Episode 188

Nov 6, 2018

Ruth Werner and Whitney Lowe join the podcast to tell us how they conquer productivity issues and obstacles in their work.

Listen to "E188: How an Accountability Partnership Can Help Your Productivity (with Whitney Lowe and Ruth Werner)" on Spreaker.
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Ruth Werner and Whitney Lowe join the podcast to tell us how they conquer productivity issues and obstacles in their work.

Ruth Werner is an author, educator, and artist. She writes a regular column in Massage & Bodywork Magazine, is working on the 7th edition of A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology, and just launched an online course, My Client Has Diabetes.

Whitney Lowe’s career spans three decades and includes extensive clinical work, research, publication, teaching, and positions on national boards and committees. Whitney directs the Academy of Clinical Massage, which provides advanced clinical massage continuing education, as well as programs for schools.

In this episode, we’re proud to support Healwell and their 2018 Giving Tuesday Campaign to raise $15,000. Healwell combines education, research, and service to improve quality of life for people affected by acute, chronic, and serious illness.


Allissa Haines Hey, this is Allissa popping in to tell you that this episode is originally airing on Tuesday, November 6, which is election day. So if you’re listening today, on election day, I want to remind you to hop on out and vote. And if you didn’t vote or if you missed the cutoff to register to vote, we want to remind you to go to usa.gov/register-2-vote and get yourself all set or just google where do I register to vote. Whitney, Ruth, Michael, and I all thank you for doing your civic duty and for listening to this podcast. Enjoy.

Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Massage Business Blueprint podcast, where we discuss the business side of massage therapy. And we have a super, double guest, fancy shmancy podcast episode prepared for you today that I am all kinds of excited about. We have — and I’m not even going to banter or do anything. I’m telling everyone right away this is what we got. We have two huge rock stars joining us as guests.

First, we have Whitney Lowe. Whitney, hi.

WL How’s it going?

AH Good. And we have Ruth Werner. Hi, Ruth.

RW Hey, Allissa.

AH I’m so excited because we have two foremost authors and educators in the massage world here. Whitney, whose career spans three decades and includes extensive clinical work, research, publication, and teaching, and positions on national boards and committees, and he’s my friend. Whitney Lowe is here. Whitney directs the Academy of Clinical Massage, which provides advanced clinical massage continuing education as well as programs for schools. And then Ruth Werner, who is author, educator, advocate for massage, also online education, all kinds of textbooks that are filling up my bookcase right now.

And those were super rough, super-fast bios. So I want to give each of our guests a chance to tell us a little more clearly what it is they do. And let’s start with Ruth. Ruth, tell me what you’re doing nowadays.

RW Well, I’d be happy to. And this is actually relevant to the topic of our conversation. My work life right now is split in probably three different directions. I am in the final phases of wrapping up the next edition of the Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology. This will be the 7th edition. All of the stuff that will be in the print book, I’m going to be wrapping up by January 1, and then I get to work on all the online ancillaries — the test bank and the PowerPoint slides and the workbook and things like that — so that the book will hit the market late next summer through my wonderful new publisher, Books of Discovery. That’s a huge part of what I’m working on right now. I also write columns for Massage and Bodywork magazine. Couple of other people on this conversation write columns for Massage and Bodywork magazine.

AH Whee!

RW And I also write for Massage New Zealand, which is really fun because it makes me feel like I have a global reach. And then the third thing that takes up my bandwidth is the development and maintenance of online education. I have a full pathology course that is currently in session, and I am beginning the process of launching individual short courses that will be continuing education for anybody who wants them. So that’s all — that’s sort of a new thing for me, and it’s been wonderful to have a connection with Whitney, who’s much more comfortable in that world than I am, because that’s a big part of what we end up talking about.

