Sleepy September revisited: Improve sleep with journaling and task listing

This blog post was intended to be shared in September, to round out my Sleepy September blog series.  But life happens – and I was side-tracked with final clean-out and maintenance work for the closing of my old townhouse sale last week, so this was put on the back burner.  (Have you ever sold a house? It was waaaaaay more work and stress than I’d anticipated!) 
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Do you have trouble falling asleep at night, or wake up in the middle of the night unable to fall back to sleep, because your mind is racing?  Are you overwhelmed with how many things you need to do, and afraid that you won’t remember to do them in the morning?  If so, incorporating some weekly planning, daily task-listing, and journaling could go a long way to ease your mind and help you to sleep better.
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When we keep our to-do list exclusively in our head, it prevents us from relaxing (and sleeping) because we’ve constantly got things bumping around in our heads such as, “Call the vet to schedule Shadow’s checkup… Draft and send out memo about new company policy at work… Ask my boss about extending the deadline for that big report… Register Joey for spring baseball before Friday… Stop at the grocery store after work tomorrow to pick up milk, apples and eggs…”  You get it…  the list can go on and on and on (and on and on…!).  And, if there’s any anxiety about any of these tasks (asking for a flexible deadline, perhaps), then some of us can really take up a lot of mental RAM worrying about what will happen and (over)analyzing every possible scenario.  (On a side note: Mental RAM… wouldn’t it be nice if this was something you could upgrade, like your computer hard drive?!)
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The goal is to get these loose ideas OUT of your head, where they’re bouncing around, and INTO a reliable place where you can keep track of them.  By writing down your tasks in a trusted planner, notebook or phone app, you’re taking them out of your head and subsequently quieting your mind, which can help you to relax and get better sleep.
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How do you implement this?  I’ve tried a few different methods, and found what works best for me.  I’ll share what I do, and you can tweak this as need.
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Weekly level of planning:  Every Sunday, I open up my Google Calendar for the coming week, and block out specific times for all of my regular tasks/commitments.  As an entrepreneur with several different business streams, it’s extremely important that I keep myself organized for both success and my sanity!  I’ll look at my list of tasks to accomplish and block off an appropriate amount of time into Google calendar using different colored labels for different types of activities (ie, coaching activities, business development time, phone calls with clients, or personal activities).  I have tried using a paper-based planner with hourly increments to do this, but have found that I prefer Google because as my schedule changes, I can easily re-arrange the allotted timeslots as needed by dragging/dropping, shortening or extending, without cluttering up a paper-based planner.  I also include my workout time and dinner plans with friends, as well as some buffer time to account for travel, traffic, etc, between commitments.  It is ALL in there!
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Daily level of planning:   I bought a basic monthly paper-based planner to use for this (yes – old school I know, and only $15 at Office Depot).  Every morning, I’ll look at the Google calendar and see what areas of work I’ve allotted time for that day, and then break things down into more specific tasks.  Maybe I’ve blocked off 2 hours for coaching activities, so I write down that I need to write weekly training plans for Elizabeth, Chris, and Lori, and review Training Peaks files, so those will each get their own line in the to-do list.  If I’ve blocked off 2 hour for business development in Google Calendar, I may further break that down into writing one blog and a social media post to share it, and working through a continuing education recertification module on stress and hormones.  As each item is finished, I check it off the list in my planner. (This is why I write out everything on it’s own line, vs simply saying “write training plans”).
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The paper-based planner can be great for jotting down those to-do things that pop into your head at random times.  Over the course of an evening as I’m cooking dinner, cleaning up from dinner, watching some TV or doing chores around the, I may remember that I need to send some recipe ideas to a client, deposit checks at the bank, finalize weekend dinner plans with a friend, or finish and send my monthly newsletter the next day.  As those thoughts come to mind, I add those tasks to the next day’s list. Even though things like following up with a friend about dinner plans may seem non-stressful, it’s still something that your brain is using up valuable RAM not to forget it. The next morning, when I’m ready to get going for the day, I consult my task list to remind myself of what needs to be done and I immediately see that I need to send some recipes, email friend about dinner, plan a stop at the bank, and send my newsletter.  If a task isn’t finished, I re-write it in the next day’s schedule so I don’t forget to circle back to it.
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Simply having a plan and keeping track of my to-do’s really helps me to relax and feel in control.  But what if task-listing and some schedule organizing isn’t enough?
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If you find yourself unable to sleep because of a particular fear or worry, you can try what I call “worst-case scenario journaling”.  For whatever reason, the way I’m wired is that when something is uncertain, I  automatically assume/expect the worst case scenario to happen.  One of the ways I’ve learned to stop my mind from churning out the worries and worst-case scenarios is to write out what I’m worried about in a journal.  Sometimes, just seeing it on paper puts my worries in perspective.  You can take this a step farther and deconstruct your worries into worst-case scenarios.  For example, when I took the big leap in Feb 2016 and left my full-time salaried job with great benefits to pursue building my own businesses, not having enough money to make ends meet was a constant worry.  What if I had an unexpected house expense?  No wait – what if it was an unexpected house AND an unexpected car expense?  And what if I had an unexpected health expense on top of that?  Now, what if I had all 3 of these unexpected expenses, AND all of my coaching clients quit in the same month?!  (Now, can you see what I meant about being hard-wired to expect the worst?!)  While in my case, the first step may be acknowledging that it’s unlikely that all of these events would occur at the same time.  But, when a steady corporate paycheck wasn’t coming in, it was sometimes hard to shift my worries away from money, even when I did acknowledge how unlikely the above situation would be.  So, in my journal, I would write out that I was worried about unexpected expenses and not having a guaranteed steady paycheck, and some thoughts like… “what is the worst that can happen if all of these things happen or if I’m running low on money?  Will I be homeless?  Unable to eat?  No.  I may have to dig into my mutual funds, ask my parents for a short-term loan, or put more things on a credit card than I usually would, and deal with paying the interest over time.  But, those aren’t the end of the world.  If worst comes to absolute worst financially, I can look for another full-time salaried position.”  Deconstructing and journaling helped me to put things in perspective and get the worries out of my head so I could focus on other things (like sleep)!
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I hope this blog, along with my last two blogs about sleep, have been beneficial this month!  If you’ve tried any of these tips, I’d love to hear if they worked for you.

