I’m betting if you struggle to get your training done on a daily basis, part of it can be blamed on one simple fact: Your work and life calendar likely sits in Google, while your training schedule is sitting in Training Peaks or is written down on a piece of paper somewhere. Or maybe you don’t even have a training plan so much as a general idea that ‘you should exercise most days.’ What I’ve realized over the years is that the more I compartmentalize my training away from my work, the less likely I am to actually get everything done. What it comes down to is this: We are not singular beings. As I’ll say over and over, we contain multitudes, and what makes our lives work a bit more smoothly is when we can move between those multitudes seamlessly, rather than needing to keep them in separate rooms. So, here are just a few suggestions I have for keeping things a bit more integrated—and thereby, more likely to get done.
Start with making a few master lists
Goals, to-dos, recurring tasks, errands… All of these things, from massive 10-year-plans or even retirement goals down to minute things like picking up that bottle of wine you promised you’d bring to the dinner party you committed to last month can end up swirling around in your head, especially during your training time. If you’re feeling a little scattered, book off 30-60 minutes as soon as possible to just list anything and everything. It can be as messy as you want: The goal when getting started is to just list things out, then worry about getting them organized. But have them all in one place.
Seriously, clear it out
I’ve noticed that often, when I run, it feels like my head is shaking out all of the things that got stuck in there, which used to mean I had to pull out my phone and input tasks into a note mid-run. It got so bad that at one point, I bought an Apple Watch strictly to record reminders while I ran. This was a good band-aid solution, but ultimately, it defeated the purpose of running, which in addition to being exercise was also supposed to be my happy, relaxing time. So I’ve found that 5 minutes each day in morning and evening to jot down random tasks that come into my head when I just stare at a notepad can be really helpful, in addition to sitting down weekly and doing a longer version.
Figure out where things go
I use one app—ToDoist—where I keep all of my lists, some projects organized by date and deadline, broken into tasks, errands listed, and then one board that holds all of my long terms goals and commitments. I even find it really useful to keep one that lists all of our various bank accounts, credit cards, and other financial accounts like IRAs and RRSPs! (I don’t update that list with any numbers, that’s what I use mint.com and a basic spreadsheet for, but I like having that list just so I don’t forget about any accounts.)
Set up recurring tasks
The best thing I ever did was create daily/weekly/every-other-day recurring tasks in ToDoist. These keep my life much more orderly, and don’t let me drop any major balls. Every day, I have tasks to do my morning yoga, write my quick gratitude journal, update my training calendar with notes from the day’s session, and to update my social media channels. Notice that I don’t bother actually inputting my entire training schedule into Todoist, that would be a pain. I just have a to do item to UPDATE my training calendar. That implies that I have to do my training in order to make the update, which is a great double whammy: I train, and I actually add comments before I can check it off the list.
Be smart at how you gameify your to-dos
While I think it’s important to be thorough, checking off tasks gets addictive, so be careful with what you add, especially as recurring tasks. You may notice that my actual workouts aren’t listed there: That’s purposeful. I used to have three recurring tasks: Do PT exercises pre-run, workout, post comments about workout. That’s three items on my to-do list that I could X off in one fell swoop. Sounds great, but I realized it made me twitchy to get those three things knocked off, so I was training at weird times and deprioritizing things that arguably were more important than my easy training run that day. Now, I only have one to-do task, to add comments to my training log. I can’t do that without doing the workout, and I’ve done the PT exercises so regularly (self high-five) that I don’t need the reminder on the to-do list to get them done before I leave the house.
Do a weekly review
The weekly review—as popularized by David Allen, author of my favorite organizational book, Getting Things Done—is important, though if you’re keeping up with tracking your to-dos on a daily basis, it shouldn’t take a ton of your time. I did want to drop it in here because I think it’s super important for your training life. Every Monday morning, I sit down with my calendar and to-do list app, plus my training schedule
Don’t lose the ability to list
I did get rid of my Apple Watch eventually, because runs became more about thinking of tasks to do than just running, but I do still occasionally record voice memos into my phone. There’s always a notebook in my purse. And I even have a waterproof notepad hanging in the shower!
The only major flaw in this system—that I’ve found, anyway!—is that it does make it easy to prioritize the little things that take a few minutes or are just plain fun (i.e responding to a certain email or doing laundry or baking a pie for a dinner with friends) rather than the big rocks. That’s why every morning, I do pause to look through the day’s list and prioritize what needs to get done, usually 3-4 tasks. Some stuff obviously must happen, like scheduled calls, but those don’t always make the priority list. I try to use the priority list as my list of things that don’t rely on other people (as phone calls do) but need to happen (i.e an article on deadline, or the big workout for the week). Then, the other smaller tasks can slot in as the day goes on.
Don’t expect perfection
Look, it’s not like I clear my to do list every day (or even most days). But I do find that having everything in one place makes it more likely that I actually have a bit of balance. I’m not so focused on just getting my work to-do’s done that my workout goes by the wayside or I never get laundry done. I often start the day thinking I’ll just clear the decks a tiny bit by hitting those quick, satisfying tasks, only to end up down a rabbit hole of emails and responsiveness, and have to work later to hit a deadline. But I really do think keeping my to-do lists all in one system has been a gamechanger for how I approach the day/week/life as a whole, rather than relying on five different calendars that I need to bounce between.
Want more on organizing and goal-setting? Check out our book, Becoming A Consummate Athlete, right here: