4 Steps to an Exercise Plan for Busy People

Wednesday, August 8, 2018 4:21 PM

I know I need regular exercise. I just don’t have time.

That’s the refrain I’ve heard hundreds of times in my workshops, from clients, and from participants I interviewed when researching the principles that would become the Easing In Fitness approach.

It’s the #1 complaint voiced by those stuck in the start-and-stop cycle of fitness frustration.

There isn’t even a close second.

Over the last decade I’ve evolved a 4-step process for making an exercise plan that works, no matter how busy or over-committed or over-scheduled our lives become—no matter what.

And that’s really good news. It means you don’t need a new life, just a new way to think about and plan fitness activities.

Which is a whole lot easier, by the way…

Here are your four steps:


We are MUCH more likely to do things we like to do. I know that sounds overly simple, but it is a powerful truth.

One of the key obstacles I encounter with clients who are struggling to get started and to stick with a fitness plan is their insistence upon using willpower and self-discipline to do fitness activities they don’t enjoy.

They choose activities based upon what they think they should be doing, based upon what someone told them they should be doing, or based upon some definition of exercise that includes the belief that it should be unpleasant to be effective, such as “no pain, no gain.”

That old saw.

Throw all that out. Start with what you actually like to do. Brainstorm a whole list of activities you know you like, you think you might like, or are at the very least neutral about.

Exercise is just moving more to improve your health. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to do this.

Get creative. Think broadly. Think about what sounds fun. Make your list.


Intent is the response to this question: what do we want to bring about through exercise?

Intent is different from a goal, which has an external measurement, a beginning, and a clear ending. Intent is more our general direction, inclination, or focus.

The reason clarifying intent is important is that it gives us guidance for what activities to include and exclude when we put together our plan.

Here are some examples of intent my clients often identify: General Health, Heart Health, Strength, Weight Regulation, Body Sculpting, Energy and Vitality, Flexibility and Coordination.

Pick an intent from this group, or make up something else. Then go through your list of possible activities and find which support your intent, or can be adapted to support your intent.

Don’t think too hard about it. Just circle all the activities that can support your intent.

We’ll call this your Current Activity Plan.


Constraints are the bottlenecks, inefficiencies, obstructions, snags, and weakest links in any system.

It turns out that improving the output of a system is not a matter of improving the whole system. It’s about identifying and remedying the constraints.

Exercise planning is nothing more than a system for organizing our fitness actions. And when our plans go off the rails, it’s not because the whole system is broken, but usually because of just a couple constraints.

These exercise constraints are these real-world situational obstacles that get in our way of our daily plan. Identifying these constraints and finding remedies for each becomes a major key to unlocking exercise consistency.

List all of your real-world obstacles that can derail your plan. Come up with particular solutions to each obstacle so that when the obstacle inevitably appears you are not caught off guard and can adapt your plan.

In this way the unexpected can become expected, and even planned for.


In our complicated and busy lives, “when I can get to it” quickly becomes “never got to it.”

Our timing and scheduling has to work within our real life, exactly as it is. Anything else is just wishful and magical thinking.

Look for the slots in each day where you can fit in any of the activities from your Current Activity Plan. Be specific to the day, time, and activity. You only have to solve for one activity from a list of possibilities, one day at a time.

That’s all—a single activity, a single day at a time. That’s your plan.


But if you want more general guidance, I’ll share with you the simplest, but most effective exercise plan I know:

Aim to exercise every day, but at least never miss two days in a row.

If we end up missing a day for whatever reason, we move exercise to the top of the priority list the following day and rearrange whatever is needed in our lives to make sure we get it in.

That way, we never miss two days in a row. Not missing two in a row keeps us from going down into one of those troughs of stagnation.

For whatever reason, if we miss two days in a row the tendency is to miss a third, then a fourth, and so on. I don't know why this happens, but it is so common that it seems to be universal.

If we follow this “never miss two” guideline, then we will exercise more than 180 days a year—a frequency that opens for us all the amazing, life-changing gifts of fitness and health.


One final thought: I suggest using what I find to be the most powerful of the eight Easing In Fitness Principles…

Do what you can from where you are with what you've got. 

If you’ve got an hour, use it. And if your entire day has gone off script and you can only find a few minutes for exercise, use those few minutes.

It all counts and it all helps. Get SOMETHING in today, then get back on your plan tomorrow.

Thanks so much for reading. Please leave me a comment if you have thoughts to share.

Together, let’s end the fight to get fit!

P.S. If you found this helpful and want more detail, check out my new book Exercise Planning for Busy People.