AH Sweet. And I’m just going to do the plug right now. I took your diabetes course online and it proved to be super helpful to me. The timing on it was brilliant. I took the course online, learned a bunch of stuff that I had either learned or not learned or learned and forgotten when I was in massage school. And literally within the next few weeks, I got a new client with gestational diabetes that I felt so prepared for and safe working with because I had just had that online training, which was —

RW Oh, I love hearing stories like that . That is awesome.

AH And I’m thrilled that I remembered to tell that story right now. I made a note. So let’s jump to Whitney who can tell us more about what he does, and bring it on, Whitney.

WL Yeah, so I think, just like Ruth said, talking about what we’re doing really highlights the importance of what we’re talking about with our topic today about this accountability partner process because Ruth and I are on such a parallel track right now. She’s doing a book revision. I’m also doing a book revision; so I’m working on a long overdue revision of my assessment book. This book is going to be — the plan is really that it’s going to be a lot more than a textbook. When it comes out, there’s going to be a whole comprehensive online course going along with that, so it’s going to be more than just the usual PowerPoints and test bank things that come along with text books. We’re really trying to make a full-blown course to to along with that for the schools to really try to put some emphasis on teaching assessment skills in the schools, which has been a big passion of mine for a very long time. Also just, as Ruth is, I’m just doing regular writing of columns for both Massage and Bodywork and Massage Today, both of which I’ve been doing for quite a long time. So those articles end up — lots of people probably don’t recognize the amount of time that goes into those articles, but a lot of time goes into putting those together — you would know that too.

AH No kidding. (Indisernible) snacks, and booze. And that’s just me.

WL Right. Yeah, so those things are very time intensive. And then also the other big thing that I’m managing on an ongoing basis is our online training program that’s the part of the NCBTMB’s new specialty certificate in clinical rehabilitative massage. This is actually an online program; it’s 130-hour online program. It’s been going on since — when did I launch this — I think 2006 was when that program was first launched. And it continues to be a work in progress evolving. But my real goal with that program has always been to push the far edge of quality online education for a very comprehensive, thorough, and to be honest, a very hard, tough program that people go through doing that thing because there’s a lot of stuff that we get to cover in that program that’s just way too hard to cover in the very short two-day workshop format that most of these courses are taught in. That’s pretty much in a nutshell what tends to be taking up a lot of our time and work efforts here that we’re trying to work together on.

AH I got to say, one of the things that I have most admired about you, Whitney, is you were so early on willing to embrace and hurdle the obstacles of online education and the technical aspect of getting massage therapists online and getting their education online in a time where that was so rare and massage educators were still putting flyers up and thinking that was going to fill their live classes and didn’t need a website — they don’t want a website — and you really pioneered that, and you paved the way for a lot of us to be able to interact online and see online education as something that could be done with such a mellow humility to it that wasn’t like “I want to be everyone’s massage rock star online.” It was a “no, guys, we can do this.”

WL Yeah. That is very much how it evolved. It actually started for me back in the late 90s, believe it or not, with a tremendous amount of frustration in the workshop environment with trying to teach complex clinical reasoning skills in a two-day course. I was studying a lot about education and learning theory because that’s a real passion of mine. It’s like how do people learn? And recognizing that that particular course format that we teach all these courses in is really quite poor for long-term learning. People tend to cram a lot of stuff into a two-day weekend. But the reality is because of that intense format, you tend to forget a lot of stuff. So I was looking at how do we build something that’s — because the medical schools at that time were also grappling with a lot of these same issues of how do we teach complex clinical reasoning skills over a longer period of time where the students will actually get it and remember it a year down the road or two years down the road. There were doing some real innovative things with online education much more complex that the stuff that typically was out, which was throw a PDF online and call it a course, which there’s way too much of that kind of crap. But I really believed —

RW [laughs] No judgements.

WL — that we — that’s right.

AH So that ruined all my plans for all our courses next year.

RW [laughs]

AH I kid.

WL But the point is you can make really good quality — I’ve always said this. It’s actually really easy to make an online course. It’s really hard to make a good online course. And that’s where the rubber hits the road, I think.

