I am often asked how I balance being in a high-pressure corporate job and still find time to train and race for one of the most demanding sports out there— triathlon. I am in no way an expert or veteran at either of these things, but here’s what I’ve come to know:
Work-Life balance is a choice
I frequently interview new applicants for Procter & Gamble (P&G), and a common question of these wide-eyed college students is if it’s true that “work-life balance” is a myth in P&G and they will get worked to the bone. My answer is always the same: Work-Life balance is a choice.
When I started working, I thought staying in the office for long hours would make me a better employee. But since I started training for triathlon, I make it a point to leave the office by 5pm (95% of the time). It forces me to work more efficiently when I’m in the office because I give myself the deadline to pack-up by 5pm. This choice links with my training, too – leaving at 5pm means I have enough time to have dinner, wind down, do any errands or chores at home, and be asleep between 9-9:30pm, in time to get 8 hours of shut-eye before training the next morning.
Working smarter applies both in training and at work
- WORK: “Working Smart”—that’s something we hear very often in the work place. I think I only learned to do this later on in my career when I came to terms with the fact that even if I had a very organized to-do list, the work never really ended. Things will always get added to that list. The mark of a great employee, however, is being able to figure out which of those things really matter. And that’s where working smart starts: knowing what matters, saying no to what doesn’t, and simplifying the way you work.
- TRAIN: In training, especially when it’s for long distance, people think you need to spend hours on each sport every single time. For an age grouper who has a full time job, that’s impossible. 1-1.5 hours max is what I get in on weekdays and I reserve longer ones for the weekend. And sometimes a solid 30 minute workout is better than a 1 hour junk workout. My advice? Get a coach. He or she will let you know what you need to work on, when and how. Each person is different, so investing in a personalized training plan is one of the best things you can do for yourself as an athlete!
Learn to manage your energy.
- WORK: I typically follow the 45-15 rule when I work—45 minutes of intense, concentrated work with 15 minute breaks in between. If I do need to sit in a meeting for a long time, I try not to schedule meetings back to back to give myself a mental break in between. That 45 minutes of power working is crucial: that means no distractions, no Facebook, and no chatting. Use the 15 minutes to walk around a little, even if it means simply getting a glass of water.
- TRAIN: What I realized as I started training for longer distances is that I easily suffer from mental rather than physical fatigue. It gets harder for me to get up in the morning, and all I can think about is finishing the session even before they start. To combat that, I go on complete rest in between long training weeks. I sleep a lot or do non-triathlon related activities (can be physical or not). I come back very motivated to train, as if my mind hit the reset button.
Don’t underestimate the need for complete R&R
I used to feel guilty when I would skip a day of training, but then I end up sleeping for 12 hours and realize my body was tired and I was running on so much adrenalin that I hadn’t noticed. Work in itself can be physically draining, even if you’re sitting at your desk most of the time. If I had continued to function with that level of fatigue, it would have led to less productive work hours and training that would most likely lead to injuries. So yes, be deliberate in going on vacation or staycation!
Anyone can go from zero to hero!
For many years I was a work-home-work type of person with little to no physical activity in between. I made a choice to start training for triathlon and I committed to the training while making the right adjustments at work. My greatest motivation to stay committed to training was signing up for a race. I remember signing up for my first Ironman 70.3 when I had just learned to bike and never run more than 5km. I ended up doing my first Ironman 70.3 distance earlier than expected—9 months after I started training, at the same time successfully relocating to a global role in Singapore for P&G. It can be done!