My name is Tara Fitness (yes, really) and I used to be an online personal trainer.
In 2015, I quit my social work job and became a personal trainer.
Initially, I worked in a gym.
Scratch that, I paid for the privilege of working with members of the gym. Kind of a rental agreement which, as I worked in a low socioeconomic area, left me earning below minimum wage. It’s a fundamental flaw in the business model of the fitness industry which, I believe, significantly contributes to 80% of personal trainers who leave the industry within the first two years.
I lasted three…
I moved on from the salt mine, I mean gym, after nine months. I’d heard about this great idea called ‘online training’ and, knowing I’d likely be moving to the UK in mid-2017, it sounded like the perfect opportunity to build a business I could take with me. So I began to market myself as an online personal trainer.
I’m not here to tell you what happened with my business…
You only need to know that, after three years, I decided it was time to throw in the towel… and when I did, I wasn’t really sure who I was any more. I spent three years prioritising becoming a successful online personal trainer over all else, and I still failed to make it succeed.
I confess… I was a poor role model.
I was an online personal trainer, promoting healthy eating and exercise, yet I wasn’t prioritising either. I always told myself I had more work to do. I constantly chased the end of my never-ending to-do list, trying to find the secret to success. I hoped if I worked hard enough, I’d stumble upon the one thing that would make it all work. I didn’t…
Instead, I found myself feeling increasingly unfit. My back pain reared its ugly head more and more often. Despite knowing I could improve it by training consistently, I wasn’t doing the work. I was too busy ‘working’.
I did manage to improve my nutrition to some extent, but only because I was completing the same nutrition plan I gave my clients. I turned it into work, and I justified taking the time to read my daily lessons because it would help my clients if I understood the content they were working through.
But I wasn’t always implementing the strategies. Often, I was too emotionally exhausted to take the time to prepare a dinner menu and shopping list, or I was too consumed by work that I’d forgotten to get the meat out of the freezer. Cooking felt like a chore that took me away from work, instead of the nightly event I used to love. So, I found myself yearning for and ordering more takeaway food.
I confess… I was an awful partner.
My phone was never out of arms reach. I was always sending messages, responding to emails, checking notifications or scrolling through social media feeds. Even when I put my phone down, I wasn’t entirely present. I told myself it was important to respond to messages, emails and comments as soon as they appeared. But this meant I could never truly switch off.
It also meant I would sit beside my partner every night and give my attention to a piece of technology, rather than to her. On the rare weekends when we’d commit to going out, I’d be glued to my phone instead of enjoying our time together.
Then there’s my debilitating back pain that marred many an event. Even though I knew training consistently would reduce the frequency of crippling pain, and thus the frequency of my pain stopping us doing things, I still didn’t do it.
I was just worried that I wasn’t financially contributing to the household, so I thought if I worked harder, at least the people around me would believe I was trying.
I confess… I was a terrible friend.
I started to use my Facebook friends list as a promotional tool. I wasn’t trying to sell to friends, but I wanted to be the first person they thought of when they or someone they know wanted to lose weight.
I private messaged ten people every workday and breathed a sigh of relief when I finished. But I wasn’t messaging because I actively wanted to talk to people or to reignite old friendships, although this was a positive benefit of the experience. I reached out because I wanted it to help my business.
I spoke to 10 people per day, every workday for 12 months. I pushed myself way out of my comfort zone. As a result, many more people knew I was an online personal trainer, but it didn’t convert into referrals or new clients. Ultimately, I grew to resent the advice, the action and worse of all, my friends. It fuelled my assertion that I was becoming the failure everyone expected me to be.
I confess… I didn’t care about myself.
I’d always believed the old adage:
“if you work hard enough, you will succeed”.
I’ve since learned that this is not the case.
I thought if I prioritised work for now, I could create a better future. I would work my guts out to succeed; then when I was successful, I could prioritise my health and fitness, relationships, travel and fun.
But hard work, if it is the wrong work, will only serve to make you feel like you deserve recognition and compensation, and hate the world (and everyone in it) when they don’t deliver. Because when you’ve invested so much that your only priority is your business, your business becomes your identity. When your business is failing, you become a failure.
