We’re all busy. Whether it’s responsibilities at home or at work, many of us focus so much on doing it all that we forget to focus on ourselves. But ensuring your own health and happiness is critical. How do you carve out time for yourself, your health, and your needs when you’re always on?
First, define what you need. We all need the basics of sleep, physical movement, and sufficient food, so ask yourself what you need and what you want. Next, determine what you can do within the time you have. Then, set the time. Scheduling helps you to see where self-care fits into your schedule, and how other essential activities have their places around it. Be sure to prepare yourself for these times. Eliminate hurdles and put items in place that reenforce positive behaviors. Finally, be clear with others about your time.
Do you feel so busy that you don’t have the bandwidth to think about your own needs, let alone do anything about them? Maybe you’re constantly thinking about work, or worry that you’re not proving yourself or your value if you aren’t available 24/7 (especially if you’re working remotely). Perhaps you’re juggling childcare, eldercare, pet care, or other family commitments. Or maybe you’re just caught up in the regular “life” tasks of paying bills, keeping a clean house, and managing the day-to-day. How do you carve out time for yourself, your health, and your needs when you’re always on?
The first step is to stop, take a deep breath, and realize that the world doesn’t rest completely on your shoulders. Many times the people around you could help more if you simply asked and spread out the responsibilities both professionally and personally. And in some cases, you need to let go and trust that everything will be OK, even if some tasks on your list are done imperfectly or not at all.
The next step is to give yourself permission to take care of yourself now. If you put off self-care until work is less busy, your kids are back in school, your house is in order, or some other circumstances are exactly right, you may never get to it. But if you take a brief pause and go through these steps, you can begin to take care of yourself, even when it feels like the responsibilities at home and at work never end.
Define What You Need
When it comes to health and happiness, different people have different needs. But there are some universal truths. We all need the basics of sleep, physical movement, and sufficient food. And to thrive, most require quality time with people, time in nature, time for spiritual connection, and time doing something that brings joy.
Take a moment to define what you need and what you want. Ask yourself:
- How many hours of sleep are sufficient for you to be alert throughout the day?
- What kind of physical movement keeps you feeling in shape and pain-free?
- What nourishment keeps up your energy and makes you feel satisfied?
- Which people do you enjoy spending time with?
- How can you find ways to be outside?
- How can you connect with yourself and find your spiritual center?
- What activities give you joy (a hobby, reading, volunteering, etc.)?
You don’t need to apologize for your needs. They’re valid. And it’s also OK to have wants, even when your life is very full.
Determine What You Can Do
At certain stages of your life — when work is particularly busy, you’re managing kids in remote schooling, or you’re going through a big change like a move — you may not be able to do all the self-care you would prefer. But you can still do something.
Think through what’s reasonable given your current situation. For example, maybe it’s not possible to train for a half marathon right now, but you could take half an hour to run a few times a week. Maybe you can’t guarantee that you’ll sleep through the night given the ages of your kids, but you can go to bed an hour early to give yourself some margin. Perhaps you can’t see your friends as much in person, but you can give them a phone call while you’re cooking dinner or running errands. Take a look at your schedule and where there may be small pockets of time. What would work to fulfill your needs now, within the time you have?
Set the Time
If you feel as though there is always more you could be doing, you’ll need to consciously set aside time for self-care. In doing so, you will clearly give yourself permission that this is the most important and appropriate thing to do now. Scheduling helps you to see where self-care fits into your schedule, and how other essential activities have their places around it.
For example, I have a get-ready-for-bed alarm that goes off on my phone from Sunday through Thursday night to remind me that sleep needs to be the priority. I have a time set aside in the morning to work out — in my case, swimming. And I have times planned in for prayer, family, and friends. You could also put in time for reading during lunch or alongside your child before bed. You could do a short nap or meditation during the afternoon energy slump, or go on a walk as a household after dinner before settling down in front of the TV. Or, plan nights to get takeout so that you save the cooking time and can fit in an errand or exercise video.
Think through when you want to make taking care of yourself a priority. Not only does self-care reenergize you, but it can also motivate you to stop wasting time on unsatisfying activities. It’s less tempting to scroll through Instagram in the afternoon if you could use those few minutes for a quick mindfulness exercise or you know you need to get your work done by 5 p.m. to get in your workout before dinner.
To make this happen, you’ll need to have resolved that your self-care time is sacred and that you’re going to follow through on it. That means eliminating hurdles and putting in items that reenforce positive behaviors. For example, if you want to exercise more, clean off the treadmill, have your favorite workout videos queued up, or sign up for exercise classes in advance where there’s a penalty if you cancel last-minute. Or if you want to eat healthier, have a standard weekly grocery list of nutritious food, remove unhealthy food from your kitchen, and have some quick premade or takeout options for those days when you’re in a pinch. You could also join a challenge where you have accountability, support, and sometimes even win prizes for achieving your self-care goals.
To reinforce positive behaviors in the moment, think about the details in advance. Eliminate the friction between yourself and your goal. Lay out your workout clothes by the foot of your bed — or even wear them to bed as pajamas — to save time before going out for a run. Or, install an app on your phone and computer that locks you out at a certain time as a reminder to get sufficient sleep. Remember what you’re doing and why it’s important to you, so when you’re tired or feeling unmotivated, you have the gumption to follow through.
Be Clear with Others
Finally, prep others. If your spouse tends to stay up late watching TV, let them know when you need to watch the final show and then head to bed. If your kids get up super early and are old enough to safely play by themselves for a little while, explain that you’ll be exercising, reading, or sipping a cup of coffee on the porch in the morning, and they can join you if they like or play until you’re done.
Set similar boundaries at work. If someone suggests an early morning or late night meeting and it’s negotiable, ask for a time that will work better for your sleep schedule or other self-care routines. And if you find yourself perpetually having last-minute requests given to you by your boss or clients, have a conversation with them about the possibilities. Could you be informed of upcoming needs sooner? Could you receive work earlier? Could deadlines be negotiated? To have time for self-care, you’ll need to advocate for yourself and your needs to make it happen.
I can’t guarantee that you will ever feel really “off.” But you can take steps to make sure that you put focus and attention on taking care of yourself each day. “Always on” doesn’t have to mean you must sacrifice your needs. It just means sometimes finding the time to make sure that your focus is on yourself.