Every morning at 4.50am my alarm clock would start BLEEPING at an infernal level, causing me to jolt awake, blearily glance at the offending object, and then bash the snooze button for an extra ten minutes sleep ... But a few minutes after I had hit the snooze button, at my bedroom door would be this "tap tap tap." My Dad would be at my door to make sure that I was getting up. Grumpily I would call out - "yes, yes, yes, I'm getting up" - even though I would still be buried under my mountains of quilt and blankets. Eventually my alarm clock would go off again, and this time I would have to face the facts, my day was beginning, and I had to get up to do my first thing on that days to-do list - head down to the pool to swim for two and a half hours.
One thing my career as an elite athlete taught me was how to prioritise my time. Without the ability to prioritise my day, to understand that my time management was based around my main life goal, I doubt I would have had the success that I had in my swimming career. However, the idea of prioritising my time was based not just on the larger goal at hand, but also the smaller day-to-day ones that popped up in my training sets, my stretching, my eating, my sleeping, even my down time. These time management skills fed over into my academic career and are now feeding into my speaking career, enabling me to take on what I know works, but also allowing me to try different methods - just as I did as a swimmer.
And so ...
I prioritise ....
then I work at it, each day at a time, keeping in mind the bigger picture, the dream, but focusing on each hour, minute, second, and what I am doing in those seconds that is bringing me closer to my goal.
BUT, how do you bring yourself to focus so steadily on the present?
In swimming training the session would be broken into three distinct phases - warm up, main set, swim down. Warm up was usually a gentle swim of about 500m, about 5-10mins of slowly warming your muscles up and getting them set for action. The main set itself was often broken into it's own sections and depended on what needed to be done that morning, but it usually involved a building up of intensity and then a slowing down, leading too, the swim down. The swim down was the relaxing and cooling of the muscles, bringing them back to an equilibrium so you could function throughout the day.
SO, how do I now structure my time management? And how is it inspired by my swimming?
Firstly, upon waking, I "warm up' my mental muscles, grab a cup of tea, check emails, and maybe read some newsletters/blogs/news, I ease myself into the day, prepping my brain for action. Next I start my main set, which usually lasts until lunch time (I tend to work better in the mornings), unless I am out speaking that day, and then the main set is whenever I am speaking - morning/afternoon/night. The main set is broken into a set routine of effort-relax-effort-relax. At the moment I am working on a cycle of 30min effort - 10min break - 30min effort - 10min break. This cycle is working for me now, I spend 30 minutes reading, writing, emailing, developing, filming, testing, watching, and then as soon as the little bell rings on my phone, I put down whatever it is I am working on, and then either grab another cup of tea, do some housework, watch something on youtube ... in other words, I give my brain a rest. Just like in the main set when swimming, where you would do a 10x50m butterfly set and then have a minute or two rest period, so the brain needs a short break, a snap away from focus. I work like this until lunch time, then, after lunch, I will normally sit down for a full hour to finish up stuff for the day, then I will spend the afternoon on social media, twitter, facebook, linkedin, getting involved with the wider speakers community if I can (and some afternoons I either go for a walk, do yoga, play the Sims, or craft!). These afternoon activities are my "swim down" period, my time to bring my brain down from the frenzy of work into the calm of relaxation and everyday life.
This time management strategy has dual benefits - firstly I focus much quicker when I need too. I have trained my brain to use the 30 minutes I have to get as much work done in that time as I can, everything else can wait. Secondly it stops boredom and stress, how you might ask? Well, as I'm focusing during the 30 minutes, I know that soon I will have time to do whatever else it is that I have to have done, the dishes, calling a friend, watching Emma Approved (a really cool web series that satisfies my Jane Austen obsession) on youtube - I will have time to do all that, hence boredom with work is staved off and stress is eliminated cause BAM the house and my sanity remain clear and free.
What are you time management strategies? Let me know in the comments..
"Your Determination is Limitless"
- Elizabeth Wright