One of the questions I see repeatedly asked of professional climbers in interviews is “How do you manage to balance your life and climbing?” People love climbing and wish to make it their whole lives, but realistically you need something to pay the bills, time with family and friends, and you may have other hobbies. For some people managing time is easy because climbing is their absolute top priority and everything is flexible to it, for others who have a full, diverse, plate of things to do, it can get very complicated.
There are some ways to help you find the best balance for you. The first is to learn impeccable time management skills. People struggle with time management skills because they like to procrastinate, they like to avoid schedules, or they just don’t understand the basics. Some people have a hard time resisting urges to be impulsive and do what makes them happiest. For instance, you may have planned for a fun weekend climbing and laid out how to get everything else you need to do in order before Friday. Then Wednesday is sunny, dry, and cool to make perfect temperatures. Nature is calling and technically you could call sick or make up stuff later. Maybe you checked out the forecast and planned the day to take off, you just need to get this work project done. Unfortunately, you get caught up in a series of other things and as your climbing day approaches, there is just not enough time to get other things done. Maybe you are good at meeting your deadlines and doing things right, but you only have time to climb once a week and struggle with the fact that you can’t progress without more practice.
People struggle with time management for a variety of reasons, but it really is important when you have a life that doesn’t have much room for compromising and flexibility. The first thing you need to do is establish priorities. These may be different for everyone. There may be people who default without question to family being at the top. Then there are some people who don’t have very close or strong relationships with their family or they have lost most of their family, and they might default to work. Then there are people who think their job is a job and they could easily keep working or go somewhere new, and they might be able to put climbing right at the top. It is important to know your priorities because you want to make sure to make the most solid of your plans for that aspect. If family is at the top of your list, how will you make them a priority. Will you have Sunday dinner with them each week? Will you plan a weekend vacation once a month with them? If climbing is your priority set days that cannot be tampered with. Refuse to schedule anything else on those days/times and make sure no matter what you get there. Be realistic of course. Five days a week might be too much to ask, but three might be fine. Coming up with a plan to make sure you are giving the highest priorities the most attention is important. You also want to factor into how all your priorities might connect. Maybe climbing is your number one, but you know you have to have money to be able to pay for your climbing trips, gas to get to the gym, etc. You want to make sure you give work the appropriate amount of respect so that it can play it’s rightful place at assisting your number one priority.
You also want to make sure you never forget the importance of caring for yourself. This should be above all priorities. If you are feeling sick, it is important to take time from work, climbing, etc to get better. You can’t do anything well if you are run down. Make sure to get your body nutrition, time for sleep, time for exercise, and time for relaxing. It is important to realize this because we tend to take time for ourselves out of the equation first to make time for other things. This may work at first but it is going to fail. You might stay up late and be lacking in sleep to make time to get it all done, and this will slow you down in the long run. Make sure the time you need to care for you is not what gets compromised.
One of the things that makes priorities important is there may be times you have to cut something out. Currently, I work at a full time job, try to train/climb at least three times a week, have a writing workshop that meets bi-weekly, and a Toastmasters group. Things can get frustratingly busy. When something comes up or I’m feeling tired and I know I have to get rid of something, I will typically miss a Toastmasters or Writing meeting. I try to switch between the two so I will not fall far behind in one. Work is not my top priority in the sense that it is not the most valuable to me, but it is necessary to pay for everything I need and therefore, it is the least likely to get skipped or altered. Unless in the case of a family emergency, sickness, or things of that nature. However, if I have a slow week at work it can definitely be the flexible one within reason. Climbing and writing feel close to equal in importance, but missing a day of climbing could set back my progress and goals. Missing the writing workshop, doesn’t necessarily mean my week did not have writing in it or that I’m missing goals. Toastmasters is another that I can miss without really suffering from falling back in my progress. I do so much public speaking at work, that I’m constantly fresh with it. If I’m not feeling well, I will skip climbing or work to care for myself. Most weeks I can manage all of this fine, but in the times I struggle, it helps to have my list of ranking importance so that I can start to cut down in the most efficient ways.
With this keep in mind what consequences you are willing to take or not take. What happens if you miss work? Are you willing to have that consequence? What happens if you don’t get to climb? Can you deal with that? Our priorities are sometimes different when we think about consequences. Your job might not be number one, but if your boss is scrutinizing your work ethic and there is a chance for termination consequences, it might bounce up in the rankings. Climbing might be the thing that calms your mind and helps you cope, so if you are upset and need the relief, climbing might bounce up in your rankings. The consequence being that you are overly stressed and not taking care of yourself by not climbing.