AH And I’m totally — I’m just remembering now how you taught a presentation at an Alliance for Massage Therapy Education event that I went to a couple years ago — probably several years ago now — that was all about keynotes. How were we making our slides so that students can actually learn when they’re watching a keynote listening a lecture? And that dramatically changed how I make slides for all the stuff I do. From then on, I was — when I watched your slides and I saw how you presented images and you reduced words and you talked about how our brains work and how much we can concentrate on at one time. That was huge for me. I learned — I went on my own after that event and looking into it a lot more and it dramatically changed how I made slides and that’s been really huge for me. I don’t know that I ever made that connection until just now that that was you who did that and that this is totally applicable to how you are so innovative online. So thanks for that.

WL Well, you’re most certainly welcome. It does emphasize another important point that I think which is the way people often get into teaching environments or teaching positions or opportunities in our field is often directly from clinical work. Like hey, I’m doing this in the clinic; I think I’ve got a new technique or whatever. And then hey, I’m going to go teach it. But there really aren’t a lot of people who spend a lot of time learning about learning; how do people learn and how do we make better educational materials, better educational methods, better educational experiences for people? And I would really love to see more people doing what you’re doing, which is taking this stuff and really doing something with it to make things better.

AH Well, now I’ve made notes for about five more podcast episodes you’re going to have to do with us, so thank you.

WL All righty.

AH Well, let’s jump into today’s topic. Everyone, this is about having an accountability partner. Ruth and Whitney created this partnership to literally hold themselves accountable for the work that they’ve got to do. I’ve heard about it from each of them at different points and I desperately wanted to hear about how it came about. So doesn’t matter to me which one starts, but let me — we’d love to hear how did this happen?

WL Yeah, well, I’ll get going with how this started briefly, and then I want to turn it over to Ruth to talk a little about how we do this and what we do when we’re working together. Basically, I had come across an article on accountability partners and how valuable that was for people in certain work environments for being able to get them to be way more productive and to make themselves stick to deadlines and get things accomplished. And I thought, you know, this could really work really well for me because I work in isolation. I live in a very rural, small-town place and don’t get out around a lot of other people, other colleagues as often; so I really felt like it would be helpful for me to have some kind of process like this. I looked around and said who is doing similar kinds of things to what I’m trying to do that would relate to my challenges that I’m dealing with on a regular basis? And the other key thing is it’s got to be somebody who I really respect and somebody who I trust to the end of the world. So that narrows the list down really, really small for people that would fit that bill of doing that. And for me, Ruth was an ideal person to be working with. I wanted to turn that over to Ruth now to talk to you a little bit about her experiences there.

RW Oh, sure. Now that my eyes are all sweaty. [laughs] Thank you, Whitney. It’s just — yeah. What happened, Allissa, is Whitney contacted me. I mean, we were in touch from time to time when we had a specific question that we knew the other person had the right expertise to answer. And so Whitney contacted me and said here, would you look at this article about accountability partners and is this something you might be interested in doing with me? I didn’t have to look at the article. I did, but I didn’t have to to say yeah, absolutely, yes. Like Whitney, I also live in a very remote place. The only time I see other people who are in my field is when I travel to go to meetings. And so that’s five or six times a year right now, max. And so my interaction with the profession is pretty remote. What’s ironic, of course, is that we are both living in tiny little rural communities, but we’re in the same state and we’re about four hours from each other. So we’re close, but not that close. What I — as both of us laid out at the beginning, we do a lot of work, but we don’t punch a clock. And so it’s incumbent on us to create structure for how the to do list is actually going to happen. When you sit down to a to do list and the first thing on your list is something that you just really don’t want to do, it is so easy to just shove that aside and do the task that’s more fun or more attractive or just easier or that seems more urgent even though in the long run, it’s not actually more important. And so one of the things that Whitney and I do for each other that I think is, for me, that is the most valuable in how we do this is to analyze okay, what are we actually working on versus what do we need to be working on and how do we make those two things actually match? Sometimes, we will keep a running list. I think at the beginning, Whiney actually made — didn’t you make an Excel spreadsheet?

