The GTD Triathlete

Triathletes strike me as an organized group of people. To be able to train 4 to 15 hours a week on top of all other obligations, like work and family, seems heroic in the time management sense. To many, the driving force is as simple as a strong vision with detailed goals. Others, attribute the energy and drive to a deeper purpose and meaning. But at times, neither a strong vision or deeper purpose gets the daily training done.

For me, I have constantly struggled with finding the time or focus to keep up with my increasingly demanding goals and projects. Thankfully,I just read a book by David Allen titled Getting Things Done: the Art of Stress-Free Productivity (Viking; 2001). I have to tell you, I will be joining the throngs of fans preaching the simplicity and power of GTD (see the official word on what is GTD at David Allen's website.) Since strictly applying the basic common-sense techniques I have noticed a huge surge of energy and productivity.

How does this apply to training? First a quote from

Implementing GTD alleviates the feeling of overwhelm, instills confidence, and releases a flood of creative energy. It provides structure without constraint, managing details with maximum flexibility. The system rigorously adheres to the core principles of productivity, while allowing tremendous freedom in the “how.” The only “right” way to do GTD is getting meaningful things done with truly the least amount of invested attention and energy.

I have always struggled with the convention of putting a training program on a typical calendar. It seems restrictive, idealistic and in most cases destined for failure.
For example, let's say may calendar has the following:

Monday: Run 3 miles
Tuesday: Swim
Wednesday: Bike 15 miles

What happens when your wife calls you up and "reminds" you of a birthday party on Wednesday? Do you skip the bike ride or reschedule? Stuff like this happens to me, and I bet many others, all the time. Stuff happens and unfortunately since I don't get paid to train, I often have to de-prioritize it when that "stuff" conflicts. Mentally, this can be a huge blow. One week into a six week training program I typically miss or reschedule 2 or 3 workouts. I need to start a goal with confidence up front. Early setbacks tend to haunt me through the whole program and I end up competing in an event second guessing my preparation.

Here is where I am thinking of applying the "Next Actions" lists approach. "Next Actions" lists aren't tied to a specific date or even priority. It is simply a list of the very next physical actions that need to be done. Often these next actions are a subset of a series actions which in David's terms is a project. With these lists, the only categorization that occurs is by context. Things like "At the Computer" "On Errands" and "Calls" all have their own lists. I have categorized a set of next actions as "At Exercise". On it is a list of key work-outs that I want to do to achieve my goal (project). Clearly I need to work on these next actions as often as possible, even daily, to achieve my goal but if I miss one day I don't have the psychological setback of "missing it" or rescheduling. I simply see the list as it is and know that I will do the actions as soon as possible.

I am still playing around with the specifics, but I am excited at the prospects and highly recommend the book to anyone who is looking for a way to finally get things done.


  1. Interesting post. Have you come across Jason Womack's blog yet. He is a staff trainer with the David Allen's Company and a Triathlete like yourself. This could well be of interest to you.

  2. Thanks.As an update, the GTD trick described above may continue to work well for me on a couple of levels. Most notably, the flexibility of the list helps me adjust for the particular day's commitments and energy levels. The list also never goes away so I am reminded of the workouts I haven't done yet. But I must admit, there really isn't any replacement for developing good fitness habits by designating a certain time each day to exercise.


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