For most of us, Self-care and work exist in such different parts of our lives that it feels inappropriate to see them next to each other in a sentence. Self-care is a term that conjures images of bubbles baths, candles, and inspirational quotes, while work is industrious, serious, and practical. We accept self-care as a necessity, but only to the extent that we can manage to fit it into our personal lives. We imagine the busy executive checking herself into a spa, but we never see her self-care routine at work. In the office she is productive, effective, and strong; surely she isn’t thinking about self-care then, right?
Today we are going to transform the assumption that self care is something that we do in our spare time. We’ll look at the ways in which our own self-care at work, can strengthen our ability to be effective and feel damn good in the process.
Many of the most successful (and happy) professionals practice self-care at work every day. We might not see it because it’s not the productized self-care we are sold on social media. Rather, it’s a mindset that allows them to set boundaries, prioritize effectively, and reduce the likelihood of burnout.
Once you shift the way that you relate to yourself at work, self-care is no longer relegated to the bottom of your to-do list. Instead, each supportive action is deeply woven into the fabric of your day. This fundamental shift not only allows us to enjoy each day, but it makes us better partners, managers, employees, and members of our community. By taking care of ourselves, we are able to think more clearly, build self-trust, set an example for others, and end our days feeling energized.
It is absolutely possible and necessary to incorporate self-care into your
workday, in a way that is seamless, natural, and without burden.
Work is a great place to start thinking about self care, because for many of us, it seems the least attainable. Once you see how these tactics improve your workday, it will be that much easier to start implementing similar self-care techniques in other areas of your life.
Some of this list may look like tips to be more effective at work. That’s because in a way, they are. When you approach each aspect of your life in a healthy and self-supporting way, you will naturally be more effective in your work.
The more we begin to integrate and care for all these different pieces of ourselves, the more authentically and joyfully we show up in all areas of our lives.
Here are 10 ways to incorporate self-care into your workday
Plan, the night before.
Write out your most important to-dos, and review your calendar for important meetings, the night before. I’m not a fan of long to-do lists, because they get in the way of accomplishing our most important tasks. If you want to clear your head by listing all your tasks, that’s fine, but then set that list aside and get out a fresh paper or to-do list for tomorrow’s top 1-3 tasks. Prioritizing your top 1-3 tasks forces you to look at what’s really important and it also gives you the opportunity to feel accomplished, knowing that you’ve tackled your most important items.
Schedule work blocks on your calendar
Successful people prioritize their work, stressed people fit their work in around their meetings. Block time on your calendar to get your top 1-3 important tasks done. This prevents your time from getting hijacked by other people’s priorities, and increases the likelihood that you will get the thing done.
Don’t work through lunch.
Some of you are screaming at me right now. Look, I know you’re busy. I know that you have deadlines. I’ve worked in high pressure startups. I’ve also worked in the corporate world. I know what it feels like to have a team that needs your help. These are all reasons why you should take time out for lunch. Being in a state of constant reactivity is not only, not healthy, but it makes you a less effective producer. Think about it – how does the quality of your work suffer when your brain is stretched to capacity all the time?
Give yourself at least 3 minutes in between meetings.
Ideally, you want a 10 minute buffer, but with back to back meetings it’s not always possible. When you are crunched for time, take at least 3 minutes to compose yourself in-between. The easiest way to make this happen is to excuse yourself from the first meeting a couple of minutes early. It’s perfectly acceptable at the end of a call, to say “hey, I have another meeting in a couple minutes, if there isn’t anything else you need from me, I’m going to hop off now.” This shows that you you respect people’s time and you know how to manage your own.
Stop apologizing (unecessarily).
Sometimes we mess up and we need to face up to it, when that happens you should absolutely apologize. You do not need to say “I’m sorry” 10 times a day. You may think that I’m sorry is just a courteous turn of phrase but you can actually do damage when you use it unnecessarily. When you give out an unwarranted “sorry”, you set off alarm bells in the other person’s head, and your own, that there is something wrong. This is a hit to your self esteem and it constructs a small but unnecessary roadbump in your relationship.
Here are some easy swaps, to use instead of “I’m sorry”:
Set expectations around your availability.