WL I did, yeah. Yep.

RW That’s not my medium. I hate Excel. But now what we do is we meet roughly every two weeks for about an hour and we meet on Zoom and we simply have a chat. We check in about things that are personal but also things that are professional, and we resonate with the challenges and we boost each other with our forward movement. And I will say that because of the influence of having an accountability partner whose good opinion I value so highly, this has really propelled me forward with doing the things that, for me, are important and also scary, like putting more emphasis into developing my online courses and finally getting my act together about publishing a blog. Without Whitney to kind of be behind me saying you can do this, and I’m here to answer your questions, and I’m here to help you get over those obstacles, without him to do that, it would be so easy for me to just do the things that I do every day and not challenge myself to go to the next level that I really need to do for myself for my profession and to feel like I am being the person that I want to be.

WL One other thing that I would add on that, too, is just saying that — and this is probably something a little bit more about my personality that may not be as applicable for everybody else the same way, but I was one of those people that I always just had a hard time when I didn’t have my homework done in school. That whole embarrassment about not meeting something that I knew I was supposed to be doing. Nobody wants to disappoint Ruth Werner.

RW [laughs]

AH [laughs]

WL That’s my accountability process.

RW Oh my goodness. Oh would that that were true. I hope my children listen to this.

WL Right. So that’s part of what keeps it going. Make sure I make those deadlines as well too.

RW Oh, that’s really funny.

AH I talked about this in the podcast a little bit just along with Michael how I follow a writer and a podcaster whose name is Gretchen Rubin and she writes a series of stuff called The Happiness Project and has The Happiness Podcast. And she talks about the four different personality types in regards to productivity and motivation. So there’s upholders, people who can meet their own inner expectations who don’t need outside deadlines. There’s obligors who will meet external obligations. And then there’s questioners and then there’s rebels. But the bulk of the population falls into the obligor category, who is they will meet external obligations but not necessarily hold their own obligations themselves. Part of the reason Massage Business Blueprint works so well — like I was just flailing around with this for four or five years until Michael said hey, let’s turn this into a thing. Once I had a partner who held me accountable for certain things, then it all came together. And now that I know that I have to be prepared to record a podcast when I’m meeting Michael at our weekly meeting, it gets done. Now that I know he’s counting on me to do xyz and that I’m counting on him to do xyz, all of these things actually happen. And I think it’s a lot of knowing yourself. Knowing that I know I need someone to report to because I’ll feel guilty if I don’t. That’s a huge deal knowing how you work and even geographically okay, these are the restrictions based on where I live and how often I can get to events is a really, really big deal.

How long — maybe a little bit for each of you — what’s an example of how you flailed with this? What did you struggle with; what did you try as far as productivity that failed or worked a little bit before you came to this accountability thing?

WL Well, I would say my biggest obstacle over the last year and half, or maybe even longer, period of time has been this dark cloud hanging over me of I have to get this book revision done. I have always been able to think of lots and lots of reasons why other things were more important. It’s a little bit of a different ballgame. For example, the main book I’m working on now is self-published, but there’s another book that I have that’s published by a major large publisher. And this is — Ruth’s ballgame was dealing with bigger large publishers. There’s a bunch of different things you have to deal with when you’re self-publishing versus working with a big publisher. Usually, the big publisher’s going to put more pressure on you about when a book revision is due, but if you’re self-publishing, it’s your decision when you do that. And so for me the motivation and process to really put enough things aside to make that become important enough to get done was something I just felt like I got to get some help doing this somehow or another because structurally I’m not able to really ever to get that far enough on the front burner because there’s so many other things that seem to be needing more attention all the time.

RW And when we have our meetings, we often talk about Whitney’s progress with this and how — and in the time that we’ve been doing this — which is not that long, maybe, what, four or five months — it’s really changed shape a lot as we have talked about it and you’ve wrestled with it, and I think your movement on that book revision and the vision of that being more than a book has really been enriched by the time that we’ve spent together just talking about how to make that most effective.

