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June 27, 2016 Asked and Answered

How to get out of the office and make exercise part of your routine (podcast with transcript)

By Stephanie Francis Ward

Want to get outside, but work is tethering you to your desk? Getting physical can increase both your productivity and personal happiness, and Kandis Gibson has some tips and tricks for how you can make outdoor activities part of your routine.

Gibson, a senior associate at Foster, Murphy, Altman & Nickel in Washington, D.C., has not let her busy IP litigation practice stop her from competing in triathlons. She speaks with the ABA Journal’s Stephanie Francis Ward in this month’s Asked and Answered to share how she does it, and how you can get your bosses on board with you getting out of the office more frequently.

Gibson is one of eight adventurous attorneys profiled in the ABA Journal’s July cover story, “Outside Interests.”

Podcast Transcript

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Stephanie Francis Ward: Sometimes Kandis Gibson, an intellectual property litigator, has some challenging assignments. But in the midst of work difficulty she often reminds herself, “I have completed multiple triathlons, this will be fine.”

I’m Stephanie Francis Ward and on today’s episode of the ABA Journal’s Asked and Answered, Gibson tells us how exercise and outdoor adventures help her both professionally and personally.

Welcome to the show, Kandis.

Kandis Gibson: Thanks, Stephanie; I’m glad to be here.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Of course. Was there a moment in your career where you thought I need to move around some more?

Kandis Gibson: Absolutely. About a year into practice, I looked up and realized that I had been working 15-hour days and spending a lot of time just sitting down. And all of a sudden, my clothes weren’t fitting as well as I would’ve liked them to fit, and I just started feeling lethargic. And I, you know I thought to myself, well, OK, I’ve definitely got to do something about this before this becomes problematic and before you know I become miserable and hate my job. So that was—that was a big turning point for me. About a year into practice.

Stephanie Francis Ward: OK. And what was your first step?

Kandis Gibson: My first step was to order P90X. P90X is this DVD series that was very popular about maybe 10 years ago. And you just get nine or 12 videos and you put the video in. And for me, I put the first video in and I got some popcorn and I watched it, because I realized that I had gotten so out of shape that I couldn’t do it. So then I had to dial it back a little bit.

And I had a bike and decided, “OK, I’m gonna take up biking again,” and so I started riding my bike. And then I would go to the gym to do a little bit of weight training to supplement that. And then, eventually, I worked up to being able to do the P90X videos, but by the time I could do them I was happier riding my bike and doing other things in the gym. So I just switched over to that.

Stephanie Francis Ward: I am curious, what was in this video that was so complicated—or intense is perhaps a better word?

Kandis Gibson: Oh, my goodness. So they have, they break it up into you know, each video, one day you do arms and chest, and another day you do legs. There were some videos that are obviously easier than others.

But I think at one point I was buying pullup bars for my doorways in my house, and resistance bands, and I definitely am not the pullup kind of person. Now I’ve done several years of swimming and so I don’t think my shoulders can take it, but once we got to the pullup part of the workout I was like, “Absolutely not! This is, this is not for me.” I didn’t know my limitations.

Stephanie Francis Ward: I thought it was important that you said that once you started riding your bike, you realized that was a lot more enjoyable than doing pullups at home with the video. And was that an important piece of you being able to find a fitness that you enjoyed and wasn’t a drag to do it? You weren’t doing it because you had to do it, it gave you some enjoyment as well, would you say?

Kandis Gibson: Oh, absolutely. I mean it’s hard enough to motivate yourself to work out. And don’t get me wrong, at this stage in life I still have days where I have a workout and I’m not looking forward to it, although I know at this point if I get through it I’ll feel better when I’m done.

But going into a workout life or trying to get into that routine it’s, you know, there are so many things that you can do to exercise. Don’t pick the thing that you hate. Like I don’t like to run, so when I think—I run now because it’s a means to an end—but when you’re thinking about going into something you have to pick something that you’re gonna enjoy doing, that you like to do, or that you have accountability buddies. But if every day you get up and you’re like, oh, my goodness, I absolutely hate exercise and I’m about to go do it, it’s gonna be hard to motivate yourself.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Do you have any advice on finding an exercise that you’ll enjoy? I think I was speaking for myself, but I think a lot of us have what I call “P.E. phobia,” where you know we may not have been the superstars in grade school in P.E. and we’ve just kind of decided we don’t like exercise. But, perhaps, we haven’t tried all of the different options.

