29.10.20 at 11:59 am

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Eat, sleep, train, repeat. Or is it: sleep, eat, train, repeat? I’m never quite sure. For cyclists it could just as easily be: eat, train, eat, sleep, repeat. Indeed, we can even eat (quite a lot) whilst we train. If only life were that simple.

A routine built around training is fine if you are being paid for it. But for the rest of us it’s a case of squeezing exercise into the (often) small windows of space in our lives.

The last time I managed a siesta after a long run was a decade ago: I lived alone, had no children and worked from home. Now there’s a small family to juggle, but I am once again working from home. Many others will be too. This means no commute.

Those that biked or ran to the office will have lost an exercise slot, or two – the need to get and from work was an easy way to fit training into the day. Meanwhile, those that travelled by plane, train or automobile have suddenly found themselves with an extra 65 minutes to play with; or if you live in London 84 minutes.

But what do you do with it?

The Draft came up with some perfectly timed sessions back in June. But a few months on and for many, that hour gained has been spent working rather than exercising (or at least not working).

During the pandemic, working days have increased across Europe, North America and Middle East by almost 49 minutes, according to a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, in the US. This was “partly due to increases in emails sent after business hours”, the experts wrote.

As someone who worked from home for almost a decade, I know how work can creep slowly, steadily and slyly into life outside the 9 to 5. After dinner, I’d pop into the study for a “quick check” of emails; two hours later I’d still be there (and would have missed Made in Chelsea – this was a few years ago don’t forget; I was younger and more impressionable).

This kind of routine is not good for your mental health (including my choice of TV). I would often spend the day alone, in a village in the middle of nowhere, and see no-one from the time my wife left for work until the time she arrived home. My highlight would be the postman’s visit (who I’d corner to ask about last night’s Made in Chelsea).

The plan was always: start at 7.30am, finish by 2pm and head out into the Perthshire hills for a cycle or run. But I’d get to 2pm and still be in my pyjamas; wobbly too from lack of food and too much coffee. Carry on working now, the reasoning in my head went, and there would be time for a cycle and a run tomorrow instead. It rarely turned out that way.

At the time, I spoke to a friend – a journalist – in a similar spiral. His advice was to start at 9 and finish at 5. The first week or so is terrible, he admitted, as you feel work stacking up in those two hours you were previously at your desk. But then things begin to settle. “You actually realise that you get as much, if not more, done in the day,” he said.

It has taken me almost 15 years but I am getting to that place. I think. Moving out of a co-working space, with that 2 hour bike/run commute has been tough – mentally and physically – but I am starting to use those extra hours productively.

Yesterday, it was a 10-mile run at 3pm (I started at 7am, so effectively a 9 to 5). The day before, I ran to school as the kids cycled then headed off for another half an hour. Had I left the run until lunchtime I wouldn’t have done it. Next week, I may go for a cycle before the school pick up and extend it (warm down) with my son (no doubt via a pump track or two).

What I’m saying is that finding a routine when working from home takes time. Often a lot of it. At the outset of lockdown in March all the talk was of people working from home forever. They all loved it: the flexibility, the lack of commute, the treasured extra time with family or keeping fit. Six months on and the cracks are beginning to appear which is why setting yourself a routine is more important than ever.

Women are for example picking up more of extra childcare and jobs at home, according to a number of studies across the globe. Almost three quarters of mums in Britain have been forced to cut their hours at work because of childcare issues on the back of covid-19. Another one found that 43% of women are having to combine working at home and childcare, compared to 29% of men.

Finding the space for yourself, let alone a decent cycle ride, has become harder. Mentally and physically this can leave us struggling.

Indeed, a recent survey in the US found just 16% of employees were “thriving” in these new working patterns. Mental health has declined, with job satisfaction and motivation also heading in the wrong direction, noted Forbes. Gemma Dale, a human resources consultant and lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, told the FT last month: “People’s experiences have been very different from being burnt out to baking banana bread.”

Finding the balance between career, family and exercise is never easy. And contrary to all the early covid hype, remote working seems to have done little to change that. Perhaps when all this is over, which one day it will be, hopefully people will begin to find a “happy medium” between the old and new normal?From my experience, routines and structure help, however it will take time before you’ll manage home and work ‘to do’ lists, bake that banana bread and manage to get out on a ride to eat it. So don’t beat yourself up if you’re still struggling.

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