Finding Balance: Fitting it all in

Much to my surprise, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the idea of balance in the past few weeks.  This surprised me because I’ve never been a huge fan of the idea of “finding balance,” not because it’s not an important concept but because we as a culture talk about it so much that it seems to have lost meaning.  It often falls into same category as phrases like “living authentically” and “finding your bliss.”  My (overly) practical self doesn’t have any way to intuitively process or understand those ideas.  What do they even mean?

Still, for a couple of weeks this slippery idea of balance has been floating about in my head, almost certainly because I’ve been trying to adjust to a new (and busier) routine.  So because this blog isn’t cliché enough already, I thought I’d do a blog series (my first ever! I have no idea what I’m doing!) about finding balance.  Since starting official Ironman training, I have struggled to balance my schedule in such a way that I do what I need to do without completely losing my mind.  I’ve had varying degrees of success, depending on what is going on in my life during that particular week.

When I first started my training program a month or so ago, the hours I spent working out increased.  It wasn’t a huge spike because I had been building a base to prepare myself, but my training time crossed a threshold.  Instead of doing two-a-days a couple of times a week, a morning and an evening workout was the norm.  Instead of getting up at 6:00am most days and having a relaxing, lazy morning, I was getting up at 5:00am most days and rushing off to a workout.  The first two weeks, I thought I was going to die.  Not only was I mentally acclimating to a new, more intense training program, but I was physically acclimating as well.  As anyone who has trained for a long-distance event knows, the struggle is real.

I pretty much became a zombie everywhere except on the roads and in the pool.  I was glazed over every day at work, and I would come home, work out, and then sit on the couch and stare at my computer while wondering when the heck dinner was going to magically appear on the counter.  Dirty clothes piled up.  My plan to meal-plan lay forgotten in my notebook.  My boyfriend sat ignored on the couch (which he may have found preferable to my typical constant bothering…).

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This?  I was handling it.  Everything else?  Not so much.

Finally, one day, I stared at the array of dirty dishes and the laundry basket half full of clean clothes (because the other half had been pulled out and used in the week since the laundry had been done).  “I can’t live like this,” I thought.  “I’m an adult and this is gross.”  The idea came to me suddenly.  If I could do 15 minutes of strength work when I really didn’t want to or go for an hour long run when all I wanted to do was take a nap, I could do the same thing with housework.  So I set my watch for 20 minutes and got going.  I was in a flow when my watch went off, so I did a few more 20 minute rounds.  Pretty soon, most of my domestic life was back in order.

That was the lightbulb moment for me.  I could train for an Ironman and still be a functioning member of society.  I realized that for a few weeks, I might have to obsessively schedule.  I might have to “force” balance.  If you’ve read here long enough, you maybe have noticed that I’m not generally a big fan of forcing things, especially internal, emotional/mental things.  I wrote a post that could basically be summarized as “It’s my training program.  I’ll cry if I want to.  But hopefully I won’t want to for long.”  But I’ve noticed that with any major change of routine (new job, starting grad school, beginning a new training program), I am overwhelmed for a few weeks, certain that this new life is too much for me.  If I want to be at all successful in the “adulting” game, I need to force myself to complete basic tasks for a few weeks while I adjust to my routine to see if it is too much for me or not.

So I busted out some of my planning skills that I developed in college and grad school (some of which I was already using).

What did I need to do?

  1. Train
  2. Sleep
  3. Work
  4. Eat
  5. Bathe
  6. Keep my habitat inhabitable

I was nailing numbers one and two.  The rest were… questionable.  At best.

With this information, I started a new process.  Every week, I look at my training plan for the week and translate it into my own schedule (I move workouts around pretty freely).  After I have a good idea about how much exercise I’m doing each day, I use the same list to plan other aspects of my life.  I keep track of dinner for each day.  This may change throughout the week, and I don’t always have my meals planned out for the entire week.  But I try to have an option in mind for the next day.  And I try to plan dinner based on my workouts. An hour long bike ride after work?  I may throw some potatoes in the oven to bake while I’m gone.  No workouts in the afternoon?  I may plan something a little more time-consuming like quiche.  In the same list, I assign myself a task for each day.  That may be making a phone call I’ve been avoiding or going to a store to get something I need.  If I’m feeling really tired, my task may even be to relax and watch a TV show so that I can sit down without feeling like I should be doing something else.  I also started trying to do at least one 20 minute round of cleaning a day.  (It’s really shocking how much actually gets done in 20 minutes when you just force yourself to do it!)

