How To Stop Making Your Busy Schedule An Excuse To Be Unhealthy

Illustrated by Emily Zirmis.

By Tara Fuller

No matter how much you may want to make healthy choices, it can feel like there simply isn’t time. When running out the door, it’s easier to grab a pre-packaged granola bar than whip up a veggie scramble. And, when faced with the decision to work an extra hour or head to yoga, it can be tough to convince yourself to get up and break that productivity stride.

But, what if we told you it’s actually possible to be both the busiest and the healthiest version of yourself? It’s always easier said than done, but the impact a few changes can have on your mind and body is totally worth it.

Our advice: Start small and build from there. And, if some of these tips aren’t for you, ignore ‘em! With 18 ways to squeeze healthier choices into that jam-packed schedule, we’re sure at least a few tips will stick — and all of them will help.

Related: Quick And Healthy 3-Ingredient Meals 


Befriend the microwave.
Microwave meals may conjure up images of frozen vegetables and scary-looking meat, but the tool does way more than heat TV dinners. Make a one-minute quiche in a mug, cinnamon breakfast quinoa, or even a flaky salmon dinner. No complicated, time-consuming prep work necessary! 

Make three-ingredient meals.
Peanut butter and jelly on whole-wheat bread is an obvious choice here, but there’s an entire world of easy and delicious combinations out there. Take stuffed sweet potatoes, pancakes, and chili, for example. Minimal grocery shopping and preparation, maximum flavor. Plus, these meals can be super healthy, too.

Add iron.
Not eating enough iron can cause fatigue and even depression. Keep energy high by chowing down on oatmeal, lentils, and lean meats. Bonus: Iron boosts muscle strength, making it that much easier to get through the workday and your workout.

Turn to soups and stews.
Besides being one of the healthiest comfort foods out there (sorry, mac and cheese!), soups are a great way to save time and money. Make a large batch at the beginning of the week, freeze leftovers in single-serving Tupperware, and thaw as needed. And, don’t worry about getting bored — the healthy soup recipe options are endless!

Prep on the weekend for seamless weeknight meals.
Sure, salads are simple enough to put together. Chop veggies, sauté some protein, toss with some dressing, and voilà! But, in reality, all that chopping, cooking, and mixing can take serious time. Spare yourself the salad agony by loading up on veggies, chopping them all and storing in the fridge, pre-cooking protein and grains (we love quinoa), and making a large portion of dressing to use all week. Assembling will take five minutes, tops.

Pump up the protein.
It’s easy to opt for the less-healthy option when hunger strikes and packaged goods are the only thing in sight. But, even decadent snacks, like cookies and potato chips, won’t keep you full for long. Avoid snack urges by loading up on high-protein meals, which will fill you up and keep you satisfied for at least a few hours.

Keep a secret stash of snacks.
Schedule changes and delays are inevitable, which means sometimes your 30-minute lunch window can disappear completely. And, while grabbing a slice of pizza isn’t necessarily a bad option, having an emergency snack supply is healthier and ensures you always have something on hand. Our go-to favorites: DIY trail mix, unsweetened dried fruit, and select granola bars.

Say no to bar bites.
After a long day, wings and beer may sound like just the thing you need. But, instead of loading up on both booze and bar food, stick to one. If heading out for a night of drinking, eat a small, filling meal beforehand so those French fries are less tempting. If noshing is inevitable, fill up on a soup or salad, and pick one item to splurge on.

Preparing and packing lunch may feel like a time-intensive task, but it’ll help you both make healthier choices and save money. Stick to simple creations like veggie wraps, quinoa salads, or hearty soups, which can be made in bulk and enjoyed all week. No morning cooking required!

Illustrated by Emily Zirmis.


Try interval training.
Busy schedules often mean working out falls by the wayside. But, you actually don’t need more than 20 minutes to get a great workout. In fact, short bursts of high-intensity exercises can actually be more effective. So instead of promising to hit the gym tomorrow, hop on the treadmill, do some sprints, and enjoy the post-workout energy boost. Bonus: Regular exercise even helps you sleep better.

Some days, there simply isn’t time for a workout. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t exercise at all. Though it may feel funny at first, doing exercises at your desk is a great way to sneak fitness into your day. Our favorite moves: stapler curls, shoulder shrugs, and “crunch time” crunches.
Squeeze in a quick strength workout. 
Morning workouts can be tough to wake up for. Sometimes hitting the snooze button feels so worth it. But, that can also lead to skipping exercise altogether, as it’s just as easy to head home early at the end of the day. (Who wants to fight for a treadmill during the post-work gym rush hour?) If carving out 45 minutes to an hour simply isn’t feasible in the morning, do a 15-minute bodyweight workout at home. A quick yoga session is another great option.

Related: Hungry After Your Workout? Here's Why. 

Walk it out. 
The average job requires sitting in front of a computer for a majority of the day. Add that to sitting down for dinner and driving or taking the train to work, and that means you’re on your butt for 70% of an average workday. Sneak in some exercise by running errands on foot, taking the stairs, parking farther from your destination, or getting off the subway a stop before you actually need to. All those extra steps add up!

Turn TV time into fitness time. 
When faced with the option of watching another episode of Orange Is the New Black or going for a run, hitting “Next Episode” often feels so much easier. But, you actually don’t need to choose one or the other. If you're watching from home, stretch and do bodyweight exercises while enjoying the show. Most cardio machines at the gym also have entertainment, so go ahead and binge (on TV, that is). 
Illustrated by Emily Zirmis.


Reduce stress stat. 
Stress can have an insanely negative impact on your health — and addressing it is something many people neglect. Instead of turning to unhealthy outlets, master super-quick stress reducers like deep breathing and sipping on green tea. Other easy wins: smelling lavender, doing a few quick stretches, or taking a stroll around the block.

Turn off tech. 
With all that online buzz (Twitter, Facebook, name a few), it’s hard to turn off — even more so thanks to pop-up notifications on phones and computers. At work, put your phone in a desk or turn off pop-up notifications to help you stay focused. At home, turn off tech entirely. Instagram will still be there tomorrow.

Stay organized with to-do lists. 
Drop off the laundry, pay the bills, clean the apartment, call your mom — the little things can add up. And, when you don’t write them down, it’s easy to forget what needs tending to. Stay on top of it by keeping a notepad on hand to write everything down. Your parents will thank you. (And, so will your boss.)

Take a vacation. 
“But, I just don’t have time,” is the excuse we hear (and use) far too often. But, taking a vacation and getting much-deserved time off will help you be healthier, happier, and more productive. No matter how jam-packed your schedule seems, book some down time — even if it’s just a three-day weekend away from WiFi.

Next: How To Really Lose Weight (According To Science) 

More from Diet & Nutrition