True confession time: my name is Mindy, and I am super-organized. I mean, like over-the-top, get-excited-to-file-things away, never-misplace-my-keys organized. And I want to help you get organized, too, so you can find that time that you need to work on your practice, and not just in it. I want you to be laser-focused about building your massage or bodywork business because this will allow you to work less and live more.
I’ve got a couple of ninja-like productivity secrets I’m going to share with you that have helped me to be what people and friends have told me is “weirdly focused and productive.” But before we get to any tips or tricks, the first step to getting things done on your journey to business growth is to be present. I go back to this time and time again in my own practice.
Deep Work & Shallow Work
The word presence comes from the Latin for being at hand. How perfect is that? As a bodywork therapist, you know the importance of being present. You offer huge therapeutic value to your clients simply by holding space for them and being in the moment with them—but you might not realize the importance of being just as present when you’re working on your business.
Think about it: when you’re working on your business foundation, are you present? Or are you jumping around among inbox alerts, social media, checking all your apps, scrolling the news, and generally being distracted?
Do you put off working on your business until you can “really concentrate?” Unfortunately, that time never comes—and you end up frustrated and beating yourself up for just not getting it or for not doing it right.
It’s not all your fault. Attachment to the digital world is probably one of the most difficult habits to break as you try to become more present and get more done in your business. All these apps and platforms and alerts are set up to keep us engaged, to keep us clicking, to keep us going to the next thing, to keep us scrolling—not to keep us focused or present. It’s not that you’re weak, it’s not that you’re a bad person, but you need to make a conscious effort to pull away from that digital world where you’re not present.
So let’s start there. Let’s say you’ve closed all your distractions, and you feel like you’re really present not only for yourself, but also for your business. You’re really ready to work on your business. How do you get to work?
In his book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,” Cal Newport lays out two different types of work that we all do: deep work and shallow work.
To engage in deep work, you need to be able to focus and have a larger chunk of time— around 90 minutes or so to get into the meat of whatever it is that you’re learning or that you’re creating. For bodywork practitioners, deep work includes things like creating new programs or courses, studying for certification exams, or delving deep into the anatomy of your modality.
Shallow work can be done without intense focus. It’s not cognitively demanding, but it can end up taking huge amounts of our time. Things like answering emails, updating social media business pages, or scanning professional journals to see what you might read later are all examples of shallow work.
You might think, “Oh, I should only be doing deep work,” but that’s not the case. It’s important to schedule time for both. Deep work is not necessarily better than shallow work.
You simply have to realize which you are doing and when. If you’re spending all of your business development hours in shallow work, you’re not going to make much progress growing your business. If you’re scrolling through Instagram, pretending that you’re going to grow your business by posting once about a workshop you’re offering, that’s not true deep work. Similarly, if you are in deep work crunch all the time, then important shallow work tasks, like returning client requests for appointments, won’t get done.
You need a healthy balance of both, which brings us to one of my ninja skills: mending nets.
Mend Your Nets
I am often asked when I find time to keep up-to-date on recent research or to write copy for my website. The answer is mending nets. When traditional fishermen couldn’t go out to sea because of bad weather, they stayed in their villages and mended their fishing nets. I learned about this process when I was teaching in Istanbul. There was this wonderful teachers’ lounge there, and all the teachers would go and have their tea in between classes and chit chat. And I really enjoyed it too. I loved being with people and hanging out with them. But I started to realize that a lot of the talk was negative. I would leave there feeling discouraged or even distraught sometimes.
Soon, I discovered that if I didn’t go there every single 10-minute class break, I got so much more work done. Those 10 minutes added up, and I was able to grade papers, plan lessons, and create wonderful things for my students.
We bodywork therapists all have days when we can be doing those things that can only be done when we don’t have appointments.
If you’re anything like I used to be, when you don’t have a full schedule, your first response is often panic, right? Instead, I invite you to take a breath and do what you can do. This is the time to engage in both shallow work and deep work—work that will move your business forward.
For example, you can return client calls between your appointments. You can read through research or bodywork articles to be sure that you’re always moving toward mastery in your modality. Maybe you have a last-minute cancellation. Challenge yourself to use that hour to mend your nets, rather than freaking out about the cancellation.
Is there a class that you want to teach? Begin outlining what the class will look like. Can you reach out to other therapists in your area so that you can set up referral programs? Make a list of the first two practitioners you’ll reach out to this week. Then do it.
You can work on tasks like these when you have an unexpected cancellation. You’ll be amazed at how much you can get done in small chunks of time.
Once you’re in a clear head space and completely present, I’m going to suggest that you go old-school. While I enjoy technology and how it makes my life so much easier, I try to stay away from the digital world as much as possible. My favorite old-school strategy is writing. Yes, actually using a pen or pencil and a piece of paper.
Writing by hand is a complex cognitive process, meaning we use several different parts of our brain that engage neurological and sensory experiences and fine motor skills. So we’re not only thinking cognitively, we’re also feeling the pencil feeling the texture of the paper.
Writing by hand is linked to an improvement in critical thinking, in creativity, and in problem-solving skills. So that’s one thing I want to throw out to you.
As you’re going through your week and working on your business—whether it’s business development or something simple like scheduling—try writing on a piece of paper and see how that changes the experience for you.
Maintain a Safe Container
I also encourage you to fully engage your creativity and higher-order thinking skills by keeping any notes or materials from your business development in one place. This will help you strengthen your organization muscles. I’ve had lots of students who are terrific therapists who really need to work on their organization. They can’t find things. Things get lost, and that really hurts the safe container for your business that you’re trying to create.
The safe container for your clients in your practice has got to be solid so that people feel safe and continue to come back to see you.
So how are you going to mend nets when business is slow and you’re overwhelmed? How can you go old school to carve out the time that you need? And how can you be present, not only for your clients, but for your practice, as well?
What I want you to think about is one simple action step you can take this week to create the space and the time to begin to work on your massage or bodywork business. Remember, you need to be present not only for your clients, but also for your business.
About the Author
Mindy Totten, LMBT, CST-D, helps bodyworkers build profitable businesses so you can serve more people and make a great living doing it. Learn more about her work and get free resources to help you build your practice here.