Disclaimer: I've been accused of being too "black and white" as you'll see in my comments below, I don't mince words nor do I tolerate excuses. You've been warned.
My assumption at the outset: all of us at our cores desire to be our very best self on most days — the best person, cyclist, athlete, employee/er, spouse, sibling, parent, neighbor, volunteer — we can possibly be.
Research says: we are closest to our best physically, when we get plenty of rest, when we exercise, and when we eat well...
If I assume the above is true, then balance should be easy, right? It's practically mandatory to workout, to get 8 or more hours of sleep, and to eat good, nutritious foods and be selective with the fuel sources we choose. So... if we all agree on this — why don't we all have balance in our lives?
Here are my tips on finding your balance:
Stop bragging about how much you work.
I'm a lawyer. My profession — generally speaking — prides itself on the 80-hour workweek or the mega-billable hour year. In short, attorneys love to wear their work hours on their sleeves like a badge. I've been in the profession 10 years now and I have always been the one swimming against the current — preferring instead to brag about only working 40 hours a week, with a 200-300 mile week on the bike, combined with 8-9 hours of sleep a night. Am I a lazy attorney? Not by any stretch. I work really hard, but I also work efficiently. When I sit down to work, I am crazy-productive. Why? ... you guessed it - I probably exercised that day, I likely got good sleep, and I ate clean, wholesome foods. And I didn't apologize for the fact that I didn't sit at a desk from 8-5 wasting time if I could get the work done by noon.
Truth: We can all always make MORE money. Balance says that "enough" money is enough; "enough" work is enough. Spend the rest of the time you have exercising, resting, and eating well. Nourish your engine so you can rock out at what ever you do for a living. That's balance.
Don't work more — work more efficiently. Coaches in cycling talk about "junk miles" — those miles when it's not fast enough to stimulate a training effect, but not slow enough to serve as good, active recovery. They are just junk. Junk miles in cycling are like junk hours at your work desk. Stop spinning those wheels and start knocking out your tasks so you can move on to other things.
Periodization works — in life or in training.
Periodization in cycling is the concept that training cycles or periods should be broken down into phases — that constant stress cannot be applied expecting constant growth or progress; instead, a cyclist must adopt a routine of hard and easy cycles in order to reach peak adaptations. Stated simplistically, in one month, a cyclist may train 7 hours one week, 10 the next, 13 the next, and then take a recovery week of just 3-4 hours of easy riding, in order to let the body regenerate and rebuild stronger and better as a result of the hard 3 weeks of training. Everyone in cycling knows you can't prescribe hard week after hard week after hard week expecting better and better results. Eventually the rider will overtrain, burnout, or breakdown from injuries or fatigue.
Why do these same principles not apply in life? I argue they do.
Let's talk about commitments. I've learned (the hard way), that simply because you CAN do something, doesn't mean you SHOULD or that you MUST. Knowing when and where to spend your time and talents is key. And honoring your need for downtime, recharge time, decompress time, is also key. I often joke that my daily calendar looks a bit like a training periodization calendar that a cycling coach may prescribe. Some weeks my calendar looks completely full — every day is every color imaginable, and there's no white space. These are the "heavy" weeks — the ones I gear up for like I did when I'd go race the Gila or Redlands, or put in a massive block of training. They are the weeks when you know time is going to be tight and energy will be low. You prepare for them — you taper for them, you come into them fresh. Examples of this might be weeks where I'm In trial, in back to back depositions or mediations, or I'm hosting events or I have briefs or massive filings due. They are the stage race weeks. The ones you have to be "on" day to day and you don't have time to regroup.
When you see these weeks coming up on your calendar, you need to plan a quiet week either before, or after, or both. You can't do a stage race every single week in cycling — so why would you expect your life calendar to be slammed week in, week out?
I can crush an insanely busy week, as long as I know that the following week I will have some downtime. In fact, I can crush 2-3 insane weeks in a row, as long as I know a break is coming. Downtime, quiet time, unscheduled mindless wandering, ride-your-bike-more time is critical. So you don't work for yourself and you don't have control over your schedule like I do? Yes you do. Schedule strategically. Get your assistant on board and periodize your calendar — light, medium and heavy weeks. The important thing is that there must be a light week at least monthly. You aren't a machine- you're a human. And we're working on being balanced humans. So own your schedule just like you would a training schedule. Plan in those recovery weeks.* You'll be amazed at how motivated you are to work through the tough weeks when you can see that wide open, empty week on your calendar approaching.
Even if you love your job, you still need a hobby.