The thing I like about this list is that it’s flexible.  If Rob comes home from work with the ingredients for a stir-fry, then we can have stir-fry and I’ll make that pasta dish the next day. I typically don’t even fill out the task portion for, say, Wednesday until Monday or Tuesday. If I notice that my laundry is piling up, I just make sure I assign that as my one task of the day.  The one task keeps me from feeling overwhelmed (I’m easily overwhelmed…) and helps me focus.  Maybe I can’t cook and do the dishes and make that phone call and do the laundry and tidy the living room after a long day, but I can bake some potatoes and throw a load of clothes in the wash.  And I can make sure my task for the next day is to clean the kitchen or make that important phone call.

Now, this exact process won’t work for everyone, but my biggest suggestion when it comes to fitting in all your responsibilities is to have a plan.  Write things out.  Think ahead.  Put in two weeks at your new routine to see if it’s manageable.  And if it’s not, you may need to take a closer look and find things to take out of your schedule, which will be the focus of tomorrow’s post.

Am I alone in needing an “adjustment period” before a new routine feels manageable?

How you do fit in all your various, sometimes conflicting responsibilities, especially when training for something important?

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6 thoughts on “Finding Balance: Fitting it all in

  1. Hanna @ TheMillennialNextDoor

    Blog series!!! I love doing blog series!!

    I also hate the term “finding balance”, but for a slightly different reason: I think our culture has started to fall down the rabbit hole of conflating “balance” with “having it all”. Only in America could we turn something as innocuous as balance into yet another way to put unnecessary pressure on ourselves.

    Good luck with your new process, I hope it brings you more peace. I was in the same place a couple months ago, looking at my house and my eating schedule and thinking “this is gross. How can I as an adult live like this?” I think it’s important to have balance while training but I’ve also learned to be wary of having unrealistic expectations. While my house shouldn’t get to the level of needing a hazmat inspection, I also need to accept that if I’m training I’m simply not going to have as much time and energy to devote to keeping things gleaming and tidy. Logging all those miles is incredibly time-consuming, to say nothing of the mental energy it takes to force yourself through a training schedule. It’s really the equivalent of having a second job. There is no perfect balance. When I want to train for something big, I have to accept that comes with sacrifices. But of course, those sacrifices should be reasonable and be as minimized as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “I think our culture has started to fall down the rabbit hole of conflating ‘balance’ with ‘having it all.'”

      I actually focus on this point in my next post! I 100% agree. I think when people want “balance” to mean “having it all,” they just put themselves in an impossible situation. And instead of balance, they end up running back and forth on the teeter-totter, picking stuff up and putting it down and trying desperately to keep either end from hitting the ground. Last week was an especially big week for me training-wise, and I definitely dropped my “20 minutes of cleaning a day” rule. It just wasn’t happening, and I had to be okay with it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jenny

    I just want to say I’m really enjoying your blog posts. I love hearing the specifics of your training, with just enough personal information thrown in to make it interesting, like we really “know” you. Plus I appreciate the fact that your posts are always well-written. I am rooting for you and wishing you good luck in your training! And looking forward to the next post : )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I really appreciate that! With blogging, I think it can be tough to find the balance between sharing some personal info and being a total over-sharer, so it’s good to hear positive feedback in that regard. I’m really glad you’ve been enjoying my posts. 🙂

      Like

  3. This is great, thank you so much for sharing! I find it so hard to balance training and the rest of my life. Like you said, I’m often sat there zonking out to the TV whilst the rest of my life (laundry, cleaning, funky looking vegetables in my fridge) just goes on without me! I need to get on that shit, so I’m so looking forward to your blog series!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh man, funky looking vegetables in the fridge are the worst! My roommate and I once had a full dozen eggs in our fridge for a year and a half after they expired. By the time we noticed them, we were scared of them, so they just stayed there until we moved out!

      Like

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