Lessons from a Triathlete: Make Preparation a Habit

Sara Strope by

Editor’s Note: This is part 2 of a 10 part series on how an elite athlete applies the lessons she’s learned from Triathalon training to her role as Fortune 100 marketing executive. You can read part 1 here.

“Think, prepare, rehearse.”

This approach is one of IBM’s corporate principles. I’m also not surprised about how core it has been to my Ironman training.

During the last month of Ironman training, a typical week looks something like this:

  • Monday: Swim 1 -1.5 hours AM, Run 30-60 minutes PM
  • Tuesday: Bike 1.5 hours AM, Run 30 minutes
  • Wednesday: Swim 1 hour AM, Run 1 hour PM
  • Thursday: Bike 1.5 hours AM, Run 30 minutes
  • Friday: Swim 1 hour
  • Saturday: Bike 6 hours
  • Sunday: Run 3 hours

Total training time: 18 hours

What makes logging all those training hours much easier is thinking about the day ahead and being prepared for AFTER the workout – when you’re tired, hungry, and sweaty.

The best way to get to the pool for a 6 AM swim before work? Pack your bag the night before.

How to get ahead of the constant hunger, especially during that last month of training when your body is a human food processor? Designate Sundays evenings for food prep – hard boil eggs (nature’s perfect “to-go” food, really), roast a chicken and veggies, portion out some pasta in Tupperware containers, clean all the sports bottles…you get the gist.

From my Ironman training, you can see it’s actually thinking about and preparing for the supplementary items that are just as important as the main tasks. The practice of packing the bag and cooking the weekly meals became a habit – as much as the actual weekly workouts.

How could you extend your preparation for items at work – say presenting at a conference – beyond the essential tasks? How would you make these supplementary steps a habit?

There’s no doubt that when you’ve been asked to present at a conference, you should do the following:

  • Draft talking points
  • Research the audience
  • Prepare a PowerPoint (if required)
  • Practice your presentation – definitely by yourself and preferably with a colleague or friend

But, there are likely some other elements of preparation that will make you more confident and calm – especially if you make them part of your regular routine – like the one above. Maybe you arrive a day early, print out your presentation, save a backup to a Box or Dropbox folder, meet with a fellow attendee, take notes from an earlier presentation, get your suit dry cleaned, read all the related media clippings, get your hair or nails done, watch presentations from prior years events. Regardless of what you choose, make it a habit – like cooking on Sunday or packing your swim bag the night before.

Preparation can be a habit not only for a big presentation, but you can make it a habit for every day.

I’ve found I fall into this prep rhythm every week:

  • Sunday evening: Check email, review the week calendar, write to-do list
  • When traveling: Sort inbox each morning to reply to my leadership team and direct reports first.
  • Check my calendar before going to sleep each night and set my morning alarm accordingly.

How do you make preparation a habit? Why do you do it? To save time? To gain confidence? Share your tips and thoughts.