You don’t have to know all of this ahead of time, but be able to think through it when making a decision is helpful.
Make plans, schedules, and structures. Of course, there are always times where things just come up and you must be prepared to allow that. However, for the most part we can develop effective schedules. With how my nights run, I only ever know for sure that Tuesday, Friday, and the weekends will be free. Therefore, it makes sense for me to definitely climb Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday. These days will be the least likely to be interfered with and cause struggle. The more we can get a solid, mostly unwavering schedule into place, the more likely we can be successful. Try to map out times you can almost completely guarantee yourself climbing and plan to climb those days and times instead of waiting to see what is available. If I make a solid plan to climb every Tuesday, I will get there unless something unexpected like a family emergency comes up. If I decided to just climb when I could, even though I’m free on Tuesdays when Tuesdays came around I might get caught up in doing something else and tell myself maybe Thursday will be free. I might make all these plans when people call or I get projects and then find out with great upset I didn’t make climbing time. It is easier to just pre-plan to the best of your ability to make sure there is time for the things you really want to get done. Its often easier to reschedule, then never having a schedule. Then whatever time does just happen, you can use however you want to.
Set goals for yourself to prevent procrastination that might fill up your time. Make a list of what you need to get done, and plan when and how you will maneuver through the list. We can start to plan our solid priorities clearly, but what about all those small things like grocery shopping, needing to clean the house, going to see a friend, paying bills, or dealing with yearly things like taxes or emissions. Set down at the beginning of the week, decide what you want to get done that week, and plan them in with your solid priorities. What day, what time, and how will you get done what you need to. To do lists and organization can be very helpful. I have calendars everywhere to help me factor in all the little things.
Also try to pull things together when they naturally work. Maybe your friend wants to learn to climb. You wanted to train and do some light climbing on Wednesday. They could take a belay test while you train, then you can climb together for a little, and then go out for drinks or dinner to spend some time catching up. This will pull two important things together naturally. If your friend has no interest in climbing, don’t force them because it will be clear you are merely meshing things and could hurt their feelings, but if they don’t mind learning this could work well. Make sure to keep things separate when they won’t work together. For example, when you walk out of your work, work gets left where it is. It has no place with family, climbing, or anything else. Get what you need to done there on your work time and forget about it.
If things aren’t working well, review your schedule. What things might need to go. What things can you alter to make more time. For instance, maybe I can spend an hour with my writing group and then hit the gym instead of spending two hours and giving up on the gym. You might also need to learn to ask for help when you could genuinely use it. If work is taking up so much time, you can’t leave work when they day is done, ask for help. If you are being lazy and procrastinating this won’t work, but if you are really struggling people know we can’t make miracles happen and they could help.
It also helps to think outside the box. If you only have one day to go climbing, try training in your home to keep up strength. Build your own climbing wall, do weight training, core training, or something else you need to work on. Maybe you can put up a hangboard or build your own campus board. You could hangboard while also making dinner for instance. You could do core workouts while watching TV. Find ways to fit your goals into the time you do have.
Try to set your own deadlines for things earlier than their real deadlines. This will help you keep from procrastinating and it could build up extra time. You might uncover a free day by getting lots of things done before time. Even if you don’t, it will still be likely to lower your anxiety over getting things done. When you are learning, try to reward yourself for your personal deadlines and goals. It could be easy to just say oh well if you miss it. Try to give yourself incentive to establish the habit.
It is most important for you to be healthy, happy, and living the life you want. If you are getting stressed, overwhelmed, or not enjoying your plan, revisit it. Think about what isn’t working and why. Think about how to make it better. If you are having a hard time because work is crazy and you don’t like going to work. Would you be more satisfied with a 9-5 job that pays well and offers more balance? It might be worth considering. If you are unhappy because you have too many things going on, is there a hobby or task you are comfortable letting go of or putting aside until you have more time? If you meet with different groups each night to do hobbies, maybe there is one you don’t enjoy as much that you’d rather let go to have more time for what you do love. If you aren’t getting enough time with someone you care about, is there a way to incorporate them more into things you do? Could you exercise together, do a hobby together, have lunches together, etc. Maybe we need to learn to get stronger at saying no and knowing what we need and when there is too much asked of us. The most important thing is that the balance is balanced and works for you. Sometimes we have to make tough decisions and do hard things to be more balanced. Sometimes we can work it out peacefully and efficiently.
Do any of you have tips to offer from experience balancing the two?