So you have advice on finding something? That you’ll enjoy and that works for your schedule as an attorney?

Kandis Gibson: So I think the first thing is to just think of what you like to do.

I think Zumba is really popular now, and I think part of the reason that it’s popular is because people like to dance. You think of all the dancing that you do in your kitchen, or when you’re getting dressed in the morning, or just playing around the house. And now it’s a workout. So Zumba has become popular.

So I like to be outside; so what are exercises that I can do when I’m outside? Or I like to work or hang out with people; what are activities that I can do with people, maybe flag football or soccer league. So I think you have to start with what is it that you like to do, and then factor in your time commitment and what you have time to do. And then start looking at the exercises tha—or the workouts or programs—that fit into that.

For me, I like to be outside. I have no problem doing something for hours on end, so biking was a natural fit for me. I did used to inline skate, and then I had a foot injury so I couldn’t do that anymore. So it was like, “Well, I can’t inline skate what else is gonna get me outside and kind of do the leg routine that I like; oh, biking!”

So you know, things just kind of develop that way, once you start putting together your likes and dislikes.

Stephanie Francis Ward: What do you like about being outside?

Kandis Gibson: I like that it’s time away from all of the distractions that I encounter when I’m not outside.

So when I’m home, it’s hard to work out, or it can be hard to work out because I realize at this point in life I don’t spend a lot of downtime at home, or as much as I would like. But when I’m there I’m thinking, “Oh, I should be taking care of this issue or that issue,” or “I need to clean the bathroom.” And if I’m at the gym, the gym is fun, the gym you can see people that you like and talk to your friends, but sometimes when that happens the gym—

Stephanie Francis Ward: Or not!

Kandis Gibson: Right, right. You look up and—one of my best friends is the manager at the gym that I go to. And so, usually, when I get to the gym it’s 20 minutes of catching up and then I’m thinking, “Oh my goodness, I’ve eaten into my workout, I only have 30 minutes or 25 minutes to get this workout in!”

So being outside, I don’t have my phone—I mean I have my phone but I’m not on my phone; I don’t have the distractions of my house; I don’t have the distractions of getting caught before I can get to my machine. And even if I’m walking or running or biking, if someone else is there, we can still carry on the activity and have a conversation. It’s not going to complete derail that activity.

So I like being away from the distractions and all the things that kind of hinder my workouts when I’m not outside.

Stephanie Francis Ward: And were you someone, were you pretty physically active before law school in your legal career?

Kandis Gibson: I was not.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Oh, OK.

Kandis Gibson: I was not. I played—I was in the band, I was in marching band when I was in high school, and in college I did no athletic activities, not even intramural activities. In my post-college life, I think I did Zumba for a while; this was a long time ago, before it was really popular.

I just reached to this point, you know, a year into my legal career, where I was thinking, “Something has got to give, I need to find a way to get more active and find something that I enjoy so that I don’t blow up and have a bunch of health problems.”

So it is possible to get into activity and become extremely active later on in life if you did not do so in high school or college. I am a testament to that.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Do you have any tips for someone who’s in that category?

Kandis Gibson: So my advice, for me, I just kept an open mind. I would look on Facebook, I had friends on Facebook.

One of the first ways I got active, a friend of mine invited me to do a 10K. And I hate to run. And I was turning 30, and she said, “Hey, let’s celebrate your 30th birthday by doing a 10K. You know, it’s something you’ve never done before, just challenge yourself, try something new.” So I signed up for this 10K, but it was about three months away, so I had to train in order to get ready for it. So that led to this, “OK, occasionally I have to run.”

And I had mentioned to another friend of mine that I was stepping out of my comfort zone and trying a 10K for the first time. And he said, “Well, I know this flag football league; I think you would be great in the flag football league. You should come out and play with us; it’s like a one-day-a-week commitment.”

And I was like, “Well, that sounds interesting, I’ve never done anything like that before, let’s give it a shot.”

And so at every step along my fitness journey, the thing that’s gotten me to the next level or to the next thing is that “keeping an open mind.” Like, being on the lookout for opportunities that are out there.

And I think in 2016, there are so many races, and 5Ks, and fun-runs, and walks and all sorts of things that you can do as long as you keep an open mind. Like, you don’t have to go out and win it, although you can, but if you just keep an open mind to trying something new that you’ve never done before, I think that’s the first step that gets you in the direction of being a fitter person.

