Exceptional Leaders Never Skip This Part of Their Day—Here's Why It Counts

Updated 05/25/17
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If you can barely find time to duck into the restrooms amid a schedule of meetings and deadlines, it can be hard to dedicate an hour to do a gym class. We know exercise should be a priority, but in reality, taking care of ourselves is often the first thing to get bumped when life goes into overdrive.

When we tapped women at the top of their field, it became clear that exercise shouldn't be viewed as an added part of your day—it should be at the core. According to a study published in the journal Psychology and Aging, our mental performance is directly linked to our physical routine. Yes, starting your day at the gym will actually make you a better worker. Harvard Business Review reports that regular exercise improves concentration, helps you learn faster, and enhances creativity—all of which are crucial, no matter your industry.

So how do you actually squeeze a workout into an already jam-packed day? We turned to successful women to find out how they dominate in the boardroom, lead with grace, head up teams, and still find time to exercise. Yes, it's possilbe—here's how.

Put Your Routine in Perspective

Courtesy of Denise Lee

Feel like you just don't have enough time to exercise? It's all about perspective, says Denise Lee, CEO and founder or luxury activewear brand Alala. When she struggles to find motivation to hit the gym, Lee says she "thinks about how short an hour of my day really is if I were working or watching TV—that puts it in perspective."

While she tends to work out four to five times a week, Lee says she has a backup routine if her schedule gets too chaotic. "Jump rope is my favorite exercise when I'm short on time," she tells MyDomaine.

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Know Your Workout Personality

Courtesy of Jennie Baik

"My friends know that I'm not a militant exerciser! I believe you should work out for two very simple reasons: because it feels good and it's fun," says Jennie Baik, CEO of Orchard Mile.

Baik says it's important to know your personality when forging a workout routine and that it doesn't necessarily have to be rigorous cardio. "In NYC, we are in such a 'push' society of overachieving individuals, and it's easy to take on that mentality to your physical self as well, to be a 'better, stronger, faster' person," she tells MyDomaine. "And while it's great sometimes to do a sweaty, crazy-loud Spin class, it's important to moderate your physical activity with things you love to do. For me, that means incorporating gentler days of yoga or strolling down the West Side Highway or maybe picking up a dance class for fun.

It makes me appreciate the feeling of exercising without feeling like it's a chore."

"I believe you should work out for two very simple reasons: because it feels good and it's fun."

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Schedule Exercise Ahead of Time

Courtesy of Lively

"To me, staying motivated and energized is all about staying balanced and setting boundaries," says Michelle Cordeiro Grant, founder and CEO of Lively, who tries to spend 45 minutes at the gym each day. "I set aside time to exercise, I set aside time for Lively, and I set aside time for my family—I'm happier and healthier when I have that balance."

She also points out that good health extends beyond the gym. "Wellness is not just about the physical. There are an acknowledgment and awareness now more than ever toward taking care of mind and body. Amazing places like Mndfl meditation and low-impact workouts that focus on balance are just as important as the high-impact sweat sessions."

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Focus on the Reward

Courtesy of Lumion

If you struggle to prioritize exercise, invert the way you think about working out, and focus on the benefit rather than the effort. "Exercise allows your brain to recharge. Using exercise to release the physical body helps open up blood flow which in turn energizes you—it's a win-win!" say Lisa Bonoff and Amy Briant, co-founders of Lumion. The duo hits the gym six times a week and thinks of it as an essential part of their routines. "We both feel that we are not our best self without exercise, so finding time is the only option."

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Schedule Meetings to Suit Your Workout Routine

Courtesy of Shanna Tellerman

Shanna Tellerman, founder and CEO of Modsy, doesn't schedule exercise around her work schedule, but the other way around. "I exercise five days a week [and] prioritize it in my calendar by blocking it off on certain days," she tells us. "I also make it a practice of not starting meetings before 8:30 a.m. even though I'm an early riser. This gives me enough time to fit in a run or yoga before heading to work."

Mornings are a key time for Tellerman to prepare for the day ahead. "When I have time to exercise, especially in the morning, I find that it sets the stage for my entire day. A morning run (sometimes replaced with yoga) gives me a chance to clear my mind, set my intentions for the day, and it creates a natural burst of positive energy that I use to fuel the rest of my day."

"A morning run gives me a chance to clear my mind, set my intentions, and it creates a natural burst of positive energy that I use to fuel the rest of my day."

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Use Exercise as a Chance to Disconnect

Courtesy of Reshma Chattaram Chamberlin

It can be tough to schedule a workout when you're constantly connected to your team by email and instant messenger, something that Reshma Chattaram Chamberlin, co-founder of Summersalt, can relate to. "Getting out and away from my computer and phone is really important for me. I find that the more time I spend doing something physical like a walk, a yoga class, or a barre class, the more focused and energized I am."

A recent vacation to Québec City, Canada, taught her how important it is to unplug and explore nature. "At the end of last year, I took a few days off (which is very rare for me) where I was not attached to my phone," she says. "We went tubing a lot, went on walks, and explored the city. It was so wonderful to reconnect with nature in that way that I came back, and I had a sense of calm I had never had before. Even my team mentioned that there was a calmness about me that felt very grounding. I think connecting with nature, being outside, and away from technology is essential for mental health and self-care."

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How do you motivate yourself when you feel like skipping the gym?

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