When I was in massage school 13 years ago, one of our assignments was to write about our ideal workday.
I wrote a fantasy of leisurely riding my bike to my nearby massage office, giving a few therapeutic massages to grateful clients, and enjoying a long, relaxing dinner with friends. Then I graduated—and the reality of working as a full-time massage therapist set in.
I soon realized I needed time for marketing, bookkeeping, scheduling and client communication. I learned that managing my time was not enough to keep me from overwork and burnout. I really needed to schedule my work and other obligations based on my energy levels.
In their book, The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal, authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz break energy into four components: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. They say that although the amount of time we have each day is finite, the amount of energy we have is not. Full engagement means we are physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with our life purpose.
Since most massage therapists view massage as a way to help others, our life purpose is often part of our career goals. But the business side of massage and the common practice of juggling multiple workplaces can make additional demands on our energy and time. We must be mindful of our own energy needs. I’d like to share some of my energy-saving and renewing tips with you, my fellow massage therapists.
Physical energy tips
1. Most importantly, learn to put yourself receive regular massage—even a 20-minute chair massage can renew your energy. Schedule time for rest and exercise.
Don’t schedule clients during your self-care time, no matter what. It’s tempting to do so when your checking account is running low, but it creates a bad habit of putting your clients before your own health and energy.
2. Don’t let deep pressure be the only tool in your toolbox. I’ve seen many massage therapists become injured or leave the field due to working with only their brawn, not their If you become known as the deep-pressure massage therapist in your office, soon only the tightest, toughest clients will be on your table or chair.
Offering a variety of techniques gives you a broader client base and allows you to better pace yourself, save your hands and help clients relax—without sacrificing your own body.
3. Give yourself permission to in our culture, rest is equated with slacking, and that’s a dangerous notion. We need physical rest to recharge our physical energy stores.
Being on the go constantly can run our bodies down and weaken our immune systems. Since most of us don’t have sick days, taking time off for illness means a loss of income. Respect your body’s energy needs so you can rest before you get sick.
4. Take care of your nervous system and physical health by slowing down. This can mean simply lying on your massage table for five minutes and breathing deeply between clients. Or, sit quietly in your room without talking to anyone or checking your cell phone or e-mail.
Mental energy tips
1. For tasks that require intense brainpower and focus, such as bookkeeping, marketing or reading research reports, set aside uninterrupted blocks of time when your mental energy is highest—then, outsource what you can. If it’s just as expensive or just a few bucks more to have a laundry service wash your sheets, hire it out. (On your taxes, you can deduct the cost—not your time—to wash sheets.)
The same thing goes for cleaning your office, bookkeeping, accounting and even some of your marketing. Hire someone else to do it if you can. You’ll be providing a job for someone and the cost is tax deductible.
2. Use an online scheduling program to take the hassle out of scheduling with clients can then schedule with you any time without having to play phone tag, which is easier on the client and you.
3. If you work for someone else, make sure you pick shifts that fit your energy ebbs and don’t allow your employer to overwork you. This is easier said than done, I know. If you have a hard time setting boundaries, take an assertiveness training class or work with a mentor or coach.
A good coach can help you better learn to set realistic, attainable goals and help you stay focused, whether your goal is to increase business, get a new job or find a better work/life balance.
4. During the day, give your mind time to get off the computer and phone, and take a walk. Do some gardening—indoors or outdoors. Drs. Rachael and Stephen Kaplan, environmental psychologists at the University of Michigan, teach us that spending time in nature helps renew our brainpower because our minds can wander versus focus on mental tasks that require intense concentration.
5. Make good choices when taking continuing education courses. Think about the skills your clients or employers want you to have and take classes to meet those
For example, most spas want massage therapists who are certified in prenatal therapy and know how to give hot- stone massage. Chiropractors and more clinically oriented massage practices may want massage therapists who understand how to read and apply research and can apply critical thinking to assess and work with medical clients. Classes on positional release, evidence-based techniques and condition-specific massage are examples of classes that can increase your skills in this area.
Emotional energy tips
1. Most massage therapists I know are helpful: We live to give. But some clients have issues beyond our scope of practice. Don’t take on clients who emotionally drain you. We can’t help everyone—nor should we.
If you have a client who takes up a lot of your mental energy, refer that client out. This reduces your stress and makes room for a client you are more comfortable with. Another massage therapist may be a better fit for that client.
2. Take care of yourself by cultivating a support network. Cultivate people who are supportive, affirmative and good listeners. Avoid spending free time with people who drain you or make you want to avoid them—both in person and online.
If you work for someone else, don’t stay in a job where you feel disrespected or treated poorly. These days, there are spas and massage establishments on every corner. If you don’t like the one you work at, find one that suits you.
3. In their article, “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time,” in Harvard Business Review, authors Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy advise us to make it a habit of giving someone an affirmation or encouragement every day. Affirmations not only help the receiver, but also benefit the giver. Schwartz and McCarthy note the more specific the affirmation, the greater the impact it has.
Since what we focus on tends to grow, practice gratitude and focus on what’s working for you instead of what isn’t. The focus on being solution oriented versus complaint oriented not only gives you more energy, but it also energizes and attracts people around you.
Spiritual energy tips
1. Spiritual doesn’t mean religious. Loehr and Schwartz clarify that spiritual energy refers to living your life according to your life values and purpose. Renewing your spiritual energy can be as simple as taking time to think about and write down your values and life purpose and create long-term and short-term goals that support that. It’s a great exercise to do periodically.
Look at activities in your life and where you spend your time. If you are spending time on something that is not helping you achieve your goals, consider ending that commitment or finding a way to gracefully channel that energy into other more meaningful activities.
2. Don’t over-commit, even when something seems in line with your purpose. There are only 16 hours in a day (I set aside eight hours for sleep, right off the bat). When a new opportunity comes your way, think about how it will affect your time and energy resources before committing.
I made the mistake recently of not following my own rule and committed too quickly to a new business venture. I ended up working too much and spreading myself too thin. Luckily, I was able to quit the endeavor quickly, relearning once again to be careful of my commitments.
Social media energy tips
1. Watch your energy and time usage of social media. Facebook and Twitter can be ways to connect with other like-minded bodyworkers and to promote your business. Social media can also be a giant time waster.
2. Periodically, prune your Facebook friends list. Stop watching those who don’t contribute much to your life. You don’t have to de-friend them; just change your settings so their posts do not come up unless you purposely go to their wall.
3. Be careful how you comment on Facebook and other social media. It’s easy to type a few comments without thinking through the potential impact. I’ve been guilty of this myself. An offhand comment can result in angry responses or people who misunderstand you. Take the time to be deliberate in your comments and you won’t have to take time for damage control later.
Take care with your energy
In short, be purposeful about how you spend your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy. You—and your practice—will be healthier for it.
About the Author
Sue Shekut, L.M.T., is the owner of Working Well Massage in Chicago, Illinois. She has a bachelor’s degree in communication and is working toward her master’s degree in psychology. She is certified as an American College of Sports Medicine Personal Trainer and Wellness Coach. In her spare time, she blogs at http://WorkingWellResources.com and coaches massage therapists.
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