Jan 13

Planning For Success

Last year I completed an Ironman consisting of a 3.8k swim, 180k cycle and a 42K run triathlon – a real challenge. But interestingly the hardest part was not so much the physical aspect on the day itself (although that I’m not saying that was a breeze!) but finding the time to actually fit in the training. This felt like a much more imposing task as I had to take into account the conflicting priorities of work, family and Netflix ☺

Training for an Ironman is massively time intensive, with up to 16 hours of swimming, running and cycling required each week for 25 weeks prior to the event itself. That’s two standard working days each week. It became very clear, very quickly as I embarked on this challenge that I needed to be all over the planning aspect. Fitting this amount of training in each week was not just going to happen by chance and you can’t risk just rocking up to an Ironman event hoping that you have done enough training. Believe me, that is not a good idea. Ever!

So, rather than me just guessing what training I needed to do (as I have done before for shorter less demanding triathlons) I invested my hard earned cash in a dedicated Ironman training plan called Trainer Road.

This plan broke down what I had to do, when I had to do it – setting out specific training sessions and fitness goals that I needed to hit day by day.

I knew that if I kept to the plan (barring injuries) and monitored my progress against the goals set, I would have a great chance of succeeding in the finishing the race. And just finishing was my overall goal.

Put simply, I knew that effective time planning was critical for my success.

With so much time to think during the hundreds of training sessions required, my mind often drifted back to work, and the parallels between an interview process became clear to me. The time planning process required for success in an interview process or a sporting event is essentially the same.

Most candidates start out on their interview process with high expectations. They envision themselves being successful but, in my experience, many fail to put together a realistic plan, or establish a routine, that will enable them to achieve this success. #epicfail

There are only so many hours in a day, days in a week, and weeks in a month. If you don’t pay attention, life will get in the way, the interview will arrive before you know it and catch you by surprise. It’s all too easy for this to happen. Faced with endless work meetings, frequent interruptions, and urgent last-minute tasks, you can easily be busy all day without making any progress on your preparation.

That’s why it’s so important to know how to plan your time properly – making time to focus on what really matters while still leaving time for family and friends.

Time is the one resource that we can’t buy, but we often waste it or use it ineffectively. Planning helps you think about what you want to achieve in a day, week or month, and it keeps you on track to accomplish your goals.
When done effectively, planning helps you:

• Understand what you can realistically achieve with your time.
• Make sure you have enough time for essential tasks.
• Add contingency time for unexpected issues.
• Avoid taking on more than you can handle.
• Work steadily toward your promotion goal.
• Have enough time for family and friends, exercise or hobbies and thus achieve a good work-life balance.

How to Plan Your Time Effectively

Good time planning is easy really but many officers still fail to do it. There are many ways to manage your time and plan your preparation effectively, some more complex than others. Use whatever technique works for you; just make sure you do it!

Below is a simple method that worked for me during my training that you may wish to follow.

Step 1 – Choose A Planner or Calendar. You need to organise your time using a planner or calendar. Due to the nature of my work I tended to plan on a weekly basis, but clearly you should use a time frame that works best for you.

Apps and software such as Mail, Google Calendar, Outlook etc. are perfect for this. Or you can keep it even more simple, go old school and use a pen and paper. The most important thing when choosing your planner or calendar is that it lets you enter information easily and allows you to view an appropriate span of time (day/week/month) in the level of detail that you need.

Once you have decided which tool you want to use, set a regular time to do your planning, at the start of every week or month, for example.

Step 2 – Start to prepare your schedule by deciding the total time you want to make available for your preparation. There is no right or wrong here, but allocate enough time according to how important it is to you and how close your board is.

Step 3 – Add in all your work time (including travel time) to the planner or calendar.

Step 4 – Create a master list of all the current tasks, appointments and events that you need to do outside of work. These are the essential things that cannot be delegated or avoided e.g. picking the kids up from school, attending a dentist appointment, watching every episode of Breaking Bad etc. Just brain dump this information.

Step 5 – Allocate a time required for you to complete each of these tasks, appointments or events.

Step 6 – Prioritise these tasks into “Urgent – Do now”, “Do this week”, “Do on a certain date” & “Do anytime”.

Step 7 – Schedule the “Urgent” tasks into your planner at the earliest possible date and time. Then schedule the “Do this week” and “Do on a certain date” tasks into the planner. Roll the “Do anytime” task over to your next planning session (recognising that their priority may change). This will now leave you with your remaining availability for your interview preparation.

Step 8 – Now block out your preparation time that you decided on at the start of the planning process. Protect this time at all costs as it is vital to your success. Be realistic, keeping it to manageable chunks that allow you to keep focus and motivation. Quality is better than quantity.

Step 9 – Schedule some extra time to cope with contingencies and emergencies. Some interruptions will be hard to predict, so leaving some open space in your planner gives you the flexibility you may need to rearrange tasks and respond to important issues as they arise. Experience will tell you how much to allow but in general, the more unpredictable your job, the more contingency time you’ll need. If you don’t plan this time in, emergencies will still happen and you’ll end up working late or simply not doing the preparation.

Step 10 – Implement the plan! A plan is only any good if you put it into action.

Other Tips

There are several other tips that will help you accomplish more and make the most effective use of your time. These include:

Buddy Up – It’s often too hard to do these things on your own so it’s wise to seek the help and support of others who are going through the process. You will be more time efficient as you can keep each other focussed on the task at hand.

Look After Yourself – You don’t have to sign up for an Ironman, but getting some exercise, eating healthily and get plenty of sleep will help your performance. If you’re not at your peak, you won’t be able to focus or concentrate, nor will you have the energy or stamina to get your studies completed efficiently.

Be flexible – You can’t plan for everything as unforeseen obstacles are bound to pop up, so you must plan accordingly and be flexible. Don’t beat yourself up too much about missing a study session; just make sure you get back on track as soon as possible.

Delegate & Outsource – Increase the amount of time you have by delegating to other people, outsourcing key tasks, or using technology to automate as much of your work as possible. This will free you up to achieve your preparation goals.

Did The Plan Work?

Well yes. I achieved my goal of finishing the Ironman in a time of 12 hours 40 minutes and 53 seconds – definitely one of the best achievements of my life.