When you’ve pushed all the positives out of your life, and you are the failing business…
Well, that is no life worth living.
I confess… I closed my business because I had to prioritise me.
I ultimately chose to pivot away from being an online personal trainer because I was living on the brink of burnout. Despite trying to prioritise my self-care, constantly telling myself I would train more and eat better, I simply hadn’t been able to. I tried to implement the tips I’m about to share with you, but I waited too long. Because I waited too long, by the time I had a clear head, I realised I simply wasn’t passionate about being an online personal trainer anymore.
The Logic of Putting Yourself First
Before I give you some practical tips, I want to teach you the logic of putting yourself first. In other words, I want to teach you the logic that defies the ‘work harder to succeed’ assumption.
The Pareto Principle
Busyness does not build a business. The Pareto Principle is an observation that 20% of the work we do is responsible for 80% or our income (and thus, much of the work we do is an expensive waste of time). Now that isn’t to say that 80% of the work we do is irrelevant; try ignoring your taxes, and it’s going to become very relevant down the track.
But it does mean for business owners; we should focus our attention on higher revenue-generating tasks. From a self-care perspective, it also means we should consider whether lesser revenue tasks are worth our time.
For example; say you’re creating content for five different social media networks despite generating 80% of your leads from one or two of those. Is it sensible to create content for the remaining three networks? Or would you be better off using the extra hour or two per week spending some quality time with your family?
I know which one I’d choose.
Think back to the last time you studied. Chances are, you either studiously worked on each assignment from the day it was assigned. Researching, drafting and editing until you presented a perfectly polished piece of work on the due date. OR you completely forgot about every assignment until the day before it was due, pulled an all-nighter, smashed out a few thousand words and submitted it with seconds to spare.
Regardless of which of these methods you chose, each assignment was still worth the same percentage of your final grade. In each instance, the time and effort taken to complete the task were worlds apart.
Parkinson’s Law states that “work will expand to fit the time which you give it”. Your assignments are a perfect example of Parkinson’s Law in action.
Now I’m not necessarily advocating for leaving things to the last minute. But I am asking you to consider the value you place on your time.
For example, if you have three small tasks on your to-do list, but generally work an eight-hour day, will you complete those tasks in two hours, then take the rest of the day off? Or will you succumb to the fires that are alight in your email inbox, the call of your social media notifications or the hamster wheel of online videos? If you’re in the latter camp, those tasks will likely take all day. Why? Because you let them. And are you truly working harder? Or are you simply filling in time that you could use to, say, exercise?
How many times have you thought to yourself:
‘I’ll just finish this; then I’ll finish up for the day;’
Only to look at the clock two hours later and realise you’ve missed dinner with the kids, wasting away in front of your laptop, in the pursuit of a cross on your to-do list?
Hofstadter’s Law states ‘things will always take longer than you expect, even when you plan for them to take longer than you expect’.
If you take nothing else from this article, take this. When you reach your ‘finish time’, another 5 minutes will always become 15, or 50. So when that time rolls around, ask yourself:
‘can it wait until tomorrow?’
If the answer is yes, regardless of what you’re doing, put it down and pick it up again tomorrow. Because those 50 minutes could be the difference between cooking a nutritious meal, spending some quality time with your family, exercising, relaxing, reading… or not…
And when you get into the habit of passing up all of those opportunities, eventually you find yourself yearning for the things you used to love, but unable to remember quite what it feels like to do them.
Don’t be the person who shuts out the world while trying to build a successful business and ends up with no resemblance of a life.
So, now you understand the logic of putting yourself first, how do you put it into practice?
It’s all well and good to say:
‘I’m going to start taking care of myself’.
But that’s not enough. It’s like saying you want to lose weight, but not planning to exercise and eat better. If you don’t create a plan, it’s just lip service.
As my old Army Sergeant used to say:
‘Prior preparation and planning prevents piss poor performance’.
So, I’m going to teach you my top three strategies for managing my workload.