Truth: work will always expand to fill the time available. A related truth: there will always be more work to do. Whether you work for someone else or you are the boss, all of us feel some sense of guilt when we chose to put our work down in order to go do something else. This is why we need hobbies. It's another constructive "thing" we do outside of work, that brings us a sense of enjoyment and fulfillment. Emphasis: outside of work.
I bet if you're reading this, cycling is your hobby. Perhaps it's what gives you reprieve from the demanding job and other life responsibilities. I'm willing to bet that the people who love you most, love you more when you've had a ride and some rest and good food... am I right? So don't be the martyr who says, "I don't have time to ride today" because you do. You always do. Own it, it's that simple. If you can't make time for a 30-minute walk over your lunch hour, an hour ride on the trainer in the morning or evening, or a trip to the trails or the gym to run or walk the treadmill for a bit — you need to reexamine how you spend your time. I'm calling you out. (See also, "Training with Power for the Time Crunched Athlete" by Nick Traggis).
The world will not hand you balance on a silver platter.
Bottom line: if you're waiting for the world to give you balance you'll be waiting an eternity. Everyone needs more from you to get his or her needs met: more of your time, money, energy, work. You have to fight for balance every single day. Keep your work from blotting out your sun. Engage in non-work hobbies (especially you self-employeds out there, you know who you are. Eating, sleeping, breathing the business you built does NOT count as a fun enjoyable hobby!). People tell me all the time how balanced my life looks. They say it in the same breath as they are asking me, "how do you do it all? How are you a lawyer, bike racer, cycling team director, small business owner, wife, daughter, volunteer, etc..."
Stated simply - I own my time and where I invest my energies and talents. Sometimes I do it better than other times. Sometimes I get over-committed and I burn out. When this happens I acknowledge that I'm solely to blame for allowing it and I make modifications to try and prevent it from happening again anytime soon. But usually I can see burnout coming and I'm pretty good about building in some down time to recharge. I put myself out there a lot, but it's usually for groups, people and organizations I believe in. And while those worthy objectives keep me energized most of the time, the reality is that none of us have bottomless wells. Sometimes retreat and withdrawal are essential for regrouping. So stop apologizing for that and make time for yourself. Yes- it's that simple.
Purpose keeps us focused.
Do you know your life's mission? Do you have a purpose? Is it to help people? To improve the environment? To change the world somehow for the better? Above all else, I believe that having a mission and purpose will help redirect you each time your path gets away from you, each time your schedule fills without your say so, each time you lose hold of your balance. If you can keep coming back to your endgame- you'll always have a benchmark. None of us should spend our days flailing about pointlessly. If you're busy and have nothing to show for it — well, again, that's on you. But if you're busy furthering your mission for yourself, or you're working tirelessly on your purpose... then, game on. That's part of your balance.
In sum — balance is a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goal. And it takes systemic vigilance. Develop your personal mission — decide what your endgame or purpose is. Recognize that you'll almost always be at your best if you're exercising, getting enough sleep, and eating well.Remember that the world won't take care of you — you must take care of you. And fight for those quiet, recharging weeks. They are imperative. Therein you will find your balance.
Good luck —
Megan Hottman, lawyer, cyclist, balance-seeker
Here are some books I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend, related to this topic:
"The Book of No - 250 Ways to Say It and Mean It", by Susan Newman
"Work Smarts", by Betty Liu
"The Wisdom to Know the Difference", by Eileen Flanagan
"Poised for Success", by Jacqueline Whitmore
"Give and Take", by Adam Grant
"Man's Search for Meaning", by Viktor Frankl
"The Purpose Driven Life", by Rick Warren
I've been using Cyclops Fluid Trainers and PowerTap power meters exclusively for power and indoor training since 2008. These amazing devices have enabled me to get in short, fast, hard and effective workouts even in my busiest weeks. I'm a CAT 1 road/track racer who's been racing the past 12 years or so — and I recently began dabbling in CX and MTB the past few seasons. I'm a big fan of long rides and good coffee. My passion for cycling combined itself with my law degree a few years back and evolved into a law practice that is cycling-centric; I'm a personal injury lawyer who almost exclusively represents injured cyclists. And we've got an indoor cycling studio in the firm too so that's pretty awesome — (I've been teaching spin classes since 1999 so when I opened my own practice I knew it needed to include a cycling center). Visit www.TheCyclist-Lawyer.com or www.DFTGolden.com for more info. Thanks for reading.
*As a related aside, one of my favorite practices is to schedule heavy cycling training weeks into my light work/life weeks. We all know it's physically impossible to schedule a heavy life week AND training week at the same time — you'll implode from the exhaustion and effort. This is where having a PowerMeter and a cycling coach can really help you make great use of your time especially when a light week comes up and you have more time to train!