We live in a culture of “busy.” Busy is the new black, the new status symbol, the new way to say to the world, “I am important.”
And busy gets us nowhere.
I know this, yet I still struggle to break away from the belief that if I’m not busy, I’m not doing enough. If I’m not pushing harder, hustling more, checking more to-dos off the list, then I’m in danger of failing.
But just like every other intangible concept that society puts on us, there’s never a point we can reach and say, “good. I’ve done enough.” (The same goes for money and success — there is no set, recognizable place we can reach to know we’re done.)
There’s always more to do. More to cram into the schedule. More to accomplish.
When I fall short of how much I think I should be able to do, anxiety, fear, and guilt creep in. I feel anxious because I’m afraid of falling behind. I feel guilty because I took an hour-long lunch instead of eating in 15 minutes and getting back to work. That’s 45 more minutes I could have been doing something productive!
This anxiety-driven, guilt-ridden pattern of thought that the pursuit of busy generates leads me to cut corners in my personal life so my professional and creative life gets more of my time. The end result of all the fear and guilt around not being busy enough means self care is usually at the bottom of my to-do list — if it makes it on the list at all.
But I’m committed to acknowledging that busy-ness = worthiness is false. I’m committed to backing off the hustle without backing off ambition. I’m committed to identifying what actually matters, focusing on that, and doing away with the rest. I’m committed to knowing that with everything I say “yes, I can do that” to means there’s something else I must say no to.
And too often in the past I’ve said no to caring for myself and what’s important to me outside of “busy.”
I used to believe there was no way to have it all. Success and free time? Hard work and time for play? But I chose to believe that, which means I can choose to believe something else moving forward.
I choose to believe I can have it all, that I can achieve what’s important to me without sacrificing my health, family, and free time. And I believe you can do the same if you understand that putting yourself first, in terms of taking care of yourself, is the key.
Self Care Matters Because You Matter
This isn’t about work-life balance. Work is part of your life, and I want my work to fit within my life. I don’t want it to be two separate worlds that I struggle to balance, and I don’t want to fit my life into my work either.
This is about the importance of self care. You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: if you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anything else. That includes other people and it includes your business, your work, your art, and your time.
Self care matters if you want to progress toward any goal. If you’re like me, and the mere thought of putting yourself first makes your skin crawl and break out in hives — just hang in there. I promise if you practice taking care of your own needs before trying to get out there and do big things, you’ll get better results.
Here’s where to start.
Get Enough Sleep
There seems to be a trend of entrepreneurs, high-powered artists, and other successful people boasting about how little sleep they need. Get up at 5am they say, and work your ass off until midnight.
If you’re doing anything less you don’t want it enough, right?
Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Gary Vaynerchuk can crow all he wants about how little sleep he needs and if you really want to succeed then it’s worth working from 7pm to 2am after you get home from your day job. That’s good for his high-energy, in-your-face brand. And who knows, maybe he truly can function at peak performance on 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night.
But I’m not afraid to call bullshit on that one.
Sure, you can get by on little sleep. But will you do your best? No. Will you be at your most creative, innovative, and energized? No.
I’ve started to love my 5am and 6am wake-up calls. Depending on the day, I get up and either go to the gym first thing or go for a run. Then I’m home, fed, and showed before 8am and ready to tackle my day. This routine makes me feel energized and fulfilled.
But because I get up at those hours, I’m in bed between 9pm and 10pm the night before. Lame? Maybe. Could I spend 3 or 4 more hours per night hustling away? Sure.
I might even get away with it for a little while. I might be able to physically work hard, mentally work hard, creatively work hard for 19 hours per day. For a little while.
And then I’d burn out and be miserable and my body, my work, and my craft would all suffer. You can’t run full-out forever. Giving 99% effort all of the time means sacrificing sustainability. So ask yourself: do you want to build something that you can sustain or do you want to go out in a ball of flames 6 weeks from now?
Get enough sleep.
Create Blocks in Your Schedule
I can talk all day long about the specific things you can do to take care of yourself. Sleep enough. Cook nutritious meals. Exercise. Play and relax.
But none of things things will actually happen if I just talk about them. There has to be a plan.
