Follow this simple strategy and keep those New Year's resolutions

Work's piling up, you have voice and e-mail you haven't gotten to yet, and you still haven't studied for an upcoming certification exam. What should you do? In this week's IT Certification Corner, Erik Eckel recommends you take a walk.

It’s really easy to make New Year’s resolutions. Keeping them is the hard part.

As an IT professional, it’s likely you resolved to earn or maintain a certification in 2002. Almost everyone also vows to lose weight, exercise more, or commit to some type of health program. I have a single tip that can help you meet both of these popular resolutions.

Unfortunately, one of the methods you may have chosen, studying at lunch to help you earn or maintain certification, isn’t necessarily the best way to go. Don’t rush off to the drive-through window for a burger and fries just yet. Instead, use your lunch hour to exercise.

Before you say, “But I don’t have time,” consider the following.

Actually, you can make time
Look, you have to eat. Skip meals, and your on-the-job performance will degrade more quickly than an unplugged T-1 generates help desk calls. While eating at our desks is a compromise many of us make, including myself, you can sandwich in exercise at lunch.

If you’re skeptical, consider an experience I had late last fall. My date with destiny was bearing down. I was due to take the Network+ exam. Preparation time was running out. In a moment of rare guilt, I told myself I could relax one evening the week before my test and make up the time by studying at lunch the next day.

But instead of studying, I ended up going for a quick 40-minute run near the office. I grabbed a sub on the way back and ate at my desk. No studying was done that day.

However, I found myself (as many studies have shown) calmer, relaxed, and better focused. Those are all traits any IT pro I know will find beneficial.

Get yourself started by blocking out your calendar an hour twice a week. I chose to block out noon to 1:00 P.M. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Make an hour or two on the weekends for exercise, and all of a sudden, you’re exercising four times a week without having to stay late at work, hit a gym, or miss family functions.

I believe I learn more and retain facts better when I exercise and eat properly. It sounds basic, I know. But whenever industry stress builds, I make myself exercise. Even if it’s just for a half hour, I invariably find myself more productive as a result.

Keep yourself fed and exercise often, and I bet you’ll find that studying for certification comes easier. Topics that may have confused you in the past should become easier to understand. Sitting in a chair and studying at night becomes easier, too, if you’ve burnt off nervous energy running, walking, swimming, cycling, or whatever earlier in the day.

One surefire sign that it’s time for me to exercise is when I find myself reading the same passage in a book repeatedly. Often, I’m fatigued and in no mood to exercise. But I’ve found that if I get a little exercise anyway, those passages magically become understandable when I return to them.

What exercise really works at lunch?
Of course, you’ll want to check with your physician before beginning any type of exercise program. That said, if you’re pressed for time, and you’re working in an urban center, even walking for a half hour has significant benefits. It’s important to get away from your desk, get fresh air, and get the blood moving.

If you work near a park or any facility that lends itself to running, take a jog. The benefits of running for just 30 minutes can be significant. Plus, you’re still left with time to shower. If you ever schedule a 1:00 P.M. meeting with me, don’t be surprised if I show up with some food. I’ve found taking a sub, salad, or sandwich back to my desk is no trouble, even if it means hitting a meeting with a meal.

Maybe swimming is your thing, or maybe you like basketball. Check for a YMCA or gym near the office, and I bet you can find a pool or pick-up game. Many companies even help defray health club expenses.

Just be sure to budget your time. As a cyclist, I know I don’t have time for a 50-mile ride in the middle of the day. I save those for the weekends. I’ve learned it’s important to manage my lunchtime exercise expectations. While you can’t run a marathon at lunch, the length and intensity of your workout isn’t what’s important: It’s the fact that you worked out.

It’s much more productive to run for a half hour than to skip exercise believing that a half-hour workout is not worth the effort. It is. Especially in the hectic world of IT.

Eckel’s take
If you’re going to grow professionally through certification, you have to look after yourself. Don’t feel guilty stepping away from the desk, or even the office, for an hour twice a week.

While you can force the certification process, it’s much more enjoyable—and you can be much more productive in the process—if you take some time out to take care of yourself. You’ll remember more of what you study in the long run, and you’ll likely find your concentration improves markedly. Workplace problems may even become more manageable.

So walk at lunch. Run if you can. Swim if that floats your boat. But get out twice during the week. In addition to helping you manage the stresses of certification, it’ll also help you live up to your other New Year’s resolution: to get (or stay) in shape.

How do you use exercise to help manage stress?
We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Post a comment or a question about this article.


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