Most of us do not work a job that requires our 24/7 availability. Yet, we fall into the habit of being accessible way outside of working hours. Setting expectations can be uncomfortable, and may require a little finesse, but I promise you that it is doable, even if you aren’t in a position of seniority.* To start, unless it is explicitly required of you to be on-call for work, stop checking your work accounts after hours. If this is a change for you, it might take some time before people catch on, but once they do, you’ll notice less pings coming your way outside of office hours.
If you feel uncomfortable stopping all responses cold-turkey, messages, or texts are a great way to transition. You can respond with something along the lines of – “Thanks for sending this over, I’ll be sure to [action] when I’m back in, do you have a time that this needs to be in?.” This tactic also works if you get regularly interrupted during your heads-down work time. If someone needs your attention or an item and you are in the middle of a work block, you can respond with “I’m in the middle of a task right now, if this isn’t urgent, let me get back to you once I wrap up”.
The reason we stay available is because we want to do well and we want people to see us as a hard worker. The paradox is that if we are always available to people, it gets in the way of our own effectiveness. The key resetting expectations is to make it clear that the shift is in service of you delivering the best work possible.
*If you are feeling some internal resistance with this one, work through the others on the list first.
Take moving breaks.
What’s one thing that most stressed people I’ve worked with have had in common? They don’t take breaks away from their desks. It’s an easy trap to fall into. We are so busy with our work that we feel like we can’t step away. However, when we “power through” our quality of work diminishes.
Our minds need to take breaks in order to do their best work.
When we don’t do so consciously, our brains will do it for us. We’ve all been there, you push yourself ot keep working for hours without a break, you lose focus, pick up your phone and soon you are tapping through all of your notifications. Losing focus can easily take chunks of your time and it doesn’t re-energize you in the way that a walk around the block would. To make the most of your time, make your breaks intentional. Leave your workspace. Take a walk outside, stretch it out in an empty conference room, or grab something to drink and sit outside. Anything to bring you outside of your bubble for a short period of time. You’ll be back refreshed and better able to tackle what’s next.
Create an end-of-day ritual.
When we don’t intentionally transition out of work mode, we are left feeling “always on”, which can lead to burnout in the long run. It’s important for us to signal to our brains that the work day is over, and the best way to do that is with an end-of-workday routine. I wrote a whole article to help you create an end of work routine that works for you. Read it here.
Honor your boundaries.
There are times when you may need to move a work block or address an emergency outside of work hours. But those should be the exception, not the rule. It’s important that we hold the boundaries that we set for ourselves. This deepens our own self-trust and confidence and makes it more likely that we will stick to healthy habits.
It’s so easy to move directly to the next thing, but it’s absolutely crucial that we celebrate our wins. There is always going to be another goal to accomplish; if you don’t make the effort to acknowledge yourself (and your team or employees) when things go right, you will feel less satisfied overall. This can make you (falsely) underestimate your impact, demotivating you. Wins aren’t just the things you accomplish, like hitting a number or shipping a product. In fact, it’s better to celebrate the positive habits than the outcomes themselves.
Implementing self-care at work
If this list seems overwhelming, don’t worry, you don’t need to do it all at once. In fact, you are much better off starting with little pieces at a time. The goal is to form long-term habits that stick. It’s okay to find it somewhat challenging; that means that you are making significant positive change. These tips are here to support you in feeling balanced and impactful in your life and work. Don’t be afraid to go slow.
Each time you try one of these things, it’s a win; celebrate it!
Tip: If items that involve setting boundaries with others seem impossible right now, start with the ones that are more attainable. Try creating your top 3 priorities for the day, taking moving breaks, or blocking off your work time on your calendar. Circle back to the rest of the list when you have those down.
Self-care is a mindset
These 10 tips for finding self-care at work probably aren’t what you think of when you picture self-care. But, setting boundaries, getting organized, and protecting your time are some of most impactful ways you can show yourself care.
When you protect your time, you signal to yourself and others that your time is valuable. When you take breaks, you give your mind and nervous system an opportunity to get back to a place of calm. When you make an effort to prioritize your tasks, you give yourself mental clarity and confidence.
It’s this mindset of self-care and intention that will ultimately bring us joy and focus in our work and in our greater lives.