The Solution To Being More Productive — At Work & At The Gym

Illustrated by Marina Esmeraldo.
I love meetings. Call me crazy, but I’m really into the face time, brainstorming, and an excuse to get up from my desk for a few minutes. But, it’s not lost on me that most people do not share this opinion. I get it. The conference room — even at a creative, fun place like Refinery29 — isn’t exactly an inspiring space. Plus, you’ve got other stuff to do. “Most meetings are about meetings,” Lena Dunham wrote in a 2013 Vanity Fair piece. “And if you have too many meetings about meetings you will get a very flu-ish feeling.” When you couple that with this fancy study that shows just how unproductive meetings can be, it’s clear she’s onto something.

But there's something to be said about collaborative time with coworkers. In this age of alternative workspaces, why not have an alternative for meetings, too?

Enter “sweatworking” — the art of taking your meetings over a workout. Alexa von Tobel, founder of LearnVest, swears by it and argues that working out is the one thing she keeps consistent in her busy schedule. “Having a meeting while getting in a workout is the easiest way for me to stay productive,” she said via email. “It ensures I'm taking care of myself even when my calendar becomes overwhelming.”

ClassPass CEO Payal Kadakia says she sees group workout meetings happen all the time. “Working out with colleagues is an engaging way to get out of the confines of the office and into an environment that fosters teamwork and camaraderie,” she told me in an email. “It's also just a great way to disconnect from always being 'plugged in' and find that mind-body connection that can energize you and help get the creative juices flowing.”

Intrigued, I decided to give it a try.

For two weeks, I tried to make every meeting I had — both with coworkers and with people at other companies — take place during a workout. I grabbed a month’s membership to ClassPass so I could try different studios all over the NYC. Then, I sent out an email to everyone I had scheduled meetings with during the first half of August to ask if we could take our meetings out of the conference room and make them more...well, sweaty.
August 6: Pure Barre
: Amanda*, reporter friend

Amanda and I struck up a friendship when we were both covering a work event in January. Since then, we typically meet up for lunch or breakfast. But, for the purpose of my sweatworking experiment, she was the perfect first companion. We were overdue for a meet-up, anyway.

She invited me to join her for a private Pure Barre class — just us two and the trainer. If you’ve never done Pure Barre before, it’s a total-body workout that uses a lot of small movements to get a deeper burn. In other words, it’s really hard and will make you question your will to live.

While Amanda and I didn’t exactly talk about story ideas or the journalism industry, we definitely got to a more personal level about our lives and jobs. We laughed about sex. We got real about reaching a point in your career when you have to assess whether you’re doing something to please others or to make yourself happy. These are things we may have eventually discussed over a beer, but in the class we were able to shed our egos and get completely vulnerable about it all. I would 100% do a meeting like this again.
August 11: Bike Ride
Meeting: Julia and Kirk, Refinery29 video team

Every Tuesday morning, Kirk, Julia, and I meet to work on scripts and plan shoots for our web series Five Phases. I asked them if they’d be willing to swap out our table-and-chairs setting for something more active. Kirk suggested riding bikes. So, we planned on renting Citibikes for a day.

Except, Tuesday turned out to be a crazy rainy day. We said we’d reschedule for the following week, but it never happened. Sometimes people have so many other meetings it’s easier to just pop in a conference room and get it over with.

August 19: Power Walk
Meeting: Neha, Refinery29 vice president of editorial strategy

When I told Von Tobel about my experiment, she said power walking was “probably the easiest way to talk and move at the same time.” So, I scheduled a walking meeting with Neha, our VP of editorial strategy. I had just written a successful story about a woman recently freed from death row, and I had some pitches to run by her for ways to replicate that win.

We walked and talked our way to Juice Press, where Neha was getting some lunch. I had mentioned my sweatworking project to her before I started and she was on board, and von Tobel was right: Walking was a great way to keep moving and get things done. Not only did I pitch my two story ideas, but we were able to really interact about them, since we had a long walk ahead of us. If it had been in a conference room or at one of our desks, we probably would have ended the conversation as soon as I got a yes or no.

I also got to see what Neha likes to order from Juice Press, and knowing what your boss likes is never a bad thing.

August 19: Archery
Meeting: Talia Yates, publicist for Nickelodeon

When I went to Comic-Con in San Diego this summer, I met Talia at the Nickelodeon booth. She and her colleagues were running a #TBT experience, and we instantly bonded. Once we were both back in Brooklyn, we set up a date to meet and kick around some ways we could work together on future nostalgia-based stories. So, I asked her if she’d be down to participate in my sweatworking experiment.

We’d both been wanting to try archery. (Blame it on The Hunger Games.) We bought a 90-minute lesson at Hidden Gems Archery in Brooklyn, and each showed up ready to channel our inner Katniss. It was great for sweatworking, because we were learning something together. We delighted when either of our arrows came remotely close to the bullseye. We laughed it off when some went totally askew.

We had so much fun that afterward we went for a glass of wine, and we didn’t talk about any work stuff at the bar. That’s the other benefit of a workout meeting: It creates a space for talking shop, so that once you leave the room — or the archery range — you're in a no-business zone. This is hard to achieve in the office, when even a friendly encounter in the company kitchen can turn into a conversation about that email you haven't responded to yet.

The Meetings I Couldn’t Sweatwork
Alas, not many of my meetings were sweatworkable. Every week I meet with the entertainment team, which includes about six people. It would be easier to herd cats than to get us all out of the office in a responsible way.

I also couldn’t swing my weekly writing meeting with the #InBedWithR29 team, Michael and Nell. We were all ready to go out for a power walk until we realized we had to actually take notes during our session. Walking and writing wasn’t going to work.

So, is it worth it?
Sweatworking is great for one-on-one meetings. It gets you into a new headspace and out of your comfort zone. Plus, people seem to be more interested in the novelty of a sweatwork, which means they’ll be more likely to meet with you in the first place. It’s also a great replacement for email and Gchatting.

Of course, it's not always going to work — it's not appropriate for those super important meetings, for example. Sometimes you need things like notes, a presentation, or an environment where you can focus only on the task at hand. The conference room may be a bit boring, but it’s certainly there for a reason.

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