Mighty Moraine Man Fall Sprint Tri Race Review

This race has been going on in my backyard (well, almost) for a few years now, and I finally got around to racing it!  I’ve heard lots of good things about this race and was excited to race my first sprint race since 2007.  One of the perks of a close-to-home race was avoiding the cost of a hotel and getting a good night’s sleep at home.  The race offers packet pickup on race morning, which made race logistics quite easy.  We woke up at 5am, left the house around 6am, and were at the race site shortly before 7am.  Plenty of time to grab my packet, set up transition, and do a quick warm-up swim.
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The Mighty Moraine Triathlon is set in Moraine State Park, about 45 minutes north of Pittsburgh.  This race is offered several times per year, in different formats (currently Spring & Fall sprint distance, mid-summer Sprint and Olympic), and is a fun course for all levels of athletes.
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Swim:  The swim (400m) takes place in beautiful Lake Arthur (isn’t the above picture soooo pretty?! I could sit by the lake all day…). Athletes start by standing in waist-deep water and the course is a straight-forward rectangular shape (turns are right-turns and buoys stay to your right).  No waves, no chop.  Visibility was pretty typical for a lake swim; ie, pretty low.  The water temperature for the mid-Sept race this year was 74 degrees, wetsuit legal.
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Bike:  The Moraine sprint bike course is usually 13.6 miles, but for this event, it was shortened to 11.5 miles for this race.  The shortening cut out a few of the hills.  I think the best way to describe this course is gently rolling to hilly, with very few true flat sections.  There are a few nice straight sections that were great for using aero bars.
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Run:  The run (5k) is on a paved trail that roughly follows the lake shoreline.  Similar to the bike course, it is rarely a true flat, but has lots of small undulations and no prolonged hills or steep grades.  Most of the run was shaded, which was nice.  It is an out & back course, which was nice for seeing where you are relative to the field, and also for high-fiving and cheering on friends and fellow athletes as you’re running.
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Good for newbies?  Yes.  The volunteers were fabulous, the course was straightforward and well marked, and there is even a special “Novice Wave” that goes off last.  Overall, it’s a smaller race and people spread out fairly quickly on the swim and bike, yet due to the out & back nature of both bike and run courses, you’re always seeing other athletes to stay motivated.  As long as you’ve trained on some hills around Pittsburgh, you’ll be fine on this course.
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Variety is the spice of triathlon:  There were quite a few offerings for this race: sprint tri, sprint tri relay, aqua bike (swim-bike), duathlon (run-bike-run), super sprint tri (200 m swim, 5 mile bike, 1.5 mile run), adventure race (kayak instead of swim), and even a reverse super sprint tri.
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YUM:  Moraine had a generous spread of post-race food, including hot dogs, veggie chili, burgers, bananas, cookies (oh so many cookies), and other snacky things.
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Thumbs up to this local race!