This Wellness Entrepreneur Relies on Gmail’s “Mark as Unread” Feature for Staying on Top of Her Inbox

December 10, 2021
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Welcome to our series A Day in the Life where we ask women we admire to share the daily minutiae of their professional lives, from the morning rituals that set them up for success to their evening wind-down routines. In this edition, we’re chatting with wellness entrepreneur Elizabeth Polk. Ahead, the co-founder of Speir Pilates shares how she balances running her own business with working a high-pressure 9-to-5 job (she’s an executive in the legal department at Netflix, NBD). Read below as she walks us through her daily routine, plus her tips for managing a busy schedule and an overflowing inbox.

Tell us a bit about Speir Pilates. What whitespace did you see in the health and wellness industry, and what need did you want to fill?

Speir Pilates offers a modern and dynamic mix of classical Pilates with circuit training and cardio. We have premium group fitness studios in West Hollywood and Santa Monica, California, as well as an on-demand site featuring incredible reformer and mat Pilates workouts. We also offer private sessions, Classical Pilates Certification and workshops. 

I got into group fitness in my twenties. I started with spin and yoga, then got into Pilates. After encountering cliquish staff/clients, body shaming, and generally poor customer service at fitness studios around L.A., I committed to creating a space where you can get an incredible workout and feel like a VIP, in an inclusive, down-to-earth and supportive environment. This was the whitespace. 

We want our 68-year-old clients and 22-year-old clients to equally feel strong and like they belong. We focus on building community and having an inclusive culture at the studio and my business partner, Andrea, designed classes that are achievable yet still challenging for all levels. Even today, when more studios and fitness outlets are focused on inclusion, it still takes firm, unfettered commitment to maintaining a positive environment.

In addition to being the co-founder of Speir Pilates, you’re also an executive in the legal department at Netflix. How do you balance your full-time job with your side hustle? 

A lot of people are running from their day jobs when they start a business. They stay to pay the bills, but the minute the business becomes lucrative enough to support them they’ll quit. I’m passionate about the film business and the intersection of media and tech, so I enjoy my day job. I do not plan to quit working in the entertainment industry. If I have to stay up late or do something on the weekend, it isn’t painful for me. The same goes for Speir. I’m not balancing anything that feels like a chore. I am actually grateful for the more balanced identity that I have as an entrepreneur and career executive. Intense jobs run the risk of becoming central to your identity. 

I use scheduling, delegation, prioritization, and honesty to help balance everything. I schedule everything I can, including my workday, my breaks, my Speir obligations, my workouts, my kids’ activities. They’re all on the calendar. I can certainly get better at delegation, but we hired a business manager a few years ago and she’s been a game-changer. Lastly, I have a business partner, so I have to communicate with her when things are off-balance or I have circumstances that might shift my focus. 

What time management tips can you share for fellow side hustlers who work from 9-5 and 5-9?

The calendar is my friend. I am not the best at time management, but my successful days are well scheduled and clearly in my calendar (which means I at least thought about the structure of my day). In fact, this is a form of visualization for me. When I can see my day broken down in the calendar, I can actually visualize myself successfully completing the things I need to accomplish. 

Also, find things that can make your job more efficient. I use ADP for payroll. They have an app and really great, responsive customer service. We use Google Drive and collaborate on documents regularly. This is more efficient than emailing a document back and forth.

“I can’t stay in high-performance mode all of the time or else I’ll burn out.”

Image: Courtesy of Elizabeth Polk and Speir Pilates

Now, let’s talk about your workday routine! First, are you a night owl or a morning person? When do you do your most important work and why?

I’m definitely a morning person. My workday routine begins with a 5 AM wake-up time. I have to wake up before my kids. The early morning sunrise is mine. For a workout, coffee, shower, or simply to sit and think about my day. I am my most creative and alert in the morning. If I have something that requires very detailed or strategic thinking, I will use that morning quiet time to handle it.

Once the kids wake up, no work will get done until I officially go to work, whether that’s working from home at my desk or leaving the house to go to the office. During the workday, especially if I leave the house and work out of an office, I try to handle the most timely matters. 

When the kids go to bed, that’s another time that I get things done. This is when I do the task-oriented work for Speir. One note about my nighttime is that I go to sleep as soon as I’m sleepy. I do not force myself to stay awake regardless of the task I’m in. 

