TIME Careers & Workplace

Why Exercising Is a Higher Priority Than My Career

If exercise stops, then everything else will start falling apart

There’s a prevalent attitude among entrepreneurs that the business, whatever that business is, comes first. It is the high priority that trumps everything else, including family, friends and especially health.

I’ve seen entrepreneurs sacrifice all these things, sometimes with tragic consequences, to focus on making their businesses successful. I’ve also done it myself, although I’m one of the lucky ones. During the years I made my business my highest priority, my wife stuck by my side, I didn’t cause any permanent damage with friendships (although I certainly didn’t nurture any) and I didn’t die.

It’s not greed that motivates us entrepreneurs. It would be difficult to justify the sacrifices we make if the only reward were money. Dollars become mere points in a sort of game. What it’s really about is building something great, doing something that matters and changing the world. That’s what makes it so easy to brush other things off. But it’s a mistake. I know that now, and that’s why today I care more about exercise than my business. But it’s not easy.

I have a growing business with 14 team members. These men and women rely on me to make sure their paychecks come on time, that benefits are there for them and their families, and that obstacles are removed so they can get their work done. We have approximately 40 clients, who are depending on me to make sure they’re getting the results that will help their businesses grow.

This adds up to a lot of tasks, and a lot of pressure. On any given day there are easily 100 important things I should be doing for my business, 50 of which are also urgent, but there is no way I can get more than 10 things done. And yet each and every week I spend at least 10 hours on focused, physical exercise.

I schedule my workouts during the workday and prioritize exercise over all my work activities. There is some flexibility, but if there is a conflict between a trail run I need to get in, and a meeting with a client, I’ll reschedule the client meeting first. I do this because I and my business can survive the consequences of rescheduling a client meeting, even if it means losing that client. But as soon as I start pushing workouts off, I’ll start missing workouts, and once I start missing workouts, I’m close to stopping workouts altogether.

Exercise must come first, or it’s unlikely to happen at all.

If exercise stops, then my health goes downhill. With the loss of physical health my productivity at work goes down. I become depressed. I lose motivation to do the things that makes my business successful. I’ve learned firsthand that excellence in one area of my life promotes excellence in all other areas of my life. Exercise is the easiest area of my life to control. It’s easy to measure. Either I get it in, or I don’t. When I do, it lifts up all other areas of my life, including my business.

For a long time, I was fooled into thinking that if my business wasn’t the top priority, then that meant I wasn’t doing all I could do to make it successful. This is an understandable way of thinking, but it’s completely wrong.

If my life is made up of 10 priorities, then it’s not as simple as saying that if I move the business from being priority two to priority one, that the business is going to benefit. The trick is to figure out which ordering of priorities provides the maximum overall benefit.

For example, when I exercise, that makes me better in every role I have, whether it’s as a husband, father, friend or entrepreneur. If I were to stop exercising because I felt that being a good business owner was a higher priority, then ironically I would end up a worse business owner than I was when it when it was a lower priority. Putting exercise first creates a win-win.

As my business grows, I see members of my team falling into the same trap I did. That’s why we’re working to institute health incentives, and why I’m not ashamed to talk about the time I take out of my work day to exercise. I know that if my team members put exercise and health before their jobs, they might work fewer hours, but they’ll feel better about themselves, have more fulfilling lives and they’ll produce better results with the hours they do work.

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.

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