What I Learned about Business from My Fitness Coach
Starting a company is terrifying. The idea of willfully leaving a well-paying job to pursue a venture where there is no guarantee of an income and absolutely zero infrastructure is borderline panic-inducing. The idea of getting fat, old, and dying of a heart attack prematurely because I sit behind a desk trying to run a start-up is also terrifying. I needed to get in shape. Enter my close friend and trainer – we’ll call him Craig. Because his name is Craig. Craig reminded me on day one that if my heart attack fears had any effect on my training, it would be an adverse one. That’s when I realized that this process of getting fit and not succumbing to artery blockage would closely mirror the perseverance required to stand up and run a successful company.
Excuses are weakness thinly veiled as problems you don’t really have.
There is a significant difference between identifying roadblocks between you and your goal, and finding reasons not to succeed. The former is a necessary step in developing a plan, and the latter is a clear indicator that your decision-making process need to be reevaluated. When Craig and I first spoke about a 6-day-a-week training routine that would go on for months, my immediate response was to go through the mental checklist of all of the things I needed to accomplish every day. The conclusion I inevitably came to was that my work schedule was going to prevent me from committing to such a rigorous training plan. I expected sympathy here. Or at the very least empathy. Everyone knew how much I worked, including Craig. No sympathy. Or empathy. I had gone to Craig for help, and I needed to decide if I wanted the help or not. If I wanted to succeed, I had to commit and find (or make) a way for the program to work. This is the plan I came up with:
1) Keep everyone informed. Before I work out, my entire team knows my schedule and that I will be generally unavailable for an hour or so. I can still be reached, but it had better be an emergency. Like someone bleeding to death in the office, or a deal burning down in my absence. Otherwise it can wait an hour. Working with my team to identify what constitutes an emergency has led to higher productivity, more independent thinking, and more freedom for me.
2) Set a deadline as opposed to a schedule. My unpredictable schedule and workload make it impossible for me to plan a workout hours in advance. I can’t plan to be walking out of the office to go for a run or spend an hour in the gym at 2 pm. Why? Because something comes up at 1:45 pm and dashes my hopes for an on-time exit.
The key is not to let these interruptions kill my focus. I hate missing deadlines (almost as much as I hate the excuses I hear for missing them), and I hate losing an opportunity to exercise – but I can’t allow myself to get agitated or to think, “I missed my workout; I may as well continue to work.”
Now I have a deadline every day based on my schedule. I will look for an hour to break away before 6 pm (most of the companies we interact with are closed by 6). If I can’t manage to break away, I begin my workout at 6 (or whenever I have set the deadline for that day), and return to work afterwards if necessary. I have started to use this approach for general time management, and it has made me far more effective. I begin by setting deadlines for the things that are important but not critical or time-sensitive, and work backwards toward the tasks that need to be completed immediately.
3) Ask questions. I have discovered there is one universal truth: I am not as smart as I think I am. I have a trainer and advisors for a reason. These individuals, knowingly or not, have taken on the task of saving me from myself.
You may be thinking, “You’re just young and inexperienced.” If so, you’re wrong. I am also inherently stubborn. Recently, I called Craig because I had just decimated myself in the gym during one of his routines. The decimation alone wasn’t a red flag. However, this particular death march culminated in vomiting and involuntary crying, and lasted for two hours. Once Craig stopped laughing, he informed me that I had actually misread his directions and had gone through two days’ worth of routines back to back.
This made me realize that I needed to get out of my own way. Just because something seems insurmountable or disastrous to you doesn’t mean it has to be insurmountable or disastrous – I could have stopped my self-torture and checked with Craig to make sure I was doing the right thing.
I have since learned that when I find something to be concerning and I call an advisor (I am lucky enough to have more than one, and they’re all far more experienced and reasonable than I am), it usually isn’t that big of a problem and there is always a way out. The first step to solving a problem is asking the right person the right questions, heeding quality advice, and planning. You won’t panic yourself out of a shit storm.
In summary, I have learned three key things that have enabled me to get healthy and do a better job running my company: Maintain open lines of communication, acknowledge limitations and plan accordingly, and perhaps most importantly, ask for advice. It may save you from vomiting in public.