Stephanie Francis Ward: OK. Sometimes I think when we want to start a new exercise routine, life kind of gets in the way, and we might fall off the wagon. Has this happened to you, and how did you deal with it and get back on the wagon?

Kandis Gibson: I try not to fall off the wagon but, again, as you mentioned, life happens.

The biggest thing for me is to acknowledge that I’ve fallen off the wagon and pick a date when I’m gonna get back on.

So if I look up and it’s been three or four days and I’ve missed workouts because I’m busy, or I’m frustrated, or I’m at work and I can’t get away, I pick a day. What’s the date when things are going to calm down or settle down, and what’s the day that I’m going to just force myself to get the activity in. And then I stick to that day.

And it doesn’t matter if I get the activity in in the morning or in the evening, or if I go on my fake lunch break and sneak down to—we have a gym in my office in the basement—if I sneak down to the basement to get it in.

The biggest thing is identifying when you’re gonna start and start back. It doesn’t matter what happened between then and now, but if Monday’s the day that you’re gonna get back on track, you’ve gotta find some time on Monday to get back on track. So that usually helps me. And again, even if it’s I go downstairs and I hop on the treadmill for 20 minutes, or hop on the elliptical for 20 minutes, just that little spark can get me back in the mood or can re-motivate me to get back on track.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Right. Because that’s 20 minutes you could’ve been sitting at your desk on the internet!

Kandis Gibson: Exactly! And I think that’s—I think you hit the nail on the head. That’s a really important way to think about it. We just get lost in the wormhole of the internet, sometimes we get lost sitting in front of the television.

So when we talk about not having time to exercise or having time to get healthy, and then you stop and you do an accounting of what you do during the course of the day, then you’re think to yourself, “Oh, I’m not nearly as productive as I think I am, or I’m definitely not nearly as productive as I tell people that I am.”

So there are always, with most people I think, opportunities to squeeze in 10 to 20 minutes of anything.

I also think that it’s really important to figure out what it is that you need to do to motivate you to work out. When I started exercising, when I started getting into fitness, I had a “know thyself moment.” I don’t like mornings, evenings work better for me, so what were the things that I could do in order to make this happen.

I was comfortable having this conversation with my boss—I realize that some people might not be—to say, “Look, I wanna leave the office by X time in order to get some exercise in; I’ll come back online later on; I’ll come back to the office if necessary; but this is what I need to do for my health and in order to feel good.”

I also keep exercise clothes at my office. There’s a Nordstrom Rack across the street from my office, and I have to visit there frequently because despite the fact that I have exercise clothes here, I often forget my sneakers.

But these are little things that I’ve been able to institute in my regular routine to help me make sure that when the mood hits I can look down, you know, I’m looking at my purse right now sitting on the floor; there’s a water bottle in it, my exercise clothes and my book bag are sitting behind me on the floor.

If I get off the phone right now and decide I’m gonna go downstairs and get a workout in, all my stuff is here. I don’t have to say, “Oh, man, I wish that I had remembered to bring this or this or this.” So you wanna set yourself up for success. And if that means keeping an extra pair of workout clothes in your drawer or tucked away somewhere, so be it. At the beginning of each week just bring in a fresh new pair.

Stephanie Francis Ward: OK.

We’re going to take a quick break. And when we come back, Kandis will tell us how she finds time to fit exercise in during the week.

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Stephanie Francis Ward: And we’re back.

I’m Stephanie Francis Ward. And on today’s episode of the ABA Journal’s Asked and Answered, I’m chatting with a key litigator Kandis Gibson about how exercise, often outdoors, plays a significant role in both her personal and professional life.

Kandis, do you have tips on finding ways to squeeze in exercise during the workweek when you have a demanding job?

Kandis Gibson: Absolutely. At this point in life, I have a triathlon coach and he uploads my training program into an app. And so it’s a little bit easier for me to kind of have an idea of what I’m gonna do each week. But I did a version of this back when I was just going to the gym and working out at the gym or working out at home or doing a video.

I start each week on Sunday or Saturday, when I have 10 minutes of free time, and I just take a quick overview of what my week looks like. What I know is on the calendar, and what I think might pop up during the course of the week, and then I come up with a plan on when I wanna work out.