3 Strategies for Managing Your Workload
We’re starting with work-based strategies because work is the problem. Your business is taking up all your time; your business is preventing you from looking after yourself. I could give you all the self-care tips in the world; but if we haven’t fixed the underlying issue, you’re not going to put them into practice. Let’s be honest; you’ve probably tried that already. I don’t need to watch you on the merry-go-round, and I’m sure you’re quite ready to jump off it. So, let’s get started.
The three strategies I’m about to teach you, focus on three areas:
- Identifying and prioritising what’s important to you (outside of your work);
- Utilising your time more effectively; and
- Reducing your anxiety.
I learned of the ‘Dream Week’ concept from Jon Goodman of OnlineTrainer.com – creator of The Online Trainer Academy, the best Online Trainer Certification available today. Providing you use your calendar regularly, it’s an essential tool in managing your self-care.
The Dream Week is as the name suggests – your ideal week. Set it up as follows:
1. Open a week in your calendar.
2. Add the most important things in your life. Now to be clear, these are NOT work tasks. I’m talking about date night with your partner, yoga class, kids swimming lessons… whatever is important to you. For me, my basics are cooking dinner every night (yes it’s in my calendar), exercising every day at 2 pm and blocking off my entire weekend to spend it with my partner.
3. Then add the most important things in your business. When I say most important, I mean the high-value tasks that propel your business forward and put money in the bank.
4. Then, if you’re keen to limit email and social media as I do, schedule a time to check these accounts.
And there you have it, your dream week. But it doesn’t stop there. You see, the major benefit of the dream week is you’ve planned it to be your ideal week. It should be balanced, enabling you to do the work you need to do, while still having a life.
From here, any time you’re asked to do something, check your dream week. If it’s a meeting worth having, and your dream week is free, schedule the meeting. But if, say, someone asks to schedule a meeting at 8 pm on a Wednesday… ask yourself if that meeting is really important enough to skip date night? If it’s not, ask to reschedule or politely decline.
Your dream week should serve as your reminder of what’s important, stopping you from getting caught up in your business 24/7.
One Touch Principle
This is the simplest strategy on this list, but I’ve found it to be the most difficult to implement. The One Touch Principle suggests you deal with everything when you first touch it, so you don’t have to touch it again.
The One Touch Principle is most relevant for smaller tasks like checking email or social media notifications. How often do you open your email inbox, scan through the messages, then toss them into the too hard basket? I used to do it all the time until I implemented The One Touch Principle.
Now, I set aside time to work through my email inbox and during this time; I respond to emails as required. If it doesn’t need a response or it’s not that important, I delete it. Every time I open my email inbox, I process it to empty. Because I deal with my email in its entirety, I now only check my email once per day. I use the same strategy with my social media accounts.
This principle doesn’t just save time because you deal with tasks only once. A study at The University of California, Irvine found it can take up to 23 minutes to refocus after one interruption. So even checking your email at the top of every hour, you’re struggling to focus for literally half of your day.
Could this explain why you don’t have time for self-care?
In his book ‘The Power of Less’, Leo Babauta describes his daily to-do list. Every evening he writes down his top 3 priorities for the following day and leaves the list on his desk for the following morning. When he arises the next day, there’s no decision making or aimless wandering about the Internet. He simply sits at his desk and gets to work on his first task.
Since implementing this strategy, my productivity has skyrocketed. More importantly, my anxiety has diminished. Every night when I go to bed, I don’t worry about what I have to do tomorrow because I have a plan. Every afternoon when I finish work, I don’t feel like I should have done more, because I’ve completed my work for the day.
This simple change removed the stress of the never-ending to-do list that used to hover over my head, tapping me on the shoulder every time my mind was idle. This simple strategy enabled me to relax when I’m taking time out for myself.
Go Forth and Prosper
Being a business owner does not mean you must be a slave to your business. Your business should enable you to live a better life, and if it’s not doing so, it’s up to you to change it.
These are the strategies I used to become a healthier entrepreneur. So, implement these three strategies to free your time, your mind and your life.
P.S. If you’re an online personal trainer (or thinking about becoming one) and you’d like a little more direction, jump on this FREE Online Personal Trainer Course from Jon Goodman and the Online Trainer Academy.