stock up on food but I also have healthy snacks such as trail mix (single servings in snack bags), snacks from Graze Box, Nature Box (just to switch it up). Most importantly I’ve made it about portions and I made myself have the self control not to over eat. My personal trainer and nutritionist friends have said it’s 80% diet 20% exercise and while I’m in my 20’s with a 20something metabolism, I lost weight doing this and I haven’t worked out consistently in there years.

    • There were a few weeks when I was actually doing short little 20 minute exercise routines. I did them while my chicken or fish was cooking in the toaster oven for 20 minutes. Then sometimes, the little oven would go “DING!” when my routine was almost over, and I’d suddenly have a lot of motivation to finish the routine so I can eat delicious food. hahaha.

  11. JG – I read your blog for a long time but hadn’t checked it in awhile. Congratulations on your new gig! Sounds like a perfect fit for someone like you who thrives on the trial experience. I selfishly hope you’ll continue blogging but I understand why you might not.

  12. There’s SO much judgment in some of these “not buying it” type posts–and I think a lot of that judgment is why, when we’re working 20 hour days for three weeks straight during a trial, some of us feel guilty about what other women think about us not exercising on TOP OF our stress, instead of just stress from the trial or whatever. I know for me, if I’m only getting 4 or (if lucky!) 5 hours of sleep during an extremely busy time, 15 extra minutes of sleep is much more important than 15 minutes of HIIT.

    • Anonymous :

      I’m not judging, but in the case of my *personal* contacts, I also don’t have any sympathy when I hear “wahhhh my pants are too tight” or “I can’t keep up in spin anymore” when I know that they are exaggerating how busy they are or how difficult it is to get away. I’ve been on 20-hr day trial teams, so I know when you cannot leave the war room, but I also know that if you’re alone in ordering a $300 in-room Skittles bar as a nightcap while watching Netflix and humblebragging #bigconsultingperks on Facebook, you probably could’ve skipped calories and just gone to bed earlier vs. whining so much. Same with the guys staying out until 4am for bottle service with only some of the team (so not a “team bonding” experience that everyone effectively must be present for). It’s the same when a friend who spends hundreds every weekend on high-end dinners out and drinks complains that she’s “like, soooo poor”–if that’s how she wants to spend her money, that’s totally her call. But I don’t have sympathy that she’ll be paying her student loans off until she’s 53.

      • Anonymous :

        I got timed out while editing to add: I completely agree with the above that everyone has different priorities and especially that self-care means different things to different people. I cannot function on very little sleep, so on days trial was in session, I too usually opted for an extra 20 minutes of sleep versus going for a run before getting in the shower. I think to the extent people are reacting, it’s a reaction to the ever-present busybrag.

      • I don’t have sympathy for those people, either, but I don’t think everyone who can’t fit in a workout when they’re in trial or whatever is one of those people. In fact, I think 90% of them aren’t.

  13. lawsuited :

    Where did this moral imperitive against wings and bleu cheese dressing come from?

    • True fact: my lunch today included a bunch of roasted vegetables from the farmers market and a bunch of leftover buffalo wings from dinner last night :) (no bleu cheese, though – nothing against it but I like my hot wings HOT and bleu cheese/ranch dilutes that).

  14. I know many of us are trying to be perfect, and it’s nice to have a reminder that none of us are. Since I started in big law, I just don’t exercise like I used to. I know I should be only eating healthy and still exercising, but I am freaking exhausted and simple pleasures like candy might be the highlight of the day. If I lose a year of my life as a result, I am going to blame the job rather than myself.

  15. I feel like I’m reading a lot of fat-shaming or fit-shaming into these comments. For me the takeway from J.G.’s post was to remember to go easy on yourself, or to forgive yourself when your habits stray from the ideal because of work pressures and stress. I find it sad that so many ladies’ responses are along the lines of “but, ew, you might gain weight!” or “you can ALWAYS work out (a.k.a. you’re lazy if you don’t).”

    • +1

      • Playing DressUP :

        This. Life is hard – let’s support each other, especially during hard times like crazy work and/or life.

