If you’re like a lot of fitness professionals, your to-do list is a mile long and you never seem to have enough time in the day to get to the end of it. You’ve probably explored several options for organizing the chaos—from elaborate, leather-bound day planners with A, B, C priorities and 1, 2, 3 subtasks, to apps that promise the ultimate solution at your fingertips. And still, your workspace is covered with random sticky notes and your bags have bits of folded paper tucked inside, capturing important reminders, to-dos and ideas. Why not step away from the quick-fix merry-go-round and focus on laying a solid time-management foundation?

While overhauling your system for organizing to-dos may improve your performance, there are three critical steps you must take before a new system will be impactful. Let’s take a look.

Step 1: Level the Playing Field

The first layer of your foundation for optimal productivity requires that you check your base setting. Not only must you define what time management is (or is not), but first you must determine if you’re truly ready for the solution. Do you really want to get “un-busy”?

Here’s a quote to ponder:

Busy is a drug that a lot of people are addicted to.

—Author and pastor Rob Bell

It’s interesting to look back and see how busyness has replaced leisure as a status symbol. In 1899, not working at all was the quintessential symbol of wealth and status, according to Thorstein Veblen, a prominent theorist on status signaling (Veblen 1899). What is our status symbol now? These days, when people ask, “How are you?” most of us answer, “Busy!” instead of, “Fine.” We toss around colloquialisms about our hectic schedules, our need for vacation, and our lack of sleep as badges of honor instead of real cries for help.

Here’s the deal: if you want to fix your time management problem once and for all, you need to want to fix it. You must live by a new guideline: We’re all busy; get over it or manage it, but don’t complain about it! Are you in? If so, start by agreeing on one additional news flash: Time management doesn’t exist. All you can do is learn how to be more discerning with your time by closely analyzing what you need to do.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day. However, how we choose to allocate our time makes all the difference. This doesn’t require that you log and analyze your time to find waste, either. It simply requires that you get real with all the roles you play and what the big projects within each role are, and then clearly identify the most important next step(s). You’ll also have to eliminate or outsource the unnecessary. There are no rules for how to get things done, just systems for how to be as efficient as possible.

Step 2: Determine Your Role(s)

Even if you’re a full-time fitness manager, you most likely have other roles that have their own to-do list entries. Before you can increase productivity, you’ll need to identify all of your major, starring roles. Think beyond your traditional paid positions and include any role that requires you to allocate time. For example, are you a mom? A volunteer soccer coach? A student? A personal trainer?

Next, shift your mindset from juggling balls to spinning plates. Often, when we describe our movement between responsibilities, we use the phrase “juggling balls” or “balls in the air.” Take a minute and put that image in your mind and you’ll see the problem. When you’re juggling a lot of balls, you must keep your eyes open at all times. You’re constantly on high alert. If anything distracts you—even for a second—one ball drops and, usually, the others follow suit. Does that sound familiar?

Instead, picture yourself as an elegant plate spinner at the carnival. You delicately place one plate on its perch and give it spin, which should be aggressive enough to put the plate in motion and give you time to move to the next one. All your concentration then goes to plate number two as you repeat the process. You head back to number one for a gentle nudge; give number two a little push; and then lather, rinse and repeat for the next plate.

What’s the difference? Instead of trying to touch all the plates at the same time, you’re giving each plate the individualized attention it deserves. Your roles are your plates, and each one deserves your undivided attention at regular intervals. Of course, your roles will not always receive the same amount of attention. The size of the nudge will be in direct proportion to the role’s need and will be based on the last action you set in motion.

Multitasking needs to be a thing of the past. It has been proven to be less productive than performing single actions (Ophir, Nass & Wagner 2009), and your IQ declines in a fashion similar to what happens when you smoke marijuana or stay up all night (Janssen et al. 2015). Part of your productivity plan must include dedicating time for projects within a specific role; this will help you stay focused. There will be times where you can knock off single action items across several roles by batching similar tasks (e.g., returning phone calls, paying bills). Practice this right away! Carve out periods of time throughout the week to focus on certain areas.

Step 3: Learn to Say No (Essentialism)

Finally, you’ll simply need to learn when to say no. Saying no requires more than learning to politely decline opportunities or gracefully exit situations that you’ve previously said yes to. Making room for what you need to do requires being clear about where you’re headed in each of your roles. Once your goals are clear, then you can easily put each invitation through a filter to determine if it’s essential. If it doesn’t serve you (or the path) and you have no room left on your schedule, decline. When you say no, you have more time for yes!

Your homework is to read Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown (Crown Business 2014). McKeown’s book will expose you to more ways to become productive, not busy. The goal is to explore how to do less, but contribute with more impact!

Once you’ve created a solid foundation, you’ll be ready to tackle the ins and outs of organizing your projects and getting things done in less time! Part Two of this series will look at how to get it all down on paper (or computer). Look for it in the premier issue of IDEA Fit Business Success.


Janssen, C.P., et al. 2015. Integrating knowledge of multitasking and interruptions across different perspectives and research methods. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 79, 1–5.

Ophir, E., Nass, C., & Wagner, A.D. 2009. Cognitive control in media multitaskers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106 (37), 15583–87.

Veblen, T. 1899. The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Macmillan.

IDEA Fitness Manager, Volume 29, Issue 2

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