For many professionals in the fitness industry, being self-employed is a dream come true. You get to “run the show” the way you want to run it and “clock in and out” of work as you choose. That’s not to say that being your own boss is a breeze; most fitness pros work really hard to attain self-employment success. And while the benefits are plenty, there are also downsides.
One of the greatest perils of calling the shots in your own business is staying focused. Whether you work in a home office or at a gym, or you travel around town as an in-home trainer, you’ll run into distractions everywhere. Read this article for tips from other self-employed fitness pros about how to resist distraction and maximize your workday productivity. (Not self-employed? The advice here might help you, too.)
If you’re gainfully self-employed, you very likely have developed habits that contribute to your success. For example, you’re firm with yourself about staying productive, even when you could be enjoying activities that are more fun or relaxing.
“When you do something you are good at only when you feel like doing it more than checking Facebook or going out, it’s a hobby,” says Megan Senger, a fitness business consultant and freelance writer who works from her home in Asheville, North Carolina. “When you do something you are good at even in moments you would rather not, it’s a profession.”
The Order of Things
Another important quality for self-employed productivity is recognizing the best way to organize the workday. For example, addressing an end-of-the-day deadline needs to come before composing nonurgent emails to clients.
Based in Timonium, Maryland, Stephen Holt is the owner of 29 Again Custom Fitness and was the 2003 ACE Personal Trainer of the Year. “I studied the work of Brian Tracy when I was in my early twenties, and the most salient point he made about productivity was to ask yourself constantly, ‘What’s the most important use of my time right now?’ I stop several times during the day to ask myself that question,” says Holt.
The teachings of Brian Tracy—the motivational business author who wrote Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time (Berrett-Koehler 2007)—have also influenced Megan Senger’s work habits. One of Tracy’s key points on productivity addresses facing the task you dislike the most or perceive as most difficult. Instead of procrastinating, take on that dreaded task first. Being able to cross it off your list early provides you with energy and momentum for the rest of the day.
“The night before you work, write down what you need to accomplish the next day,” says Senger. “Whatever productive and/or necessary item on the list you dread the most is what you should tackle first. Finish your day by doing the projects you find the easiest and most enjoyable—not the other way around.”
Timing Your Productivity
As you organize the most important aspects of your job—and tackle the “ugliest” chores up-front—you might find that there are certain times of the day when you work most efficiently. As much as possible, consider and act on how the time of day contributes to whether you excel in your productivity or fall behind.
If you’re a morning person, you may find it easier and faster to write blog posts, client programs or marketing pieces before lunch, as opposed to saving those tasks until the end of the day. Avoid busying yourself with household chores or basic paperwork during your most focused times.
Your work environment could also dictate your level of productivity. Perhaps you get your most important administrative work done when you’re alone in your home office or at the gym during slower times, as opposed to when your kids arrive home from school or gym-goers show up for primetime classes. If so, plan accordingly.
“The more I can get done in the morning, before everyone else gets going and the day’s distractions increase, the better,” says Senger. “Once late afternoon arrives, I start to feel more tired and less creative, the housework piles up and other family members need my attention.”
Carrie Myers, a fitness writer and owner of CarrieMichele Fitness in Lisbon, New Hampshire, organizes her day like this: “My mornings are usually filled with clients; I try to reserve afternoons for working on deadlines. My ‘low’ time is midafternoon, so I prefer to be home at that time. If I need to take a power nap, I can,” she says.
The Lure of Distraction
Each self-employed fitness pro has different tasks and goals to accomplish. But many of us face similar avenues of distraction. Consider these ways to take charge of some common distractors.
Scanning Social Media Sites
Checking Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and other social media sites can lead to major time-wasting, especially if social media is a blend of business and pleasure in your day’s activities.
“I check Facebook first thing in the morning and during lunch (which can be anytime in the early afternoon),” says Myers. “I try to shut it down while working on deadlines so I’m not constantly checking it, but if I’m contacting clients through Facebook or getting comments on a work-related status, it’s difficult to shut it down.”
Holt suggests setting a timer and sticking to a plan for what you’ll do on social media once you’re logged on. “I keep a Post-it® note on my computer that says, ‘What makes money?’ When I see it, I stop messing around and focus on something that generates revenue, whether in the short term or long term,” he says.
Still, Facebook and other social sites have a way of sucking you in, especially if you receive activity notifications and friend requests by email and/or through a smartphone. If you’re prone to turning a 3-minute log-on into a 30-minute Facebook chat with a friend, you might need a stricter policy. “Either temporarily turn off your wireless router, or turn off the wireless receiver within your computer (on a Mac, it’s the “AirPort off” option),” Senger suggests. Also consider stopping most or all social media notifications to your email and smartphone.
If being on social media is part of your job—perhaps you’re an admin for a Business Page on Facebook, or you use Twitter to communicate with clients and market to them—you might need a more flexible approach. Try creating an “editorial calendar” that helps you navigate what content to post on Facebook and Twitter and when to post it. Then reserve short periods throughout the day for timely responses to business-related comments on Facebook and @mentions or hashtag conversations in Twitter.
Fiddling With Phone and Emails
Many of the tips above apply to email as well as social media sites, but many people feel most comfortable having their smartphones turned on and within arm’s reach. “The thing I like about getting emails through my phone is that I can quickly check them without having to be on my computer,” says Myers. “I only respond to those that require immediate attention. The others can wait.”
Your phone may help increase productivity and focus. It can also distract you beyond belief with incoming texts and emails, Internet access, interesting apps, instant messaging and, oh yes, phone calls.
To combat all that, Holt takes this route: “I realize I’m ‘different,’ but my phone is turned off most of the time: no sound, no vibrate. I didn’t even set up the email feature of my smartphone.”
Why? “Most people will expect you to drop what you’re doing to reply to their text/email or pick up the phone immediately, at their whim because that’s how they handle their time,” explains Holt. “When you explain to them that you’re productive because you finish what you’re working on before you return messages, most people will understand and respect that.”
Planning Your Downtime
Keep productivity in high gear by scheduling actual time off. “When you work at home, it’s easy to feel as though you always ‘should’ be working, since you’re basically always at the office,” says Senger. “But there is a point of diminishing returns when you allow work to drag on into all hours of the day and night. When you’re self-employed, you are your own worst boss. Be a compassionate boss, too!”