What time does your alarm go off, and what’s the first thing you do upon waking?

I wake up between 5:00-5:30 AM every day. The first thing I do in the morning is write down anything that is on my mind or weighing on me. I aspire not to look at my emails when I open my eyes, but I’m guilty of answering a few at that time. 

What does your morning, pre-work routine look like?

Once I’m up, I get dressed for a workout and drink water or celery juice. Then I go to Speir Pilates to meet one of our instructors for a private session before the studio opens up for classes. When I get home, my family is up and buzzing around. I typically make breakfast for the kids and get ready for the day. While the kids eat, I start to tackle the to-do list until 8:30 AM or 9 AM. My husband and I alternate school drop-off days. I’m working from home, so my work commute is from the kitchen to my desk.   

Mark Twain said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” What’s the first thing you do when you get to your desk?

Lots of folks begin their day with their most difficult task, but I typically start my day with video conference meetings and check-ins at work. Andrea and I text, email, and call each other throughout the day.

“I admire Andrea because she is very disciplined about handling emails right when she touches them.”

Image: Courtesy of Elizabeth Polk and Speir Pilates

What are you working on this week?

At Speir, this week, we’re hopefully wrapping up our search for a studio manager. We actually call them a community manager since they’re not only responsible for managing the facilities and our staff, but they’re also responsible for community building and reinforcing the company culture.

What’s been the most rewarding part of running your business? The most challenging?

The most challenging part of running this business, especially right at this moment, is staffing. The pipeline for qualified teachers is slim and the front desk position has been especially transient since we’ve reopened after the COVID shutdown. 

Do you ever reach inbox zero? How do you handle the constant influx of inquiries and communication entrepreneurs are so familiar with?

I never reach inbox zero. When I used Outlook I did, but with Gmail as the platform at Spier, personally and at my day job, I use filters, labels, and other tools to sort and organize my emails. I admire Andrea because she is very disciplined about handling emails right when she touches them. I get distracted by other things and have to go back and remind myself that an email has come in. I use “Mark as Unread” a lot. If I read an email on my phone and do not have time or need my computer to respond, I mark it as unread. 

What is your go-to work lunch?

We have catered and box lunches available at the office, so I used to eat at work prior to the March 2020 shutdown. Now, I’m home so I cook most of my meals. 

What advice do you have for balancing the minutiae of day-to-day tasks with big-picture planning?

For big-picture planning, I carve out chunks of time on my calendar for deeper thinking and schedule in-person strategy sessions with Andrea. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, so we do our best to meet and talk about the big picture regularly. We certainly do it before every big decision. 

Image: Courtesy of Elizabeth Polk and Speir Pilates

What are some work habits that help you stay healthy, productive, and on track to reach your goals?

In a leadership seminar, I learned that I have to feed “high performance” with rest. I can’t stay in high-performance mode all of the time or else I’ll burn out. And I don’t work as efficiently or effectively when I’m burned out. With that in mind, I schedule daily breaks and plan vacations. These breaks truly keep me healthy and productive.  

Any favorite apps you use regularly?

The apps I use most regularly for Speir business are Mindbody Online (our point of sale system) and ADP (for payroll). Pre-pandemic, one of my life-hacks was to Uber to/from my day job. During that commute, I’d catch up on all of my emails and complete work or business-related tasks. Now that I’m working from home, I use my camera app to take pictures of my three little boys. I also take full advantage of delivery services, so I frequent Instacart, Postmates, and Amazon. 

What are you reading, watching, or listening to right now to help you wind down at the end of the day?

I typically don’t watch television at the end of the day. Instead, I’ve been winding down with Architectural Digest, Dwell, and Pinterest. My last binge-worthy shows were “The Morning Show” and “Clickbait.” Lately, I’ve been interested in books about early childhood education, particularly for Black children, so I’m currently reading “Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy.” 

When do you go to bed? What’s your “optimal” number of sleep hours?

I go to bed whenever I’m tired. I literally stop what I’m doing, do my bedtime routine, and go to bed. That could be as early as 9 PM (my husband will tell you that it could be earlier). I aim to get eight hours of sleep, but it typically ranges between six and eight hours. 

What’s the most rewarding part of your day?

I love when the kids get home from school and they see me. My three little boys chant “mommy! mommy! mommy!” I feel like a rock star every single day.

Featured image: Courtesy of Elizabeth Polk and Speir Pilates

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