    • Nan, I completely agree.

      I read this earlier today and it seems very relevant:

      “When we seek shelter in the better than – safer than – different than thinking, we are actually choosing fear and that requires us to self-protect and arm ourselves with judgment and self-righteousness.” – Brene Brown

    • OttLobbyist :

      +1 At the end of the day, I want to be judged on my work. While appearance and health are important (and the stress-busting benefits of exercise, too) if working 20 hour days and eating whatever is easiest every now and then gets me and my clients where we need to be, I am okay with that, because that is the career path I have chosen. I find it strange at how surprised people are that they don’t have time for normal life things. We all came to this over-achieving chick thing willingly, and probably knew what we were getting into. Be good when you can, and don’t beat yourself up when you can’t (or just don’t want to).

    • No, I agree. I’m going through a particularly tough phase at work and I know it won’t end until January but that it’s good for my career. I don’t even think this will really be over until 2 years from now when I have the amount of experience I want/need to leave and go elsewhere. I’m willing to put in these two years and I’m especially aware that I need to get through the next four months.

    • Anonymous :

      Not everyone is okay with getting fat because of work. And it’s stupid to pretend otherwise.

      • Right, but that has nothing to do with this post!It’s just judgment and shaming.

    • Alanna of Trebond :

      What IS fit-shaming? I don’t understand why it is bad.

      • The assumption that those who are not fit or who don’t exercise regularly are lazy or unmotivated rather than having other valid priorities, health issues, etc. That not working out is some kind of moral failing.

        • Alanna of Trebond :

          Honestly, that just sounds like a judgment for having different priorities and doesn’t need the label “shaming.” That’s like saying someone is “work-shaming” me if they don’t understand having a biglaw job, and think I should work in government. Or if I don’t have a smartphone, can people “phone-shame” me?

          • You can call it whatever you want; in both cases, that would be pretty lousy behavior; in the second case, I’d probably just call is “classism.”

  16. I LOVE the 7 minute app. I have it on my phone and set it for 3 rounds of 7 minutes which is a full and complete workout.

    If you only have 7 minutes though, it’s way more effective than nothing.

    • Here’s an article on the benefits of the 7 minute workout: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/09/the-scientific-7-minute-workout/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

    • Wildkitten :

      I don’t know who would want to “step-upon chair” in a hotel chair. I know, rationally, you can test out the chair and verify that it is stable, but I would just fall over and break myself/something.

      • I fall so much when I’m not doing things like stepping on a chair (total klutz over here) I don’t even bat an eye. haha

      • cavity maker :

        I don’t do this one actually. I sub in another activity, I don’t trust our chairs from our dining set either to hold up.

  17. AshleyPetra :

    Wow, reading all these comments actually made me feel much worse about myself. Somehow it seems that the comments to the post–which was about not going to hard on yourself sometimes, when you have competing priorities–have devolved into exactly what JG was speaking against. It just makes me wonder why we (I’m obviously including myself here too) do this and how we can resist the urge in the future.

    • I agree! I appreciate your post, JG. Keep on keeping on! Sometimes you’ve got to put your head down and WORK. We will figure out how to fix the ways of the world another day.

  18. Anonymous :

    I can’t imagine pulling 20 hour days for 3 weeks straight. Can you imagine what that does to your body? I’m sure it isn’t good. I applaud you all for your drive and intelligence but wow, what about plain old living life? How often does a trial happen where you have to work these kind of insane hours? If you have children that means you wouldn’t see them for 3 weeks straight. This is incomprehensible to me.

  19. Anonymous :

    I don’t think this is necessarily only about not exercising or eating right but at times (whether it be or work, a new baby or an unexpected life event or maybe all three at once) things go a bit off course or we make poor choices. Rather than dwell on what we did, we need to be forgiving and try harder going forward. I too had a life event (an illness with surgery) that threw me for a loop and which for a time afterward I gave myself a free pass to do what I wanted (and I really could not work out). Am I sad that I got somewhat out of shape, of course. But all I can do is right the course and carry on.