Productivity Confession: I Do My Best Work While Running

Running has a lot of well-known benefits to our health and well-being. But one unexpected benefit is that running is when I'm most productive.

Productivity Confession: I Do My Best Work While Running
A hard day at work – Photo by Alessio Soggetti / Unsplash

Most of my problem-solving and writing — including writing this article — is done while running.

Running has a lot of well-known benefits to our health and well-being. We all know that running can help us stay fit and maintain or lose weight, for example. But one unexpected benefit that I’ve found is that time spent running is when I'm most productive, and from other runners I’ve spoken to, I’m not the only one.

It’s tempting to think that time spent running competes with all of the other things in our lives that require our time and attention, and to some extent it's true: time spent running is not time spent buying groceries, or time spent with our kids, or time spent at our desks doing work.

But in fact, sometimes running can have a synergistic effect with those other things. If we choose to, time spent running can also be used to focus mental energy and solve problems in other areas of our lives. This is why I say “I do my best work while running.”

Writing while running

There is something about the way the mind operates while running that is somehow perfect for creative endeavors. There’s a guided exploration to the thought process: thoughts can be nudged in a certain direction, but as our bodies wander, so can our minds to new places and new ideas.

It’s often while running that I’ll come up with an idea for a piece of writing (such as this one). Sometimes the ideas come with careful consideration or thought, but other times, they come completely spontaneously as I’m barreling down a forest trail or struggling up a difficult hill.

Once I find an idea I like, I don’t try to plan out every word or phrase of my writing, but I can plan an outline, or sometimes key phrases or ideas I’d like to write about. Instead of sitting at home staring at a blank screen waiting for inspiration on how to write a piece, why not take a run and come home with a fully planned outline?

Coding while running?

When I’m not writing, my day job is building software. Surely you can’t do that while running, right?

Well, it turns out, you can. Writing code and building products are a lot like writing writing. There are moments when code just flows from your fingertips to actually build the software, but there’s even more time spent solving problems and figuring out how to build the code. From product design and definition to choosing the right architecture to figuring out how all the pieces work together, all of these things require careful consideration and planning.

Just like building an outline for a piece of writing, running gives me time and space to consider the big picture of a task and come up with a plan. Sometimes I’ll be stuck in the mud on a particular piece of code in front of my computer, only to come up with the right plan of attack during my run.

Even without writing a line of code, running helps me to solve work problems and write better software.


There’s no sugar-coating it: sometimes running is uncomfortable, and sometimes it can be downright painful. Especially if you’re training hard, racing, or doing long endurance events, there’s a certain level of discomfort you’re going to have to deal with.

If you read about strategies for dealing with discomfort, you’ll find that there are two, seemingly contradictory strategies people sometimes use: association and dissociation.

With association, we focus in on the details of the experience including how we’re our bodies are moving, and on the discomfort itself. With dissociation, on the other hand, we turn out attention to other things to try to “tune out” discomfort.

Even though they sound contradictory, both strategies can be used successfully — sometimes over the course of the same run!

Though one can dissociate with any kind of unrelated thoughts (a song, a mantra, thinking of a peaceful scene), the most powerful dissociation for me comes from wrapping my mind around a work challenge. Sometimes it’s when I’m feeling the worst that I let my mind wander to work topics the most.

Don’t be a fun sponge

Wait a minute, you might be saying — doesn’t working while running take away the joy of running itself? Why would one want to replace their “free time” with work?

These are fair questions — but the truth is, if you’re running any kind of volume, there’s plenty of time to go around during running. When training for a marathon has you up above 40 or 50 or 60 miles a week, there’s no shortage of time to fill up with all kinds of thoughts, both work and non-work related.

Furthermore, I don’t treat running as a time when I need to get work done — I just let my mind wander in the right neighborhood of work problems to see where it goes.

Running is Inspiration

We’ve all heard it said that running is inspirational, and in my experience, that’s quite literally true: running gives me a mental time and space to explore new ideas and solve problems. Though some people run to temporarily escape from the challenges of everyday life, I find that running can be the perfect time and place to explore those challenges, be they related to work or family, or anything else.