by R. Preston McAfee, July, 2011 (Updated Oct 2011)

Executive Summary: Managers spend a great deal of time keeping in touch with people. Some of this can be done while walking, which is good exercise and approximately free multi-tasking.


I'm not keen on exercise, to say it mildly. Indeed, I generally find exercise tedious and unpleasant. However, I like walking. I don't think of walking as exercise.

I have to travel a fair bit for work, and travel imposes two negative effects on my diet: I tend to eat more, and what I eat is more fattening than what I eat at home. It isn't easy to get fresh fruit and vegetables in a restaurant or hotel, and sitting around airports and hotels encourages additional eating, at least for me.

The consequence of spending a lot of time on the phone at work, sitting in front of a PC, and traveling was leading me to gain weight. I started dieting, which worked reasonably well at home, but was much harder when traveling.

To address the travel weight, I started walking, and I found what other exercisers have probably known forever: exercising actually reduced my appetite. Initially I was just counting calories and walking to knock off that number of calories, so I would come home without gaining weight. I would walk three to six miles in the evening, depending on how much I ate, or wake up early and walk for an hour. I walked outside when I could but often on running machines in hotel gyms. If you get to the gym at 5:40 it is empty, at 6:15 it is full. On the machine, I can read my Kindle with a large font, and listen to music, and walk 90 minutes without noticing the time passing.

I got to like these walks, so I then started walking at home. To fit this into my life, I started walking when I needed to be on the phone, and I made a startling discovery. In a normal week I spend more then eight hours in scheduled calls with people in my company, touching base with people in my group, attending staff meetings, and so on. There wasn't any reason I couldn't walk during most of those calls. Occasionally someone has a powerpoint, in which case I print it (6 to the page) and carry it with me.

This realization led me to defragment my schedule and put check-in type calls on the same day as a 90 mminute staff meeting, which I attend by phone. Gradually I lengthened my walk, until I reached 28 miles -- more than a marathon! -- one day every week. 28 miles takes me about 7 1/2 hours, a bit under 4 miles per hour. As we slid into summer and the temperatures rose into the 90s by mid-day, I shortened my walks to 25 miles, but some weeks do two 25 mile walks.

At 55 years old, I'm probably in better shape than I have been since I graduated from college.

At least a couple of other executives have expressed interest in this idea, of doing long walks. In one way, it is time-intensive, but in another way, it is free, since the time is spent doing something you'd be doing anyway. Unlike running, or weights, or swimming, there is no conflict with talking on the phone. Indeed, while most studies suggest multi-tasking is very inefficient compared to serial uni-tasking, the only major loss from walking while you talk with someone is that using a PC is a challenge. But that might be good -- having a PC when you talk on the phone is a temptation to try to do something else, which generally means not listening. If anything, I'm more focused, not less, and that is a good thing. I do take some notes for followup. I schedule time for lunch, which I eat while walking, and have occasional free half hours due to cancellations, during which I answer emails.

I walk around the Rose Bowl, which has a 3.1 mile (5K) track. Nine laps is 27.9 miles.

Getting to 28 miles took some doing. Initially my feet hurt after even 6 miles, and I learned about pronation (walking on the outside edges of your feet), a term I had never heard previously. (Pronation doesn't sound like a foot issue to me; it sounds either like nationalism or manual self-gratification, the latter arising from leet-speak.) There are shoes that fix pronation. I also developed some fierce blisters on my toes. The pronation-adjusting shoes, which were alleged to fix the blisters as well, did not. Instead, the blisters moved from inside toes (big and index) to outside toes. I then learned about toe socks, which are to regular socks as gloves are to mittens. Toe socks eliminated the blisters entirely. If you get toe blisters, toe socks are worth trying.

A curious effect of a 28 mile walk is that walking never becomes difficult during the walk, as long as I don't stop. However, once I stop, it is as if my legs seize up, and getting up a flight of stairs or even out of the car is a slow affair. This loss of flexibility lasts a couple of hours.

I've only been doing my talk-walking, or twalking (except this term seems to refer to tweeting while walking which I'm not doing) for nine months, and at full scale for five, so it remains to be seen whether this is a fad or a permanent addition to my lifestyle. So far, I'm liking it pretty much even through the summer heat.

"Only Ideas Won by Walking Have Any Value." -Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, 1888.

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