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How your health and your freelance career can serve each other

How freelance creatives can use exercise to structure their day

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Photo by "My Life Through A Lens" on Unsplash
Photo by "My Life Through A Lens" on Unsplash

Going out on your own can leave you feeling unstructured and directionless. When you don’t have to be anywhere, at any particular time, you can slip into a lazy routine without realising.

This is where exercise is key.

Follow The Way of Ye

Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is his masterpiece. Its conception tale is almost as good as the music.

But not to get too bogged down, how did Kanye assemble his talented but unwieldy team of collaborators and focus them every day?

By having breakfast and playing basketball.

Every day, breakfast was at 10am. Then every morning the whole crew, save Cudi (smoking weed) and RZA (smashing weights), go to play basketball.

Only after a few games of 21 would they convene for meetings and get down to producing timeless music.

Exercise would bond the group, enable them to relax and prepare them to work.

Start your day the right way

You can do the same thing. You may not have a bunch of superstar rappers with you but you can kick off with a burst of exercise.

The key here, is to chain your exercise habit to something you do without fail, every day.

I do press-ups as soon as I get out of bed. Usually naked.

The beauty of this, apart from the nudity, is that although the time might vary, I always wake up and I always get out of bed. Now for me, press-ups are the next thing I do. By now it feels wrong to not do them.

By doing exercise as soon as you wake up, you get a win before you’ve even had a shower.

Body beautiful – why bodyweight exercise is best

Sure you might lift weights or jump rope. You might put your gear on and go running. You might.

But when it’s cold outside, or you forgot to wash your gear, or you left the jumprope downstairs, you’ll let that habit slide.

With bodyweight exercise, you have no excuse. You don’t even need any clothes.

Bodyweight exercise is easy to do, doesn’t take much time and you can scale the difficulty.

If you get too good at something, it’s easy to make it harder.

Once I could bang out 100 in a row, something that felt impossible when I started, I changed my goals. I made the exercise harder, doing fewer reps. You can change the load, the tempo or the focus. It’s up to you.

Take a Cold Shower

Hitting yourself with a blast of icy water has so many benefits. Firstly it’ll cool you off if you’ve heated up from your bodyweight exercise but it will also wake you up and sharpen your mind for the day ahead.

OK, it’s not exercise, but it’s an exercise adjacent technique – cold therapy is used across a range of professional sports to aid recovery and now the wider public are waking up to its benefits too.

Its main benefit though, is psychological. Before I’ve even put my clothes on, I’ve done some exercise and had a cold shower. I’ve prioritised my health and wellbeing and I’ve barely been awake 5 minutes.

It reminds me what my priorities are, that I can take on a challenge and that I’m consistent and focussed in my approach. All characteristics that will help you to get ahead in your creative career.

Fasting

When I was a professional rugby player, I had to eat a lot to add muscle mass during preseason and keep it on during the regular season. I didn’t calorie count, I was always near the best scores during body fat testing, but I dread to think how much food I was putting away. There was a point where I couldn’t feel full, no matter how much I ate.

Now I’m ‘retired’ though, I don’t have the luxury of being able to eat anything I want. Even with my exercise snacks, I’d put on weight. Not in a good way.

So I fast.

I usually do 16 hours, taken from my last meal at night until around lunchtime the next day, at least 5 out of 7 days a week.

Why does this help my creative work?

Because once I’m up, there’s very little to think about. I can bang out some press-ups, have a cold shower and then I could just get going. No messing about, no commute, no need to prepare a meal. I can be up and going before you know it.

Then I get to use my lunchtime to take stock of what I need to do later that day, take my time to craft a really enjoyable and nourishing meal from quality ingredients and sit there to linger over it. I can even eat the breakfast foods I missed out on if I so choose.

Time for business

I like to round off my day with some more serious exercise where I use kettlebells, or resistance exercises to blow off some steam. These sessions rarely take longer than 30 minutes but they’re effective.

Sometimes I take a more of a personal challenge approach, giving myself an arbitrary target to hit, something like 100 burpees. Giving yourself a big target that feels a bit ridiculous, that you might not be able to do it, grants you a sense of satisfaction and confidence in yourself when you manage it.

It isn’t always these things. Some days I get to a pool. If it’s a beautiful evening or I’m in the right place, I go for a run. During my time digital nomadding in Portugal I’d go for a surf.

Whatever it is, I use it to celebrate the end of the day, break a sweat and get out of my head for a bit. It works a treat.

Late Night Self Love

Now here we’re not talking onanism. Later in the evening, as I wind down and prepare for bed, I like to do a short stretch or a foam roll of just 5-10 minutes to help recover from the day, improve my posture (paying particular attention to my back to avoid lumbago like symptoms from desk work) and relax before going to sleep.

Sometimes I like to do some more creative work in the evenings like writing or posting on my blog which I find is a great way to experiment and to connect with other people (if you want a good primer on starting one then here you go). Although this is great creatively, using my devices and exercising my mind can leave me feeling alert late in the evening. Stretching enables me to calm my mind and prepare for bed.

Some of these stretches are just pulled from the memory banks of my athletic career, some are targeted at tight spots or, if I want to be directed, I use a free app for a bit of guidance.

I use the time to reflect on the day, what I’ve got done and what I’ll need to think about tomorrow.

Even though I’ve done a full day of work, I’ve ensured that my career and my health don’t compromise each other. Even better, I’ve given myself the best possible opportunity to succeed with both.

I know what my constraints are and what I need to get done from a health perspective. My work then, gets the respect it deserves in the time I create for it. Even if the times can be fluid, I know what the touchstones in my day are and I make sure I hit them.

Align your healthy habits with your preferred working rhythm and you’ll find that each pursuit pushes the other along. Over time as this compounds, you’ll make some incredible progress.

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