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 35 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.
1. 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!
2. 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.
3. Fill up on 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.
4. 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—healthy soup recipe options are endless!
5. 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 viola! 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.
6. Prepare pre-packaged smoothie bags.
Smoothies are a great way to fill up on tons of nutrients with minimal effort. To make things even easier, add berries, spinach, protein powder, and other non-liquid fixings to a Ziploc so when you’re ready to puree, all you have to do is dump the ingredients in the blender. If you're making smoothies all week, keep bags of pre-sliced frozen produce in the freezer.
7. Don’t hate. Caffeinate!
The amount of conflicting data about whether or not coffee is good for you is enough to make anyone’s head spin. But there are some facts that don’t go disputed: Getting a daily dose of java helps rev your metabolism and provides a much needed energy boost. To keep your wallet healthy too, keep a French press and ground coffee at your desk so you can fuel up any time of day.
8. Eat meals instead of snacking all day.
When you’re crazy busy, it can feel like there’s no time to sit down and enjoy a full meal. Instead, it seems easier to grab a handful of trail mix here, a string cheese there, a bag of pretzels between meetings, and various other nibbles before calling it a day. Although it may not feel like you’re eating as much, all-day snackers often end up consuming more calories than their meal-eating counterparts. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy meals to put together quickly and eat on-the-go.
9. Eat mindfully.
With deadlines rearing their ugly heads, we often end up scarfing meals in front of our computer screens, forgetting to breathe, let alone be mindful of how our bodies feel. No matter how stressed, slow down, breathe between bites, and take note when you’re full. Odds are you’ll end up eating much less (and feeling much better)!
10. Embrace the Crock-Pot.
The only thing better than a slow cooker is one you can control with your smartphone. If you don’t own one already, now’s the time. The multi-tasking tool cooks anything from soups to meats to oatmeal—and all you have to do is throw the ingredients in and let it do its magic. It’s basically a busy person’s dream come true.
11. Spice up your life.
We’re not shy about our love for all things sriracha. But the chili-based hot sauce does more than torch our taste buds—it also torches metabolism. Instead of topping eggs with extra cheese or wraps with mayonnaise, add some spicy flavor. Tip: Mustard is another great, low-calorie condiment alternative.
12. Let someone else do the legwork.
OK, a little time in the kitchen is still required. But how awesome would it be to have your groceries delivered to you in perfect portions? Companies like Blue Apron and Plated do just that. While some of the recipes can be a little complicated, they’re super fun to make, and you don’t have to dig through cookbooks or Pinterest to find new recipes!
13. Add veggies to...everything.
Spinach in smoothies is a pretty common addition. But what about sweet potato brownies? Or cauliflower scrambled eggs? Whether baking dessert, looking to beef up morning muffins, or giving a healthy makeover to mac and cheese, sneaking nutrients into otherwise ordinary eats is a delicious (and smart) way to multitask.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. Stick to the real deal.
Juice may seem like a healthy breakfast option (it’s fruit, after all), but store-bought varieties are often packed with hidden sugars and have little nutritional value. Most places that have juice will also have bananas or apples on hand, so choose one of those and get your hydration from water.
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!
19. Outsmart menus.
When eating out or ordering in, it’s easy to say eff it and opt for the most delicious (and sometimes least healthy) thing on the menu. While we’re all for treating yo’self, we’re also all for tactics that help keep your nutrition goals on track. If you know the restaurant you’re dining at, check out the menu online to see what the best options are. If ordering online, choose at least one item that’s veggie-based and comes with a lean protein. You can always order the fried chicken next time.
20. Try interval training.
Busy schedules often mean working out gets left to 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.
22. Rent a gym locker.
Though packing a gym bag really doesn’t take long, it’s an easy task to dismiss when running late. Here's the hitch: Before you know it, one morning of leaving sneakers behind can turn into a month-long gym plateau. If this sounds familiar, renting a gym locker may be a smart move. Though it can be a tad expensive, it gets rid of any excuses (and helps prevent back pain from carrying overly heavy bags).
23. 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 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.
24. 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 percent of an average workday. Sneak in some exercise by running errands on foot, taking the stairs, parking farther away from your destination, or getting off the subway a stop before you actually need to. All those extra steps add up!
25. 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 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).
26. Stick to full-body moves.
If time is of the essence, try a routine that targets your entire body instead of just one area. We love using kettlebells, experimenting with push-up variations and burpees, and jump roping. Swimming is a great alternative too—especially if you’re partial to cardio.
27. Variety is key.
If you’re bored with your workout, it’s much less likely you’ll make it to the gym. Keep things interesting by trying different classes and workouts in general. Is running your go-to? Try a spinning class. Love hitting the weight room? Challenge yourself with Pilates. Bonus: Signing up for classes will help keep you accountable! And boutique studios often offer discounted packages for newbies.
28. Reduce stress stat.
Stress can have an insanely negative impact on health—and addressing it is something many people neglect. Instead of turning to unhealthy outlets, master super-quick stress reducers like breathing and sipping on green tea. Other easy wins: smelling lavender, doing a few quick stretches, or taking a stroll around the block.
29. Stay hydrated.
Eight glasses of water a day can help keep the doctor away. Getting plenty of H2O also helps keep you full, energized, and extra focused. To help remind yourself to drink up, keep a water bottle at your desk or set reminders on your phone. Even more incentive: Drinking water also helps cure hangovers (or avoid them completely) and keeps colds at bay.
30. Meditate before bed.
Stressful days can turn into sleepless nights. And while it may be impossible to complete your to-do list every day, you can work on mellowing out at the end of the day. Before turning out the lights, dedicate five minutes to meditation; it’ll help you wind down for a better night of sleep, which means a more productive tomorrow.
31. Turn off tech.
With all that online buzz (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit...to 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.
32. Stay organized with to-do lists.
Drop off laundry, pay bills, clean room, call home—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.)
33. Set realistic goals.
Whether personal or professional, setting goals is a great way to grow. Just make sure they’re realistic! Instead of aiming to lose 10 pounds, start with five. Want a promotion? Take on one project at a time instead of several new responsibilities. Tip: Schedule monthly check-ins with your boss, friends, or even yourself to assess (and reward!) progress.
34. Become a productivity hero.
Most people are aware of what gets them side-tracked. If social media is a time-suck for you, schedule 30-minute periods twice a day to check in. If you get easily roped into socializing, book time in a conference room or head to a coffee shop when you need to be in the zone. Simply identify trouble areas and try to find a solution. And if you need a little help, don’t be afraid to ask—friends and coworkers are great resources.
35. 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 a three-day weekend away from Wi-Fi.