Ages ago I was listening to a podcast with someone who highly advocated never checking your email in the morning – and having it be an afternoon activity (and that it should only be a once a day activity – unless you have a specific job that requires you to check more regularly than that). The reason was that if you check your email first thing, then it tends to set everyone else’s priorities for your time for the rest of the day, rather than you pursuing your own priorities first. Often that first part of the day (especially for morning people like me) is my most creative time of the day, so it’s important that I prioritise it for that type of work.
This isn’t strictly about running, but the better organised you can be with your time, the easier it will be to fit the training that you want to do in. So I thought I’d share a little bit about how I structure my priorities and my week to get the most out of it. Because let’s face it, I have a full time job, two kids (thankfully at school, most of the time!) and my personal preference is for a high volume training week, so I need all the productivity I can lay my hands on.
This is what is working for me at the moment.
Write down your priority list
I don’t like thinking of it as a to do list. To do lists are stressful. Priority lists are about making sure the most important things are the things that get done first. I tend to look at my list from the week before to get in all the things that are weekly things that don’t really change and then I add in anything else that is particular to the week or in preparation for a bigger monthly or quarterly event. Next to each thing, I estimate how many hours it will take me. I also write down training sessions in my priority list, because they are important too and note down how long they will take as well. I like to make sure that everything is written down there. So if I need half an hour a day to respond to emails, that time is not going to come out of thin air, it needs to be on the list. And then I number everything from first priority to last priority.
Break up your day into 1 hour blocks, with breaks.
I find that I like to separate out my different things into sections so I might be working on the website for an hour, then I might have lunch, then I might do a weights session, then I might come back and do an hour of programming. That’s for a few reasons. It keeps my mind nice and fresh by switching between things. It allows me to be pretty focused because I’m only working on one thing at a time for at most an hour and it means I’m not sitting down at a computer for hours at a time. An interesting study found that when you think you are being hyper-productive with multi-tasking you actually end up losing about 40% of your time by switching from task to task, and you are much better off single tasking. So that’s really what I try to do. But make sure you have time in between your slots because you aren’t a machine, you need to create a bit of buffer space between activities which also allows for wiggle room when something comes up unexpectedly.
Before I start adding things into blocks, I add up the total hours and make sure I have enough time through the week. In a typical week I might have about 25 hours on my hands once I take out appointments, stuff for the kids, school pick up and drop off and all the rest of it. So if my number is higher than that, then I’d need to make some adjustments to my priority list and move a few things that are low down the list into next week.
Start slotting your priority list into your time blocks
Now it’s time to start adding your priorities into your time slots. I like to put the things that require the most creativity first thing in the morning when I am fresh and the things that are more purely administrative in the afternoon. It’s good to work out what your sleep style is to work out when you work best through the day. As a classic early to bed, early to rise type of person I’m pretty good for anything I need to get done in-between 5 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon but after that I don’t really have the attention for it. If you can, structure your day around what is going to work for you. I also like to put things that I have a high level of resistance to (like rehab) earlier in the day. If I leave it to the afternoon I can get decision fatigue and really struggle to push myself to do it. Whereas if I do it earlier, I find it easier to get going and then I get to feel really smug about it for the rest of the day.
The good thing about this system is you can put in all of your appointments or meetings so you can see from the outset whether you have a fair amount of time through the week or if it’s a week that is jam packed and you are only going to be able to get the necessary things done through the week. I do tend to stack things a bit more at the beginning of the week so that Friday can be a bit more of a relaxing day or a day to do errands.
If you are able to: alternate between sedentary and active things and it will make a huge difference to what you are able to get done through the week.
And remember, nothing is set in stone
Planning is all about giving yourself the maximum opportunity to get things done. But life has a way of not going according to plan, regularly! I do find it’s often necessary to move things around through the week or if something comes up get rid of things that aren’t absolutely necessary from my schedule. Remember it’s there to make your decisions easier through the day, structure the day so it’s the most enjoyable and help you to get through what you want to get through, but don’t let it become an albatross around your neck either. If a friend comes over for coffee, or if you need to just not be doing stuff for a day, don’t sweat it. It’s a priority list, not a to do list.