“You will never ‘find’ time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.”
In my a previous post, I talked about setting specific measurable goals, rather than making vague resolutions. Now that you’ve set your goals for the year, it’s important to have a time management strategy that will allow you to management work, kids, training, and maybe even a social life. If your new goals are a priority for you, you will (and must) make time to achieve them. I know from experience how hard it can be to balance everything. But, the reward is worth the sacrifice! (I promise.)
John and I have been at this game for a while now, and we’ve learned a few tricks along the way to help us achieve somewhat of a balance between training, life and work. This post offers some tips that I’ve broken into four key categories: 1) Planning and Organization, 2) Fueling, 3) Training, and 4) “Everything Else.”
Planning and Organization
While many of us use training plans (if you don’t, you really should – but that’s another post!), we don’t always have time management plans. While planning takes some time, it ultimately saves more time than it uses–especially once you have your system in place.
Make a yearly, monthly and weekly schedule and task list
First things first: find some way to keep track of your life and all the many things you must do each day, week, month. I prefer a digital daily planner, and I use Outlook. But, any daily planner–digital or otherwise– works just as well.
The trick is to find the system that works for you. The mechanism only matters so far as it allows you to use the calendar regularly. And, by “regularly,” I mean DAILY.
Once you’ve decided on your system for planning, set to the task of planning the days, weeks, and months ahead. I like to do a schedule update on Sunday evenings in preparation for the work week to come. Again: find what works for you!
Log the events and tasks that are not flexible in time. For example, if you have to be at work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., then block that time out. If you have a lunch break, keep that time “open”–you might be able to schedule a quick workout! If you have a doctor’s appointment on Saturday morning at 10 a.m., then block that time out. If you have a race on August 19, put it in your calendar!
In addition to professional responsibilities, don’t forget to set aside “social” time; time spent with family and friends is important, so be sure to privilege it on your calendar. Below is an example of one week in-progress in my outlook calendar.
When I put events on my calendar, I include the time, location, and relevant notes, such as items I might need to bring to a meeting, or a topic that a student wants to discuss. These notes can save me time later as I am preparing. What do I need to bring? Just read the notes!
After I fill in the fixed-time events, I add other events or tasks I have to complete that aren’t set for a certain time frame. I am blessed with a flexible schedule that allows me to work from home frequently. However, this flexible schedule can be a curse if you don’t introduce some structure – you can waste time without realizing it!
As you can see above, I include tasks that have due dates, but not a particular event time. In this manner, I can see what needs to be done on any given day and can use “free” time accordingly. I also schedule my training on the calendar. Since I train using minutes, rather than miles (with the exception of swimming), it’s easy to set aside a specific block of time on the calendar.
As circumstances change, you can always modify your calendar, which is another reason I prefer the digital version to the handwritten version: no cross-outs! The important thing is that you have an outline in place for how you plan to spend your time for the week. This planning should also take into account long-term deadlines and goals. What do I need to complete this week to help me achieve my goal that is due 4 weeks from now?
In the end, this planning reveals your priorities. You cannot do everything, and must prioritize those items that are most important and give them space in your busy schedule. If training is a priority, you will find a place for it. If you are at a point in your life where there truly are competing priorities that must come first, then be honest about that when you set training and racing goals.
That being said, don’t use time as an excuse to keep you from pursuing your dreams. You can make it happen.
Food is a timesuck.
When John and I first started high volume training, I was really taken aback by the massive amount of food two human beings could consume within just a week’s time–so much so that our grocery bills almost double during high volume training periods!
Shopping for and preparing all of this food takes up time. This is due to both quantity (we eat more) and quality (we eat lots of fresh food). Fresh, nutrient-rich foods require more preparation than processed, nutrient-weak foods. But, the extra preparation time is worth it as your body becomes stronger, and recovers more quickly. Most importantly, fresh food packs more nutrients, with fewer calories than processed food. So, your body’s requirements are met more efficiently, which allows you to achieve an ideal race weight.