I am not a morning person. And I think that’s really key to know about yourself. If you’re not a morning person, don’t all of a sudden decide that you’re gonna do 5:00 a.m. workouts, because you’re gonna set yourself up for failure. But know yourself and know what it is that you like to do.

So I plan out my week. And I decide Wednesday night I know that I can get out of the office by 7:00, so I’m gonna have my workout clothes with me at the office. I’m gonna change into them at the office, and I’m going to go to the gym on my home.

On Friday morning, I know that I have a slightly late start so I can squeeze in 30 minutes on the treadmill in the basement of the office before I get to work. So I’ll wear my workout clothes into the office, and I’ll have my work clothes in a backpack. Or if I know that on Tuesday afternoon I have a really big call, but then the rest of the afternoon is quiet, I might be able to sneak down into the gym for some time on the elliptical or some time on the treadmill.

And it’s planning that way: figuring out when I have some time, when I can sneak away if it’s during the course of the day; or figuring out when I have time before or after work to squeeze in a workout.

If I can go into the week knowing that, it’s easier to stick to it, because when Tuesday afternoon rolls around and I wrap up that call, I’m automatically thinking, “OK, now’s my time to go downstairs and hop on the treadmill or hop on the elliptical.” And I let my assistant know, “Hey, I’m going downstairs for 30 minutes, I have my cell phone on vibrate, you can call me if anyone needs me.” And we’ll take it from there.

So I think if you can go into the workweek with a plan of days that may work for you to get your workout in, that’s a lot easier.

And going back to your statement earlier about losing 20 minutes on the internet, you have to be realistic and you have to be optimistic about wanting it to work out. If you go into the situation thinking, “I’m so busy and I have no time,” you’re never going to make the time and you’re gonna get lost in the internet or get lost in all sorts of distractions.

So you have to go into the situation saying, “This week I’m gonna make it work; Tuesday afternoon I’m going downstairs no matter what,” and just make it happen.

So part of it is attitude, and the other part of it is planning.

Stephanie Francis Ward: I know I’ve heard some lawyers say they don’t like to use their office gym. Either because they don’t want their bosses to see them working out when maybe they should be in the office, or maybe it’s that they don’t wanna be on a treadmill next to their boss, they use this as a place to get away. But you probably heard that too.

Do you have any advice or thoughts on that? I mean, perhaps, one way to look at it is if it clears your mind and you write a better brief coming back after 45 minutes on the treadmill, perhaps your boss won’t mind.

But what do you think?

Kandis Gibson: I have to acknowledge I am very fortunate. Most people in my office, we’re a very small office, are not big exercisers. And I’ve never run into anyone that I work with in the gym. So that’s not high on my concern list, like hopping on the treadmill next to my boss. Although I was at a conference once and my boss came into the gym while I was there, and I didn’t feel bad about being there because I’m like, “Oh, he’s here, so now apparently is the gym time.”

Stephanie Francis Ward: Right.

Kandis Gibson: One of my training partners, her motto is “Suck it up, Buttercup.”

If you’re dressed appropriately and you’re at the gym and you see someone that you work with, you’re dressed appropriately and you’re at the gym and someone that you work with just happens to be there.

You can’t control every situation. And if you think about it practically, are you trying to limit your health and your opportunities because you’re worried that you might run into somebody that you know? And for most of us, that wouldn’t be a big deal at the gym, or if we were outside of the office at the gym. It shouldn’t be that big a deal in the office, unless something is happening that’s making you incredibly uncomfortable.

The simple fact that you are all there shouldn’t be a problem. So part of it is one of those, you-gotta-get-over-yourself situations.

If I have a deadline, I’m not the type of person to go to the gym unless I’m completely—I have writer’s block, and it’s not working for me, and I need some time to clear my head and I’m going to go hop on the treadmill for 10 minutes. But if that’s the case, I’ll let my boss know, “Hey, I’m gonna run downstairs, I’m having writer’s block, I need a quick break.” So part of it is open communication with the people that you work with.

I mean, feeling comfortable enough to say, “This is the way that I release stress, and if I find myself in a stressful environment or I find myself struggling with something, being on the treadmill 10 minutes or 20 minutes helps me out.” I think that they can respect that.

The other part is, if you’re not comfortable working out in your office—like there’s a gym across the street from my office that I’m a member of, so I’m not too concerned about doing that—if I absolutely don’t wanna be in my office I can go across the street. So you have to plan for it. What are your options, what are you comfortable doing, and how willing are you to find a step out of your normal routine in order to get it done?

