If you read the article ’11 traits of Top-notch triathletes’ on ironman.com the item at the top of the list is ‘We can deftly balance a jam-packed schedule’. I remember looking at similar articles when I started triathlon and thinking to myself how on earth I can squeeze all this in?…I felt I was busy before I started training!
I don't know if my schedule is any more jam packed than anyone else but I thought I would write about how I make such a simple sentence actually happen.
Basics…how long have I really got?
How many hours really do I have in a week - how much time do I really have the opportunity to maximize and change?
168 Total hours in a week
Have to do time - fixed cost
50 hours sleep - 7 hours per night + 1 extra hour lie in at the weekend
55 hours work or work related activity - have to earn a living
7 hours per week preparing to leave for work and commuting to work
6 hours per week commuting back home
11 hours per week actually eating
So you want to be an Ironman - discretionary but prioritized
So now lets do some Ironman training - even for an age grouper like me, I want to do around 10-12 hours per week. But when you add in all the stuff around it i.e showering, traveling to and from the gym/pool, changing, preparing etc etc - lets call this 15 in total
So this leaves…
This leaves 24 hours available for the rest of your life….roughly 3 hours per day and around 14% of your total available time in the week. This is not a lot of variable time So in this time you have to:
Have to do - you don't want to do
Admin - pay bills, waste time on the phone with cable, credit card, electricity etc etc
Shopping - need to buy food, get your haircut, go to the pharmacy etc etc
Chores - launder your clothes, put them away, cleaning, gardening, honey-do lists etc etc
Extra work - work you need to finish, unexpected items etc etc
Want to do
Spend time with your family - they are, for me at least, the most important
School events - kids sports, concerts etc
Friends - keep in touch, go out together etc etc
Resting - you need quiet time…don't underestimate this...I find that 3 hours of just doing nothing in a week makes a huge difference to help recharge
Reading/Learning - you still need to learn about how to be better at everything!
Any other hobbies that you might have
Make sure you are healthy - doctor, dentist etc
The goal here is to remove as many of the don't want to do and maximize the Want to Do.
How do I make this work?
So how do you maximize the priority items and training and minimize all the rest? To put the idea into two words, I constantly strive for what I call the ‘Frictionless life’…the principles are as follows:
1 Keep it simple - Simplify as much as possible. Companies are constantly trying to sell you products and services that apparently will help you be efficient. Some are worth trying but I recommend keeping things simple. You will have a few tools that really add value....the rest actually make the situation worse.
2 Set the priority - you need to decide what is and isn't priority in your life. You will not be able to do everything you want - deal with it!
3 Outsource - where you can afford it outsource tasks to people who will do them for you e.g cleaners, dry cleaners, some or all of the clothes washing/ironing etc. The more of this you can do the more time you will create.
4 Share - with your family/partner share the tasks that you are unable to outsource. Everyone should have responsibility for some part of the have to do tasks. Once shared let those responsible get on with it and trust it will be done. If you meddle then you are wasting your and the other person’s time!
5 You need a plan - plan out your spare/chore time in the same way as you do your workouts and work. For example we sit as a family and plan out the weekend on Wednesday and Thursday. This works because it generally involves fun items as well as chores so everyone looks forward to the time and maximizing the fun stuff. If you don't have a plan then time will disappear (later I will talk about how sometimes disappearing time is really good for you)
6 Combine - combine some of your tasks together. For example learn by reading/listening whilst commuting or working out. If your friends also work out then do it with them. You can rest with your family - play games, watch a movie etc etc
7 Prepare - for me, like most I am sure, the busiest time is Monday to Friday. My schedule is timed down to a few minutes. The only way to make this work is to prepare in advance. For example my training schedule is entered into Training Peaks by my coach every Saturday. This is based on me communicating late in the week what my schedule for the following week looks like. I then lay out the clothing for each workout for the work week in advance and put it into a bag in preparation. I write out the swim workouts onto individual pieces of paper for each day and put them into my swim bag.
8 Bring those important to you along - you must tell the important people in your life your plan and make sure that they are bought into whatever you are doing. What you will do, won't do and how you will help each other achieve your individual and shared goals. Give and take is vital!
If you can optimize these 8 items then you can create this Frictionless life…when you leave for work your coffee is ready, your car is full of gas, your train and parking ticket is up to date, your bills are paid on time, your bag is ready for training at the exact moment you are ready to walk out to the gym etc etc. Additionally you get to spend good times with your family and get the right amount of rest....everyone is happy!
When things go according to plan it is great. You will make a huge amount of progress towards your goals in very short periods of time. Everyone in your life knows what is going on and what they need to do…..
Consequences of living this way
In my time trying to live this way I have found some interesting things happen that will have an impact.
1 Stop and Fix - because you are constantly prioritizing your life you will find that over time a backlog of low priority tasks will build up. Individually these tasks do not create a problem for your frictionless existence but together, over time they will get in the way. Eventually you have to pause the relentless prioritization and deal with them. I find that this needs to be done around once a month and will cost you at least a day of dealing with them. At the end of the time you will feel as though you have achieved nothing important but you should try not to think this way. Collectively they grease the wheels of your life, accept them.
2 Not everyone lives your way - I find that I sometimes get frustrated with others who do not live in a similar way. For example I stand in line to buy lunch at a buffet and the person in front spends so long putting small spoonfuls of food on their plate and changing their mind while you stand and wait knowing that you have a meeting in five minutes but you desperately need to eat. Accept that others live differently
3 You will not have time - one of the most difficult consequences of this lifestyle is that you will find that you do not have time for a lot of unplanned items. Example, a good friend calls you out of the blue and asks you out for a drink. Based on what you are doing this will unlikely fit into your plan. This means you have to make an instant prioritization decision. Do you drop your plan and go or say truthfully, in your eyes at least, that you are busy. These instant decisions have consequences….be careful.
4 Rest - you will not be able to keep the pace of living a frictionless life going for a long period without rest. You can either do it consciously or your body will force you by getting ill or overly tired. Experiment to know your limits and also plan for periods of rest. I generally find I need a rest of at least a few days every 3 months.
I have found this to be an effective way to live to achieve life goals. However, within the framework described you have to be flexible and adapt. Long term goals are by their very nature longer term...a consistent but flexible approach within your priorities works best.