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Structure your week like an athlete

Our Founding Director Lisa Stephenson shows you how
Blog 311 Lisas week

We’ve had a number of requests and questions that have been coming in from both our coaching clients and Coach Place members on how to structure your week.

These days, many of us are expected to perform at our peak all the time, especially leaders. There’s been an accidental subscription to an always-on culture and those in the driver’s seat are being pushed to hit the same high notes they managed pre-pandemic (albeit during a period of relentless disruption and change).

Now, I’ve got to ask the question: at what point did we collectively decide that round-the-clock high performance is sustainable? Because it’s not! There’s consensus that there’s significant fatigue occurring, because people have been pushing themselves hard for a long time. No-one can sprint all day for weeks on end; this literally makes people sick, with burnout (something we’ve seen plenty of in recent years) just one of the likely outcomes.

As much as our brains and bodies need stimulation, they also need rest. Rest periods don’t just alleviate nasty consequences; they also help us work more effectively. As a high-performance coach, I often talk to people about the importance of ‘run rest’, whereby we build momentum, hit our peak for a short period, and then drop off the pace to allow ourselves time to recover. Many of our coaching clients have adjusted their calendars to reflect this approach.

We can learn a lot from athletes, who schedule active recovery and rest periods into their training routines. They don’t attempt the same workouts every day; instead, they vary the type and intensity of their training so they can build their way up to their peak. I do the same. Here’s how I structure my week:

  1. Monday – Warm-up day. If I were training for a marathon, with two days to go I’d do some light running, eat healthily and make sure I had a decent sleep. Athletic metaphors aside, Monday is my set-up day for high performance. I rarely do any client delivery. I prepare, rehearse, write and connect with my team. I eat well, exercise and ensure I’ve got everything ready to go. There’s always lots to do, but it’s dedicated time to set up for success. I also ensure that I read or watch at least one thing that builds my knowledge and expertise.
  2. Tuesday – Ramp-up day. In athlete talk, this would be marathon eve, at which point I’d be gearing up for my big day. At work, this means I’m Zoom-ing, participating in important meetings and coaching clients, but also refuelling throughout the day to give myself the best chance to perform at my peak tomorrow. On Tuesdays, I need to be in top form; when they feel successful, my Wednesdays are better. They’re full days, but with strategic gaps that energise me. (According to one study, Tuesday afternoon is the ideal time to schedule a meeting and Monday is generally the worst.)
  3. Wednesday – Marathon day. For me, the middle of the working week is all about high performance. I often start at 4am, so I can fit in a minimum 6km walk, and don’t finish until 10pm. I'm managing different time zones with clients and basically going full throttle all day. My brain and body know this is my routine and that it won’t last forever.
  4. Thursday – I’m still running the marathon. I’m in the zone. Another early start and long day ahead. I’ve done what’s required to be everything I need to be for my clients.
  5. Friday – Wind-down day. Just as a runner would engage in active recovery after a marathon, I’m still in performance mode, but I’m not going all out. I’m reviewing and reflecting. I’m present and assessing the outcomes and achievements of the week. I’m thinking ahead to the next marathon, because it’s happening again in a week! I’ve got dedicated headspace to work in a focused way. I’m finishing early for a massage or wine with a friend. On Friday nights, I have a longstanding pizza date with my three children, during which we share our ‘best and worst’ moments of the week. We breathe, connect and laugh.
  6. Saturday – Rest day. I do all the things that feed me physically, spiritually and emotionally. I’m obsessed with my new STRONG gym class and I’m getting better at skateboarding. I like to have time on my own, too. I go out on the stand-up paddleboard, journal and sit on my deck with a cup of tea. Saturday night is when I pretend I’m young and cool; I see friends, have people over for dinner and often sing a bit too loudly. Fun is definitely required for high performance. I love Saturdays.
  7. Sunday – Continued rest and planning day. As an athlete, I’d be seeing my coach and physio and going for a light run. Think of your work recovery this way, too. I have a slow start and then go out for a late breakfast with my children, where we talk about the week ahead. In the afternoon, I put the washing machine on, prep some meals and realise we need more bread and milk. Late afternoon, I often work. Yep, I do. I go through my calendar, write my to-do list and reply to emails so I feel organised for Monday. Sunday nights are sacred family time, when we cook dinner together and likely end up watching Netflix (if we can find something we all agree on!).

My week is by no means an indicator of what yours should be, but I’ve shared this in the spirit of bringing to life how we talk to our clients about a long-term approach to high performance. It’s all about tapping into the operating rhythm that’s going to help you work most effectively. It’s about self-determined success, time management and knowing when to say yes and when to say no. It’s not about being selfish and indulgent, but simply being strategic with your diary.

As a single, full-time working mum with three children, there’s always so much to fit into my week. Obviously, the above doesn’t take into account netball and footy training, parent-teacher interviews and attempts to renovate my house. It also doesn’t show you my non-negotiable commitments to daily meditation, exercise and ongoing learning. Don’t even get me started on the recent dating disasters. But you get the idea. My life is full and I’m very deliberate about where I spend my time.

Yes, you’ll need to tweak your schedule to accommodate other peoples’ needs, but having a basic blueprint for your week will ensure you have the right resources to hit your peak when you need to, rest when you need to, and sustain your momentum for longer. Take care of you.

– Lisa Stephenson

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