If you find yourself coming up with a bunch of excuses, you have to pause and say, “Am I really serious about getting this fitness, in because every time I have an opportunity to get fitness I’m making an excuse.” So you have to be honest with yourself about what you’re trying to accomplish, and positioning your attitude towards making that happen.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Do you have thoughts on for days when you are gonna workout either at the office or after work, good foods, finding what foods work for you or what feels good, like to run on? Or to lift weights on? Do you have thoughts on that in terms of foods you can bring or look out for while you’re there?

Kandis Gibson: My personal plan is, anything less than an hour I’m just gonna drink water. And the reason for that is because a lot of times we sabotage our fitness by getting too involved in protein bars and workout shakes and energy drinks, that have way more calories than we’re actually burning.

So I recommend that people track what they’re eating so they know that they’re getting their required daily caloric intake. And then, figure out, “OK, after I work out how hungry am I and how much do I need to eat in order to make myself feel not hungry?”

So anything less than hour I’m just gonna drink some water while I do it. Anything longer than an hour—because for triathlon, there are days when I’m training four or five, six hours. Those, I’ll use some high endurance sports drinks or bars just to get me through that workout.

So it’s probably a little more extreme than most people are going to need, but unless you’re doing a two-hour workout you don’t need energy gels or chews or anything like that. You can just have your regular food. I’d avoid fried foods, obviously, and anything that makes you feel heavy or lethargic or weighed down. But you wanna stick within your regular daily caloric intake.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Do you think, has exercise changed your professional life?

Kandis Gibson: Absolutely. I think back to when I first started triathlon training, and my original bucket list item was to do a half Ironman. And the reason that I wanted to do that race was because I didn’t wanna run a marathon.

And my first swim coach pulled me aside one day and he said, you know I really think you’re selling yourself short. And I said, what do you mean? And he says, “You know, you’ve biked a hundred miles before, you’ve done a half marathon, you can swim. So if you do a half Ironman you’re basically pushing yourself to where you are right now. But if you do an Ironman, you’re pushing yourself to the next level, so don’t limit yourself based on fear.”

And you know, if I can share a Sheryl Sandberg moment. It really hit me, like, “Wow, I really was limiting myself for no reason. And if I, you know, set this as a goal could I reach this?” So I decided, I went and talked to my triathlon coach and I said, “ell, this is what I’m thinking of doing and is this something that you would support me on if I decided to do a full Ironman?” And he said, “Absolutely, I think you have the base for it, I think that you have the work ethics for it, and I think you’ll do great.”

And so I think about that in professional situations all the time. When an opportunity comes up and I start to let fear creep in and I think, “Am I limiting myself for no reason, do I have the foundation for this, do I have what it takes to set this as a goal and to accomplish it?”

So I think that in the fitness context it’s so easy to set goals for ourselves. And it, obviously, doesn’t have to be at an Ironman level. You know, this could be a goal to lose five pounds; this could be a goal to work out consistently for a month; any type of small goal. And then you set in motion the actions to achieve it. And once you start getting those little things done, you start getting confidence and you start thinking, “Wow, I can.”

In my career I can decide that this is the goal that I wanna set, and even if I take one little baby step towards it each week, I’m gonna accomplish that goal. Why? Because I know what it’s like to set a goal that seems small and accomplish it that leads to bigger things. And I know how to set a goal that’s massive and seems completely overwhelming and it’s gonna push me to the brink physically, mentally, emotionally and I can achieve it.

So once you start gaining that confidence personally, it can’t but carry over into your professional life.

So I think that whether something seemingly big or small on an exercise or fitness level, I think that goal-setting in that context is absolutely crucial to helping you learn how to overcome things in life.

Stephanie Francis Ward: All right. And that’s everything that I had to ask you today.

I’m Stephanie Francis Ward, and you’ve been listening to the ABA Journal’s Asked and Answered. Thanks for listening.

End of transcript

Updated on June 29 to add transcript.

In This Podcast:

Stephanie Francis Ward
Kandis Gibson, an intellectual property litigator, is a senior associate with Foster, Murphy, Altman & Nickel in Washington, D.C. She’s also a personal trainer with certification through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She has completed various races, including Ironman Texas and the Mid-Atlantic Tough Mudder.