WL Yeah, absolutely. And kind of back to what Ruth was saying earlier, too, of it is when you’re looking for who is that ideal accountability partner that you could work with that would be good for you, balancing those two things of somebody who’s doing enough of the same things that you’re doing that they can understand what you’re going through and what you’re challenged with, but also at the same time — for example, let’s say you want to find an accountability partner for how to grow your massage practice. You might feel also a little bit uneasy about working with somebody who you see as a local competitor in your community or your neighborhood or something like that and that can be a bit of an obstacle. So both of you have to recognize that working together can basically make you both more successful and there’s a lot of benefit that can come out of that; so you have to sort of get out of that mindset of I can’t give away my secrets or I can’t tell them what I’m doing or I can’t tell them that I’m really flailing or something like that. Because this is why you do it is to really get the support and the help that you need.

RW And for Whitney and me, we have such different strengths, and so we really fill in those blank places. When I was stumbling about my course or getting the blog going or things like that, Whitney was really a wonderful booster for me because that stuff isn’t scary to him and it is to me. By contrast, I’m really good at envisioning big projects and chunking them into smaller pieces, and I can be really supportive when he gets overwhelmed by the size of the project that he’s undertaking.

AH I love this. I do; I’m just so excited. I have so many ideas. I want to take a break for a moment to talk about our halftime sponsor, and then we’re going to launch into some tips for people who want to get started on this. I know we’ve covered a few already.

Sponsor message We are excited today to talk about Healwell. Healwell combines education, research, and service to improve the quality of life for people affected by acute, chronic, and serious illness. Healwell is all about educating massage therapists to make them better therapists capable of working in these clinical and palliative environments and just improving the quality of life for all. And we were talking about them because Giving Tuesday is November 27th, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. And here at Massage Business Blueprint, we are heartily supporting Healwell. They have set an ambitious goal for this year and they want us to be part of it and all of you to be part of it. They are looking for 20 new recurring donors annually and raising 15,000 more dollars, and that can be done. You can learn more about that at healwell.org. I personally am a monthly donor to Healwell. I give them a donation every month; it’s automatically withdrawn. I have a little line item for charitable giving in my business account because I think this is a thing that is crazy important and I want to support it. And we also support it though Massage Business Blueprint. They are truly leading the conversation about meaningful integration of massage in healthcare. They are talking to policy makers. They are connecting with thought leaders. They are challenging norms and raising the bar, and it is a beautiful thing. Visit healwell.org and — I got distracted there for a second; I got so excited about Healwell.

AH So let’s throw out just a few tips for people who may want to start their own accountability partnership. Any thoughts and ideas?

RW Well, as Whitney just said — I’m going first this time.

WL Go for it.

RW As Whitney just said, I think it’s — one of the things that has certainly made this work well for us is that we are at a similar place in the kind of work that we do; we’re at at a similar place in the time we’ve been in the profession. If two people were to hook up and be accountability partners but one person’s a seasoned veteran and one’s a newbie, that’s likely to turn more into a mentorship. That’s a wonderful partnership, but it may not achieve the same things as when you get people who are really more on a peer-to-peer basis. So you got to look for the magical combination of the people who are doing similar work to you that have similar struggles so you can brainstorm how each — what’s the right solution for each of you, which might not be the same thing.

WL Yeah, and another thing that I would add, too, is when you’re looking for who that ideal person is — somebody who you feel like you can give honest feedback to and also take honest feedback from. Ruth, for example, has been able to say to me a couple times, make sure that you’re staying on track to get this particular thing done with the book that you want to get done this week because I see your ads on Facebook; I see you’re doing all these other things; you’ve got a lot of other things going. Like during the summertime, my time is just totally sucked away with helping my wife with wild bird rehabilitation that we do here in the house, and I just have to abandon almost all my work projects to help out for a couple months. So there’s times when I just really need somebody to say, look, yeah, you got these other things going on, but you got to remember we’re on a deadline here, and you got to meet it, buddy.

