As a coach, the most popular question I get asked is “how do I manage all my sport and my studies/work?” I remember the struggle making time to manage 7 swimming sessions per week (with an extra 2 gym sessions as well) and my studies for year 12. University students might find it difficult, especially when studying full time and juggling 2 or more jobs; and many parents will prioritise looking after their children and having a sustainable income over physical activity. I have heard multiple people tell me you need balance in order to be successful. That’s just utter nonsense, and if you don’t believe me read The Passion Paradox by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. Almost all successful people didn't balance their lifestyle whilst working their way to the top, and most likely still don’t. There will be times that you need to prioritise work or studies over training, such as final exams or a big meeting that could get you that promotion, and that’s life. Remember sometimes it's good to have a break from training, but making sure you have an idea of what needs to be done and how you’ll do it will be the difference between you being a successful athlete or not. So I’m going to share the process I have used to stay on top of training, university, 3 different jobs and still be able to meet up with friends/family all at once.
Make the time, don’t find it:
Making time in your day to complete tasks is the first step in managing everything you need to. Notice I'm saying make, not find. This means the desired activity is important, you’re setting aside time to get it done. For those who train in a group, this isn’t too difficult as you’ll have set times to meet up for training, so you can organise work/study around training. However, I can understand the difficulty if you only communicate with your coach online/over-the-phone, or exercise alone. For people in these situations, try finding someone to exercise with who has similar exercise goals to you or someone who needs to get out. That way you are setting time aside for not only yourself, but for someone else. For example, I always seek to do my Sunday long runs with a training partner/s. This not only ensures I am following the program, but my training friends are as well. Training/competing alongside others can even make you perform better on race day, observed in Matt Fitzgerald's book How Bad Do You Want It? Mastering the Mind of Psychology Over Muscle. But if you can’t find someone, don’t worry, it's still ok to train solo, as long as you make time you are already on the way to achieving your exercise goals.
Use a calendar:
Having a calendar is essential for juggling all your daily activities. Although I prefer to write my tasks out, you can use a phone, tablet, whatever suits you, as long as you have it available to use. Before I go to bed, I write down a few things I need to do the next day in my diary and that morning I write when I will complete them. This process has helped me stay on top of things, even with the high temptation to procrastinate now due to COVID-19. Now whilst many people talk about the power of now, I still believe having some plan is necessary to let you see what needs to be done. For example, if I see that I have an assignment due in a week's time, I will make time throughout the week to get little bits of it done so by the time the assignment is due, all I have to do is make minor adjustments. Using a calendar is also good for retrospection. Ali Abdaal (one of my favourite Youtubers) shares the benefits of having a retrospective diary to use when studying for finals and how to do it (link here). This process can be applied to work and training. Looking back on what you have done allows you to assess what works for you, and what doesn’t. Even logging what you’ve done for training helps you understand the process your coach put in place and how you’re a better athlete.
So you’ve made time, written it down in your diary and set on completing your bout of exercise. But then, something comes up that’s out of your control, such as covering a work shift. What we can control, in similar scenarios, is how we adapt our timetable to still fit our training/exercise into our schedule. For example, if you planned on exercising in the morning but you “accidentally” slept in, try finding time in the afternoon. Don’t just give up if you missed the session time, always make a way to get your exercise in, even if it isn’t exactly what you planned on doing, it’s better than doing nothing. For example, sometimes I can’t train with my squad on Thursday afternoons because I take my brother home from school. Instead, I’ll do my session in the morning with Brad's squad (some whom I coach), and do an easy run in the afternoon when I get home. As long as you communicate any changes with your coach, being adaptable will help you not only in your pursuit of fitness, but your studies, work and social aspects to your life.