THE BLOG

How to Transform Your Life When You're Short on Time

06/05/2013 08:21 am ET | Updated Aug 05, 2013

If you're anything like me, you find that your life's to-do list grows longer each year while your available time seems to grow shorter. Perhaps you make the same resolutions each season (lose weight, eat better, stress less... sound familiar?) only to find that you do not have the freedom in your schedule to fulfill them. I know I find that the longer I live, the more I want to accomplish, and yet the responsibilities I carry continue to grow. The following are five strategies that I have used to transform my life that don't take much time (or money!).

Interval Training

I have been an exercise devotee for the last 20 years, yet I have only added HIIT (high-intensity interval training) in the last few years. HIIT can take many forms, all of which consist of intervals of intense activity followed by intervals of rest. I primarily utilize two different types of intervals. When the weather is agreeable, I love to get outside and run sprints -- either 100 or 200 yards. I aim for 10-15 sprints with walking rest periods between. When the weather is formidable, I turn to the elliptical machine for Tabata sprints -- eight repetitions of 20 seconds of 100 percent effort followed by 10 seconds of rest. Sounds easy, doesn't it? I only made it five repetitions on my first attempt and spent the next several minutes collapsed on the floor! Tabata intervals can be done with any compound movement (stationary bike, rowing machine, squats, etc.), which makes them great for those who want intensity yet cannot tolerate the joint stress associated with sprinting.

Within months of adding HIIT, my body fat dropped to the lowest it has ever been and I developed a six-pack for the first time in my life (in my 30s!). My cardiovascular endurance increased and I found it easier to tackle hills on longer runs. HIIT should only be done two to three times per week, so I replaced a few of my longer workouts with intervals that only take a fraction of the time. The net result is that I work out less and have better results.

True HIIT should only be introduced into your routine if you already have some baseline fitness and a doctor's approval, but you can use the principle of intervals regardless of your fitness levels. Instead of walking for 60 minutes at a steady pace, try shortening your walk to 30 or 40 minutes and alternating a faster pace with a slower one. You can increase your calorie burn while decreasing the time commitment.

Green Smoothies

It takes time to eat healthy. Planning, shopping and preparing real foods takes more time than going through the drive-through. For years, I lived on prepared "healthy" foods. You know, the ones that loudly proclaim "low-fat," "no cholesterol" or "whole grains" on their labels. Of course, there is often an inverse relationship between the advertising dollars (including packaging claims!) of a product and its healthfulness. The best foods are often the ones with no label at all that require preparation to eat.

My solution to the dilemma of wanting to eat well and yet having limited time to prepare meals was to make green smoothies a mainstay of my diet. These nutritious smoothies are a blend of fruits, greens, healthy fats and spices. They are simple to make, tasty (I promise!) and super healthy. Since I replaced premade drinks and meals with green smoothies, my immune system has become stronger (I catch a fraction of the colds I used to), my digestion smoother and my hair and nails look better. And I love starting my day with a green gingersnap or carrot cake smoothie!

Yoga

I used to view yoga as glorified stretching. I dabbled in it now and again but never gave it much effort. Until my divorce, that is. I turned to yoga as part of my therapy and I had no idea how much it would change my life. Regardless of the form of yoga you choose, it teaches you how to accept discomfort, whether physical or mental, and breathe through the distress. Yoga shows you how to push beyond your perceived limitations and accomplish things you once believed were impossible. It guides you to find that magical balance between effort and ease, work and rest. Over time, yoga helps you to approach life with persistence and acceptance, two life-changing attributes.

You can look for convenient classes at a nearby studio, gym or YMCA. Or, if you are really short of time, you can also find high-quality yoga instruction in digital form. My favorite of these is the website Yogaglo, which, for $18 a month, offers a large array of classes searchable by level, style, goal, time and body part. I love the fact that I can find a 20-minute class to relieve tension in my lower back or participate in 60 minutes of core strengthening. It even has a pause button if the phone rings or the baby cries!

Meditation

I used to view meditation as a waste of time. My to-do list is a mile long and you want me to take time to do nothing? Yeah, right! My sporadic attempts at meditation were laughable. I'd sit cross-legged with my hands on my knees and think about what I was going to make for lunch or growl at the mess my fiancé left in the kitchen. Not exactly om material!

Then, last year, I committed to a 30-day meditation challenge. I had been reading about the benefits of meditation and I wanted to give it a fair shot. For the next month, I sat every day for at least 10 minutes. I practiced focusing on the breath and letting thoughts flow right through my mind. The results were impressive. I found that I was more patient and less likely to become overwhelmed, which meant that my busy life felt more doable even though I took time away.

If meditation intimidates you (as it did me!), try downloading an app or podcast that provides a guided practice. It's usually recommended that you sit for at least 20 minutes, but I found that the benefits are available even in shorter intervals. By taking a few minutes each day to simply "be" you will find it much easier to "do."

Family Walks

I've always envied those families that manage to have daily meals together. That's just never been a reality in my life due to conflicting work schedules and other limitations. And I don't even have kids! I can't even imagine how difficult it can be to fit in a family meal between work, practices and the kids needing an early dinner before bed.

I decided to separate the family time from the food. Instead of family dinner, we engage in family walks. This is a time when all electronics are left behind and we can talk and reconnect while getting some exercise at the same time. I have found that it is much easier to find a time when everyone can meet for a walk than meet for a meal and it doesn't even matter if you have picky eaters in your group. A tradition of family walks helps to create unity and bonding at any time of the day. So, grab the leash and the stroller and get walking!

It's easy to think that change is not possible without lots of time and money, but that's just an excuse to stick with the status quo. With just a little effort and creativity, it is possible to transform your life in only minutes a day. What are you waiting for?

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