RW I’m sorry, I have to interject. I had the pleasure of visiting Whitney and Elise one summer during bird season, and there’s just nothing like watching one of the world’s greatest education providers in massage therapy sifting through a bin full of mealworms to fish out the dead ones. It’s just amazing.

AH [laughs] That’s amazing.

WL It’s a great experience. Yeah, everyone should have that experience.

AH Have you had any little fails in your accountability stuff?

RW Oh, sure.

AH Yeah? Any issues you had to work out? Were you ever too easy on each other?

RW Oh, I think every time.

WL I do, too, yeah. Yeah. And I think this is something that we’re growing towards. I said something to Ruth about this the last time we were there is I need you to kick my ass sometimes a little bit more firmly if we’re not getting to the places that I need to get to. And I want you to feel okay about that.

RW We’re not at the point where we’re turning in — Whiney isn’t sharing things he’s writing for me to look at because that would add another thing to my to do list when my to do list is pretty full. So we may get to that point if we need to. But he’s right. We’re such good friends and we really look forward to those conversations. We could be more pointed about creating an agenda and doing a checkoff list. It hasn’t felt needed yet, but we may get to that point.

WL One other thing that I would add here that I think is a challenge for some people to do that really — you need to put this on — and we haven’t had a problem with this doing it, but some other people might just because everybody’s busy. But you got to put this on your calendar and you got to stick with it. It’s easy, I think, to say oh, this is just my meeting with my accountability partner, I can blow it off this week or whatever. We’ve had a couple of times where we had to reschedule some things around being out of town and travel stuff but for the most part, when we put that on the calendar, it’s a done deal. We’re going to be meeting because we got to stick with it.

RW And we really value it. It’s fun.

WL Yeah, it is.

AH I find that’s the thing I most adore about working on The Blueprint is that it’s given me an excuse to talk to my friend on a weekly or every other week basis, and we’re really good about covering the personal stuff in a few minutes and updating and moving into our business stuff pretty quick which is really nice.

WL Yeah.

RW Great.

AH Anything else anyone want to share? Does anyone want to give us a sneak peek on anything they’ve got coming up?

RW You know, if you’d like some online education about diabetes to visit my website at ruthwerner.com. And keep reading the trade journals because we’re just all over them.

AH Yeah, all three of us really.

WL Yeah, that’s right. I would just say, yeah, we kind of gave the sneak peek of what we’re working on now so our job is to get that stuff finished so we can get that out there for everybody.

AH Sweet. We’ll I’m going to let you get back to work, then, because you have been so gracious giving us your time and talking us through this. Everyone, as always, thank you for listening to the Massage Business Blueprint podcast. If you have ideas for future podcasts, guest you want to hear us talk to, if you have a love note, if you have complaint, you can send all of these things to podcast@massagebusinessblueprint.com. And I want to remind everyone listening, you are — I think you’re ahead of the curve if you know how to listen to a podcast, which seems silly and yet you really are. So please, talk to your massage colleague friends and say hey, do you know how to listen to a podcast on your mobile device? Or if they don’t have a fancy mobile device where they can listen to a podcast, show them our website, get them to our podcast tab and show them they can listen to it right online from their computer. But share us with your friends. Tell your friends that we exist so we can get more podcast listeners and more questions and help more people.

Whitney and Ruth, thank you. Thank you again for this. I love that you gave us your time and I love this accountability partner idea, and we are going to keep in touch with you and see how this goes.

WL All right so we’ll have an accountability process with Massage Business Blueprint, right? You’ll check in with us again and see how we’re going and if we’re still around here in a few months.

RW That is very valuable.

AH Thank you, again, for your time. Everyone, have a wonderful day.

WL That sounds great. Take care, everyone.

RW Thanks, everybody.