Laura Vanderkam, an expert on how successful people spend their days, shows runners how to find hours for their favourite activity.
She has a powerful message for runners who struggle to schedule time for training:
You have time to run, if it’s a priority for you.
If it’s not a priority, that’s fine – but don’t say you don’t have time.
Here’s how she knows you have time: There are 168 hours in a week. If you sleep for 56 hours, and you work 40 hours, that leaves 72 hours for other things.
Running can easily be one of them.
In her work, Vanderkam, the author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, looks at time logs. Hundreds of them. These are kind of like training diaries, but instead of tracking kilometres, these journals are an accounting of how people spend their days, in 30-minute increments. Vanderkam once kept a time log on herself – for an entire year. (A runner, she spent plenty of that time on the roads and at races.)
“We all have the exact same number of hours,” Vanderkam said. “We find people doing amazing things with their lives – professionally and personally. It’s not because they have any more time than anyone else. It’s just that they’re spending their hours in certain ways.”
More good news for runners? The sport doesn’t require all that much time. One time log that stands out in Vanderkam’s memory was that of a serious runner who was training for the Boston Marathon. The schedule happened to be from three weeks before the race – the woman’s peak mileage before she started her taper. Vanderkam could see that the woman spent 10 hours that week running. “It’s a lot of time,” she said. “But it’s not an infinite amount of time.”
So how can you free up more hours for running? It’s not that difficult, according to Vanderkam. Here are her tips:
Track your time. Try it for one week. “The reason to do it for a week is that it gives you a complete picture,” Vanderkam said. “Especially for people who have full-time jobs, a lot of exercise is going to happen on weekends. You want to know what time is available to you.”
You don’t need a fancy tool. Vanderkam keeps a spreadsheet, with the hours of the day down the left column, the days of the week across the top. Plenty of apps or software accomplish the same purpose. Whatever you do, don’t waste time searching for the perfect tool.
Analyse your findings after a week. What do you notice after tracking your time? It could be the hours wasted in meetings. Or the mornings spent buried in emails, keeping you from making progress on your most important work priorities. Or your evenings follow what Vanderkam calls a “death march of dinner, TV, bed”. (Maybe time to go for a run instead?)
The exercise of tracking your time is an accountability check. “People often see that either time is there or time is spent on things we don’t care about, and it could be redeployed to things we do care about,” she said.
Be honest. Make no attempts to sanitise your tracking. The goal is to get a picture and build awareness of how you’re spending your time. “Then we can make choices based on reality,” Vanderkam said, “as opposed to choices based on some myth of what our lives look like.”
People often discover that many of the stories they’ve been telling themselves about their lives are not true. Vanderkam used to think she worked 50 hours a week. When she logged her time, however, she found she averaged closer to 40. “That’s 10 hours to play with,” she said. “That’s enough time to train for a marathon if I wanted to.”
Realize there’s probably not a single perfect time, seven days a week. Vanderkam has heard all the excuses: I’d love to run, but I’m not the kind of person who can leave at lunch every day. I’d love to run, but I work long hours and I have to get home to my family. I can’t go to the gym for an hour after work every day.
Stop looking for a perfect time every day, she says. Instead, look at the whole week and see where you can put it in. Maybe one or two mornings, you get up 30 minutes early and run on the treadmill. One lunchtime run per week. If you’re married with kids, maybe each of you gets a night off one night a week to go to the gym.
Trade off again on weekends. Plan the logistics to get it to happen. Before you know it, you’ll have found four hours. Most of us would consider it a darned good week if we could run for four hours.
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. When it comes to running, unexpected challenges get in the way. But you can often still do something.
Vanderkam recalls being home with her 3-year-old for a few days and running slow laps in the backyard while her daughter watched a video. “It’s something,” she said. “If you compare it to a 16km tempo run, you’ll be disappointed. But if you compare it to doing nothing, you can celebrate the something.”