You have time for your health

In my book, I write extensively about leveraging the power of exercise to proactively counter depressive symptoms.

Exercise produces direct physiological and psychological benefits – naturally produced benefits – that can provide tremendous leverage in achieving liberation from depressive symptoms. However, they can only be realized when we make that conscious choice to be proactive and actually engage in regular physical activity – even when faced with painful symptoms.

My wife and I work full-time. We have four kids who are involved in sports and other activities. We have a house and property to maintain. I volunteer and coach with our local hockey association. Life is busy, and sometimes overwhelming. So where could I possibly find the time to join a gym or attend a boot camp program? With a life as seemingly chaotic as ours, it was easy to come up with excuses when it came to exercise and managing my health. But deep down inside, I always felt a linger of guilt, tormented by a quote I once heard, by Henry David Thoreau:

“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?”

Reflect on this for a moment: ants spend their time building shelter (i.e. ant hills) and collecting food. These tasks are necessary to the ant’s survival and are therefore a productive use of an ant’s time. It begs the question: am I being as productive with my time? Am I doing what is necessary to ensure my own survival? Enter: Guilt.

I feel guilty because I know perfectly well that allocating time to my personal health and wellness should certainly be a priority. Especially considering that quality of life depends on quality of health, not only physically but mentally as well.

Guilt wins. Realizing this, I decided to sit down and do an audit of how I was spending my time throughout the course of a day. I thought like the ants and focused first on tasks essential to my survival. These are the daily tasks that are non-negotiable so to speak. Sleeping is a non-negotiable task. Eating is non-negotiable. By identifying the amount of time I was spending on tasks essential to my survival throughout the course of a 24 hour day, I could calculate how much time I had available for non-essential tasks.

Here is what my time audit of essential tasks looked like for a typical work week (Monday to Friday):

Time Allocated to Essential Tasks: Monday – Friday

Sleeping:             6 hrs             About 25% of a 24 hour day

Eating:                 4 hrs             Shopping, preparing meals, cleaning up

Shelter:                2 hrs             Cleaning house and basic maintenance

Working:              9 hrs             Includes commuting to and from work

Total:                   21 hrs


For a typical work week, an average 21 hours out of a total 24 hours day (87%) of my time is dedicated to my survival. This leaves me with 3 hours per day for doing things that are non-essential to my survival. Does not sound like much.

What about the weekend?

Time Allocated to Essential Tasks: Saturday – Sunday

Sleeping:             6 hrs              About 25% of a 24 hour day

Eating:                 4 hrs             Shopping, preparing meals, cleaning up

Shelter:                2 hrs             Cleaning house and basic maintenance

Total:                   12 hrs


I don’t typically work on the weekend so I can remove this task from my audit. This provides me with an additional 12 hours per day to spend on non-essential tasks (24 hours per day – 12 hours on essential tasks). So for an entire week, I accumulate 39 hours of time non-essential to my personal survival:

Work week:       (3 hrs/day x 5 days)        15 hrs

Weekend:          (12 hrs/day x 2 days)      24 hrs

Total:                                                         39 hrs


Enter quote: “It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?”

I have determined by my time audit that I spend 129 hours out of a 168 hour week, or 77% of my time working like and ant, trying to survive. This is a productive use of my time.

This leaves me with 39 hours per week to do things that are not essential to survival. So to answer the question above: what are we busy about? Consider some possible tasks that fall under the “non-essential” side of the time audit balance sheet:

Essential Tasks Non-Essential Tasks
Sleeping Read
Eating TV
Shelter Play
Working Hobby

These tasks are non-essential to survival, and are therefore negotiable. You choose whichever tasks you want to do throughout the course of a work week or weekend. But note the simple irony:

Your ability to effectively complete the very essential tasks that ensure your survival, your quality of life, is a direct function of your physical and mental well-being, or health. But notice that “exercise” is listed under non-essential tasks on your time audit.

This means that exercise is perceived as a non-essential task that is easily interchangeable with other non-essential tasks, like watching television. Warning, this next part may sting: whether you like to admit it or not, you are gifted with the freedom to choose among your non-essential tasks. You have the freedom to choose every day whether to go for a walk or sit on the couch and reach for the remote.

It’s easy to get defensive. It’s easy to rationalize our choices and convince ourselves that sitting on the couch is deserved or that we’re too tired to exercise. I understand this because I’m guilty of it too. But when this becomes habitual, when we consistently gravitate to the couch instead of the treadmill, then the gravitational pull influencing our decision making (i.e. our choices) shifts from “principle-based” to what I call “intentorance-based” (“ignorance” but with “good intentions”). Nurturing this attitude strengthens perceived intentorance making it easier to kick off the sneakers and reach for the remote.

When you are ignorant to your health, you put your ability to survive (i.e. the ability to perform essential tasks) at risk. Your quality of life is threatened. Doubt me? Then climb that elephant in the room, Google health statistics around mortality rates and morbidity (incidence of disease) in North America and see for yourself.

At this point in the article, you have a choice. Continue to fool yourself (albeit good intentions) by rationalizing ignorance, or open your eyes to reality, to the risks and choose to do something about it. It begins by re-prioritizing your non-essential tasks, specifically the exercise task.

The goal is to make exercise, or your health management, an essential, non-negotiable task. On paper, this means we erase the exercise task from the non-essential side of the time balance sheet, and place it under the essential side. By this simple exercise, you can change your perspective: your health is viewed just as important as going to work, sleeping and eating. It becomes an essential component of your long-term survival. This in fact, is the reality.

As easy it is to rationalize in favor of the couch instead of exercising, lets rationalize the inevitable downward spiral: if you are ignorant about your health, you get sick. This impedes your ability to work. This affects your productivity and income potential. This creates stress. Stress affects your ability to sleep and eat which in turn affects your health. You get sicker. The spiral continues…

“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?”