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…).
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?
- 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?