Be realistic about how much time you actually have to train. If you work 60 hours a week, have a family, own a house, like to sleep more than 4 hours a night, and don't want a divorce any time soon, you should probably think twice before signing up for a FullRev triathlon anytime soon. I wrote a little bit about that in this post. There are all distances of triathlons, most of them don't require you to train 10+ hours a week, and they are super fun and rewarding. Find a distance that fits your life and everyone in your life including you will be happier for it. If you feel overwhelmed with figuring out a training schedule that balances with your life, a good coach can help you with that.
Plan ahead. If you are waiting until you wake up to decide how you are going to structure your day to fit everything in, you are already a step behind. I find if I spend a little bit of time planning ahead I save tons in the long run because I'm not figuring it out on the fly and getting caught unprepared. I usually sit down each weekend and figure out the when, where, and how of all my workouts for the coming week. That doesn't mean I am not flexible if something comes up, but at least I have a general idea of what each day is going to look like. One of the things that helps me with this is connecting my Training Peaks account to my Google calendar. By doing that it automatically puts my workouts right into my calendar, so when I am making appointments or scheduling meetings, I have an idea of what kind of time I'll be spending that day training and plan accordingly.
Another way to plan ahead is to pack the bags and get the nutrition set up the night before your workout, especially if you train in the morning. I have no idea why packing my workout bag in the morning is so darn difficult, but if I do it at night I rarely forget anything (don't even ask me how many times I have left the gym commando or dried off with paper towels after a swim). If I have a long ride the next morning, I'll get all my bottles filled the night before and leave them in the refrigerator and put all my nutrition/HR monitor/RoadID/sunglasses/etc on the counter ready to go.
For some people with unpredictable schedules it is a great idea to keep a bag in your car with some running shoes, running clothes, swim gear and nutrition, so if the opportunity presents itself you are always ready to get in a quick run or swim.
Streamline your life. Think about what you spend the most time on and figure out ways to reduce the time you spend there. This is different for everyone. For me, I spend a LOT of time figuring out what to cook for my family and all the chores that go into that like shopping, looking for new recipes, making grocery lists, prep and cooking, and a lot of times simply deciding what to do on any given night.
Again, if I plan ahead here, my life is so much easier. I have recently switched my shopping day from Monday to Friday because my Fridays are typically a little less stressful and more free. (This is itself was monumental for me and took about a month to fully switch over. I was just so accustomed to planning with the shopping day on Monday.) Before I shop I sit down and plan out the dinner menu for the entire week. I have a little white board that I use.
I put the dinner in the first column, any notes about the next day in the second column (like taking things out of the freezer), and whatever I need from the store in the third column. Then I make my grocery list from this. I also use the lower right hand corner to add things I find I need during the week, so I don't forget. This isn't so much about not forgetting as it is about not going to the grocery store three or four times a week, which takes TIME. You can also see I usually plan at least one crockpot (CP) meal a week and plan for leftovers a couple times a week on days that I know I am particularly busy. (When I am planning a crockpot meal I find it helps to put the crockpot on the counter the night before so I don't forget to get it started in the morning.)
If you are not the cook of the house, this may not be where you streamline. Maybe you drive a lot for work and tend to be in a different place every day. A great way to streamline is to figure out all the of the pools in the areas you travel so you can always just get a swim when you have a chance instead of having to trek back to your home pool. I have about 5 pools that I know I can swim at whenever I am in the area. Sometimes it means stepping out of your comfort zone a little, but a swim is a swim and time is time. Same thing for running errands. Do them all on the same day and swing by the gym or pool for a workout while you are out. That way you are getting stuff done on the way there and back and not just spending time ONLY driving to the pool and back.
Another way to streamline is to set up your training gear in a way that you can reduce the amount of time you spend getting ready to train. Seriously, sometimes I feel like it takes me 30 minutes just to get ready to go. Have your bike ready to go, with tires pumped the night before, bike shoes right next to it, helmet on the handle bars, training fuel prepare the night before, clothes laid out the night before, sunscreen and lube right where you need it, sunglasses in the helmet, and shoes laid out for a brick. It takes a little bit of time the night before, but is so worth it when you want to roll out on time.
I also train from home as much as possible. A four hour ride can easily turn into a six hour chunk of time if you have to put your bike and gear in the car, drive out to a different location, take everything out, and then repeat the process in reverse to go home. I'm not saying I never do this, but I do try to limit how much this happens because it just takes up A LOT of time. The longer the ride, the more likely I am to ride from home and to ride by myself.
Have a dedicated place for everything. How many minutes do you spend looking for your Garmin and your heart rate strap? Do you then have to wait around for it to charge? Do you know where the clean water bottles are? Do you ever search for your workout gear?
Set up systems and rituals that ensure all your stuff is where it's supposed to be, charged and ready, when you need it. Here are a few of mine (and I would like to give Sonja credit for several of these!)
Who needs drawers? Folding is overrated.
All tops including sports bras in the top bin, running bottoms in the middle bin, and cycling bottoms in the bottom bin.
Swimsuits live in the laundry room.
I take them out of my gym bag and hang them up, then they are ready to go for the next swim. (Aren't you jealous of all my shimmer?)
Water bottles live on top of the fridge.
Big bottles in the big bin. Small bottles and tops in the small bin.
If you have bottles you don't use for whatever reason, throw them out.
Electronics bin in the kitchen.
It looks messy but it works and it only cost me $5. Inside are phone and Garmin chargers plugged into a power strip. You will also find my HR strap, my RoadID, some headbands, ear phones, my camera, the camera battery charger, and ipod charger cords. As soon as I walk in the door from a run, everything goes in the bin and gets charged if needed. Kel uses this for his electronics as well.
I'm sure all of you have great time-savers too, so please share your best tip!!