How to build your business (and your body at the same time)
18 April 2019
Owner of both a successful app and a well-sculpted body, Joel Burgess is here to dispel the myth that hard work and a healthy lifestyle don’t mix.
Work can put paid to anyone’s best intentions for a healthier and fitter lifestyle. No more so than in the technology sector, where the projects can be unpredictable, the hours long, and your face, more often than not, glued to one screen or another.
High productivity and good health don’t need to be at odds though, as Joel Burgess – and his rather muscular arms – are a testament to.
The founder and CEO of Nutrifix launched his nutrition app in 2016 and has since raised investment from the likes of Just Eat, and received glowing press from Men’s Health and Forbes, to name a few. He’s also transformed his own body from carrying a little extra weight to what looks like 90% muscle.
Talentful sat down with Joel to set out some simple rules to help better balance a demanding career and big ambitions in tech with all-round good health.
Rule 1: Test and learn
“It’s never too late to start taking care of yourself,” says Joel. “Begin with a very small, realistic goal. Running 1k, or walking 10,000 steps a day. Or try Classpass for a month.”
Joel advises approaching your fitness goals like you would the early stages of app development. “It’s kind of like the MVP (Minimum Viable Product), the idea of the lean startup.”
“Test and learn, test and learn, test and learn. Set small goals, achieve them, then see what worked and what didn’t.”
Rule 2: Don’t get caught up in the cooking
Good nutrition is often one of the first things to go out the window when the Trello cards stack up. But there is a way – and it doesn’t involve batch-cooking broccoli.
“I never prep, and I couldn’t think of anything worse,” says Joel, who uses his own app and services like Gousto to keep tabs on what he’s eating.
“Nutrifix was actually born out of my own struggle with trying to eat healthy whilst constantly on the go.
“You’ll look at a high street meal which you think is healthy, and find it has 30-40g of sugar. But the more awareness you have, the more likely you are to make better decisions going forward.”
Rule 3: Go easy on the snacks
“A lot of people are in a constant cycle of relying on sugar for energy,” says Joel. “An amazing challenge is cutting sugar out for two weeks – you’ll soon realise how much you’re dependent on it. And you’ll be surprised what your own energy level can be like without it. Most often, you’re not even hungry, you’re just bored.”
In terms of desk snacks which won’t derail your goals, Joel recommends sticking to fruit, nuts and protein shakes, while liquid meal replacement shakes like Soylent and Huel have their place.
“I have Huel occasionally, when I don’t have time to stop for lunch. But supplements should be just that – supplementing a good diet.”
Rule 4: Make yourself a morning person
Joel does a ‘5 at 5’ just about every day – getting up at 5am for a 5km run.
“I wasn’t an early morning person, but I’ve trained myself to become one. It takes 66 days to build a habit, and I’ve now made waking up at 5am one of mine.”
Joel recommends building in the flexibility to work out anytime, anywhere. “If I don’t do it first thing, I’ll find time in the day to work out, even if it’s for 10 or 15 minutes. You don’t need a gym. I’m not even a member. I go for runs in the park, I use pull-up bars, I work out at home with a kettlebell. It’s all there to be done on your own.”
Rule 5: Switch off your phone (some of the time)
In order to boost productivity, and to find the time to focus on his fitness, Joel swears by the business principle of ‘deep work’ in the mornings.
“Most people live in a state where they’re constantly fidgeting, distracted, looking at notifications, checking email. I switch my phone off, I don’t send emails and I plan no meetings.
“If you allow yourself to focus on one thing and one thing only for three to four hours a day, what you can achieve is quite unbelievable.”
That’s not to say you should banish tech from your life completely – Joel expounds the benefits of phone-led meditation, using the ‘Waking Up’ app by Sam Harris. He also recommends the audio-guides from Nike+ Run Club, and the tailored workouts on Fiit.
“Nothing really beats Instagram, though. Follow the right people and save all their workouts, then you’ve got free fitness advice at your fingertips.”
Rule 6: Apply the sprint principle
Another way that Joel applies his startup sensibilities to keeping fit is with the ‘sprint’ process.
“It’s the main thing I’ve applied from business and tech into my own life. I’ll look at the week ahead and choose my five most important projects, five tasks, and I’ll only work on those.
“With fitness, I’ll have a longer sprint – maybe two weeks – but it’s the same principle. Try yoga for a week or two, or cut out bread for two weeks, and see what went well, what didn’t go well, what I learned, and where my educational gaps are.”
Rule 7: Unchain yourself from your desk
“I’ve experienced burnout first-hand,” Joel says. “I was working endless hours, right into the evening, and it wasn’t productive.” Now, he swears by working out as a way to work better at your desk.
“At the time it’s quite stressful because you think ‘I should be in front of my laptop,’ but in the long run it is way, way better for your quality of work.”
Joel has built exercise into his company culture. “Taking some time away from your laptop, getting some fresh air, getting outside, getting your heart rate up, will all help your productivity. And it’s far better to be absolutely on it and experiencing that deep work, than sitting at your desk and pretending to be productive.”
And what if your boss won’t allow you out of work to work out? “You’re working for the wrong boss!”
Watch Joel’s health and fitness tips here and listen to what he has to say to your common exercise excuses.