I set aside a block of time each week, usually on Sunday, to food shop for the week. (Note: I usually have to shop for fresh produce twice a week.) If you are starved for time with your significant other, why not make this trip to the market a date? Or, if you need some time with friends, meet at the grocery store and shop together while catching up. If the point is to spend time together, then a grocery store works just as well as a local pub or restaurant. Creative compromise comes in handy during high volume weeks!
When I return from shopping, I wash and prepare the produce to make it easy to grab during the hectic work week. After I wash the produce, I store it in appropriate containers, preferably ones with lids so they stack easily, while keeping the food fresh longer.
This prepared produce allows quick and easy assembly of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. For example, John and I eat a salad for lunch every day, and all we need to do is simply assemble the salad using a variety of vegetables and fruits. Ideally, I will make my lunch the night before (dressing on the side), so I can grab and go in the morning.
In addition to saving time, prep time offers an opportunity to chat with a significant other, or to get your kids involved. You can teach them about good nutrition, while spending time together. Involving your family in what you are doing will strengthen your relationships and give them an investment in your training. Rather than framing this time as a task that needs to be completed, you can use it as an opportunity to share your interests with those you care about. In this manner, everyone is on the journey together.
Other meal tips:
Make more than what you need at dinner time, then freeze the leftovers or eat them the next night. Be creative with leftovers. For example, stuff leftovers (whatever they are) into roasted peppers and top with a little Parmesan cheese. So yummy!
One of my go-to meals when things are hectic is meatloaf (turkey, venison, lean beef, whatever). I will usually make 3 or 4 loaves at a time, since it takes the same amount of effort to make one as it does four. Then, I’ll freeze the leftovers. And, voila! One night when you have no time (or energy) to cook, there’s a ready made meal waiting for you in the freezer. I do the same thing with casserole-style, soups, or one-pot meals.
Pre-bake chicken breasts (or other protein) during the weekend, or make more than what you need at dinner time, so you can toss them into salads throughout the week.
What a crock!
Another time saver is the crock pot. If you don’t have one, get one.
It’s ridiculously simple. Stick a bunch of stuff in there in the morning before you leave for work. When you come home, you have dinner. It’s awesome.
Breakfast on the go
For breakfast, there are additional time savers. We will make a large batch of slow-cooked oats (steel cut, whatever you prefer). Then, I pour the oatmeal into a Tupperware or pyrex with a lid and store it in the fridge. In the morning, I cut a piece of the oatmeal, add a little bit of water or soy milk, microwave for a minute or two and voila – breakfast is served! I just recently made a batch with Bosc pears – OMG – so good! You can also add bananas or berries when you reheat.
In the summer, I don’t like a hot breakfast. I tend toward making fresh fruit/vegetable juice or smoothies with fruit and greek yogurt. And, since I work out in the morning, I will add a scoop of my recovery mix to the smoothie. (We use Endurox R4, but I also like Hammer’s Recoverite, or even good old-fashioned chocolate milk.) This takes all of about 3 minutes to make, especially if the fruit is already washed. You might also pre-bake whole grain muffins, using applesauce or mashed bananas to add sweetness and moistness, rather than sugar and oil/butter.
Other quick breakfast options include: cereal (but, be careful here, most cereals have waaayyyy too much sugar), hard boiled eggs & fruit, whole wheat toast with pb (or almond butter).
In order to make the most of your training, you need to use a plan of some sort. This does not mean you need a coach, but you do need to understand when and how to apply volume, duration, intensity and specificity to your training. A training plan will ensure that you make the most of your limited training time. After all, we aren’t pros and we don’t have 35+ hours a week to train.
The specific details of training plans are beyond the scope of this post. Suffice to say: you need a training plan that will help you make the most of your time. We can help you with that.
The bike trainer is a perfect tool for time management. If you ride on your trainer, you can shave a bit of time off because you won’t be coasting, stopping at lights, for traffic, etc.
Even if you don’t cut time (as I often don’t), trainer rides still save time because all you have to do is hop on. No need to get a bunch of outdoor gear together, sunscreen up, pack up all your food, and drive to the ride start point (if applicable). If possible, set up a designated area for your trainer, which makes the easy-on, easy-off even easier!
