Time Management and Jamaica’s Olympic Success

Here in Jamaica, as you can imagine, we are glued to our television sets watching our countrymen win an unprecedented number of medals.

We are a famously proud people, and right about now we are ready to burst with pride!

Traffic halts, television sets appear in offices and phones buzz across the world as productivity in Jamaica drops a notch or two (or ten) — first things first, after all.

As a recreational runner in Jamaica, and as a triathlete I am reminded of a lesson I learned when  I completed an  Iron-distance triathlon a few years ago (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, 26.2 mile run.)

Looking back at the  months that it took to lose 20 pounds, work on several disciplines at once and research the demands of the race and its effects on the body, I think that the most critical factor that separates those who are successful from those who are not  is simply one thing.

Time management.

Or to put it more accurately, habit management that results in good time management.

Becoming an ironman has more to do with the months that precede the event than anything else, and there are only a handful of athletes who can devote unlimited time to the pursuit.  Most people who attempt the race have a spouse, children, jobs, friends and other real obligations that must be maintained while the madness of completing a race of this distance is entertained.

Somehow, 15-20 hours per week of training need to be carved out, at minimum,  in order to be able to finish the race.  That’s no small feat — you might be thinking that it would be “impossible” to find that kind of time in your own life, so no ironman for you.

Someone training for the race must create a 10-12 week schedule that describes which training is done on each day.   A tremendous amount of organizing must take take place in order to practice the three sports (plus do the necessary weight-lifting) in addition to changing one’s diet, which is often necessary.  The training typically follows a 3+1 rhythm, based on 3 hard weeks followed by 1 easy week, which is necessary for the body to recover from the stress it’s being put under.

A bicycle must be maintained and transported, at times.  A pool must be visited during the right hours.  The stores that sell the nutritional aids need to be open at the right time.

Many find that their sleep patterns must change in order to accommodate  an early morning workout.  I used an alarm on my watch to remind me each night that it was time to get to bed (this helped me become a firm believer in the fundamental component – “Interrupting” – described elsewhere in this blog.)

In short, an entirely new set of habits must be adapted in order to become better at time management.  Also, a new set of habits must be learned in order to accomplish improved weight management, work management, money management, race management, etc.

The irony is that almost no time is spent in any of the training books I have read on the topic of time management.  Yet, it’s exactly what stops most people from even attempting this particular goal that happens to demand so many new time demands.

My recommendation for users who are interested in improving their skills in time management is to create the need to practice better skills in a way that doesn’t threaten their jobs or their marriages.  The trick is an easy one — pick something like a marathon or triathlon that would ordinarily be impossible using the old skills, and learn the new skills while undertaking the new challenge.

Whether the goal is accomplished or not, it’s possible to produce an improvement in time management skills, in addition to those of swimming, cycling and running.

To become top-class in their sport, our Jamaican Olympians had to learn these skills, particularly as  I heard that the most successful coach in Jamaica (an ex-accountant with an MBA who is a school-mate of mine) insists that all team-members must be on time – no matter what.  In the Jamaican culture, that runs very much against the norm and I imagine that there have been thousands of young athletes over the years that failed to make to grade.

They simply failed to develop the time management skills necessary to accomplish the bigger goals of winning a medal in the Olympics, or completing an ironman triathlon.

Learning from White Belts

practice-bp-7-ward-batting.jpgI just completed the process of leading another NewHabits program in the Caribbean – this time in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

I learned a great deal from the experience.

It confirmed my observation that most people entering the program in the Caribbean do so at the White Belt level. Some are pure White Belts, practicing at that level in each of the 11 components.

Others have a mix of different belts, but at least one area in which they are White belts. That single area drags their time management
systems down to the lowest belt level. Ouch.

What is challenging, however, is that as White belts, there is some difficulty in dealing with the time demands that the program places
on them.

Even though one of the key principles is that habits must be learned at a rate of one or two at a time, the volume of items that must be done in order to implement these habits can easily overwhelm a White belt. At the moment, the way the course is designed is that the last learning activity has to do with habit changes, and it introduces a flurry of time demands to change and learn a habit. by that point, the average participant is tired, and can’t handle the sudden flood effectively.

Arguably, it is the toughest part of the course for a White belt as time demands fly, and old feelings of inadequacy resurface.

What I like about this fact is that it offers a great way to demonstrate what the course is teaching.

I am going to change the design of the course somewhat, and introduce a new meta-conversation that focuses on building their participants’ skill at dealing with the time demands that are created by the Newhabits program itself. I plan to take some “breaks” in the course throughout the two days, and allow people a chance to reflect on how they are using the principles they are learning to manage the time demands being created from the materials.

I also plan for them to practice scheduling, by using the lunch period as a real life example.

In this way, attendees will be able to get their hands dirty using the techniques they are learning, and be able to get coached and to
compare notes with each other.

The end result will be that they will have a real-life chance to practice and also be able to deal more effectively with the steps
to implement their new system.

This partially fulfills a dream I have had of giving participants something real to practice with, like a pick-up game in basketball
where the stakes are not so high, but real skills are being used. I had played with the idea of engineering a simulation, but I couldn’t come up with a way to challenge everyone in the class, given their different skill levels.

This seems to be one way to get the best of both worlds — some actual practice on some real problems, while giving each person a chance to use the new habits they are about the implement in their lives.