The trainer not only saves time, but it allows for more efficient use of the time you have. I’ve found that I get an excellent workout on my CompuTrainer, and always opt for using it if I have an interval-style workout. It’s safer than the road and I don’t have to worry about stopping for lights, traffic, etc. Another benefit of the trainer is that you can do it *anytime*–no need to worry about weather, if it’s light out, and so on.
I have friends who ride their trainer while spending time with the family. Set it up in a common area, and you can ride and hang out at the same time. You can get your workout in, while serving as a role model to your family for your commitment to healthy living and goal-directed action.
Minutes, not miles
Training by minutes rather than miles helps with time management. If I have a 90 minute run, I need 90 minutes. If I have a 12 mile run, I may not be exactly sure how long that will take depending on the day and my effort level, making it more difficult to schedule. And, more importantly, your body understands time not duration. So, 90 minutes on your feet is 90 minutes on your feet – regardless of how far you go.
**The only exception to using minutes is the swim. Those sessions should be performed as master’s style workouts, unless you are doing a continuous, steady-state swim, or swimming in open water.
Getting up or staying up
Typically, fitting in workouts means being willing to wake up at 4:00 a.m., or to stay up late (depending on your preference). I’m a morning person, so I wake up early.
I organize and lay out my gear and nutrition the night before, so I can sleep as late as possible. I set the alarm on the coffee pot so it’s ready to go when I am. Then, I wake up, get my stuff together and out the door I go (or on to the trainer I go).
If you are going to run outside in the dark, I recommend investing in a head lamp. It helps you see where you are going, but more importantly, it helps cars see you. Wear reflective gear as well.
Super-set strength training
If you are like me, then you find it difficult to fit in strength training with an already very full training schedule. I have found that if I super-set my strength training, or do a circuit-style routine, it takes me only 30-45 minutes to get a total body experience. And, since I’m getting the total body experience, I just need to squeeze these sessions in 2-3 times a week.
It may require some creativity and maybe some unconventional behavior, but you can fit things in if you truly want to. I have one friend who brings her trainer to her daughter’s soccer games, another who rides her bike to her kids’ events, and yet another who bike commutes to work.
You can also mix social time with training time. Why not set up a run date with friends or a significant other? How about a nice long bike with your buddy?
By “everything else,” I mean social and family life. I’ve already offered some suggestions about how you might fit in time with friends and family. I takes some creativity, but you can think of ways to include those you love in your training.
Do more than one thing
Another tip that helps is to multi-task as much as possible. At any given time, I am usually doing more than one thing. For example, I make phone calls while folding laundry. I stretch while working on the computer or cleaning the house. I try to run all of my errands at once, rather than taking a variety of little trips. While not all tasks can be multi-tasked, many of the mundane chores of the household can be done simultaneously, or almost simultaneously.
However, the hard truth is that aspects of your social life will be sacrificed during training, especially during high volume weeks. You may find that you will need to take a sick day in order to recover from an especially hard week of training. You may have to miss a special event because you are tired from a bike ride.
For example, when high volume hits in Ironman training, at least 6 hours of a Saturday are spent in the saddle. By the time I get home, I am beat. This summer, I had wanted to go to my friend Lorin’s birthday party. I optimistically RSVP’d that I would be there. After a 6 hour ride in the sweltering heat, I was a wilted mess of flesh, barely able to get off the couch to grab my phone so I could tell her I couldn’t make it.
Yes, that sucks. And, yes, it is likely that something similar will happen again at some point.
But, it doesn’t happen all of the time, and not as often as you might think. I am comfortable with the fact that the pursuit of one goal requires a shifting of priorities until that goal is met. These sacrifices do not last forever, and they are not required all of the time. It’s a minor and temporary sacrifice for a lifetime accomplishment.
Balance will return to your life, and when it does, you’ll have the fulfilling reward of accomplishment after months of hard work. You will have your time to celebrate and return to “regular” life–at least until the next training cycle begins.