Meetings, phone calls, and to-dos go on my schedule — and so do blocks of time for breaks, fun activities, and days off.
You don’t have to schedule everything down to the last detail. And that’s why I use the term “blocks.” Just block off two hours in your day that you know is all yours to do whatever you need to with.
One day that might be taking a nap. The next, you might like to read a book or go for a run. It doesn’t matter what you do with the time. It’s your free time, or play time.
Just make sure it gets placed onto your schedule, and you honor that time for yourself just as you’d honor a meeting with someone else.
It’s that simple. Say no. Say no with confidence and without guilt.
(No, I am not good at doing this one yet. It’s a practice and a work in progress.)
We each only have so much time in a day. And contrary to what the internet may tell you, you actually don’t have the same hours in a day as Beyonce. Or at least, you don’t have the same type of hours.
Beyonce is surrounded by a team of full-time, highly-paid professionals who help her get through each and every day. That’s not to detract anything from her or any other extremely successful person involved in countless projects, artistic endeavors, business ventures, and so on.
But it is to point out that if you could leverage millions of dollars to hire others to handle even the most simple but time-consuming tasks, you too could accomplish much more.
I assume, however, you’re just like me: you do you own grocery shopping, laundry, and house cleaning for the most part. No makeup artists and hairstylists stay on call to make you look goddess-like any time of the day or night. No personal assistants run your errands. No fashionistas will shop for you and put perfect outfits together for you to wear.
Yes, we all share the same 24 hours. But the amount of leverage we can apply to other resources in order to free up more of those hours varies from person to person.
That means you and I need to guard our time wisely. And that starts with saying no.
When you constantly say yes to all requests, demands, and opportunities, you put yourself on the fast track to overwhelm, over-commitment, and burnout. Things start slipping through the cracks. You start breaking your word because you can’t keep all the promises you put out in the world (there’s just not enough time!).
Every time you say yes to one thing, you must say no to another. You may say yes to taking on that additional project, and no to free time or a full night’s rest. You might say yes to doing more work around the house so your partner doesn’t have to, and no to working an extra hour on your art.
Saying no is not easy. For me, “no” leaves me awash in guilt — I feel bad for turning someone else down. But the thing is, saying yes triggers waves of anxiety and stress. I know I don’t have the time; I know saying yes means more pressure on myself that I can’t necessarily withstand.
Saying no is important for self care. By saying no to others, I say yes to my own needs. By saying no, I set boundaries and can prioritize according to my own values and goals.
You are not obligated to say yes to anyone or anything. It’s okay to say no.
It’s also okay to change your mind. Something you said yes to a year ago may no longer be right for you today. It’s okay to move on or clear out whatever that is.
Plus, that clearing out is the only way to make room for new and better opportunities. Nothing new and wonderful can show up in your life if you’re already maxed out and overwhelmed. When you create a clearing for opportunity, opportunity appears.
Other Ways to Prioritize Self Care
Getting enough sleep, scheduling in time to relax and play, and setting boundaries to protect your time are some of the biggest ways to start working on self care. But there are a million little other things you can do each and every day to take care of you.
If the idea of totally revamping your sleep schedule is scary, or during down opportunities and limiting your commitments makes you feel anxious, that’s okay. Those are big changes and you don’t have to tackle everything all at once.
Baby steps. Little actions. Tiny habits. These build up to big change, too. And it’s a more sustainable way to build self care into your day if the idea of putting yourself ahead of other things in your life still makes you cringe.
If nothing else, take one of these small steps to give yourself the care you deserve:
- Drink lots of water. If you feel like you need some flavor to your beverages, try infusing water with cucumber and mint or pineapple and strawberries. Try herbal teas, or start your morning with a mug of hot water with juice from half a lemon.
- Go for a walk. (Aim for 30 minutes to an hour, but even a 5 minute stroll around the block will do you good.)
- Try to follow Michael Pollan’s food rule: “Eat [real, whole] food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” You don’t have to be a nutritional expert to eat better. Eat real food as opposed to processed. Another easy rule: if something lists out more than 5 ingredients on its label, don’t eat it. I also like using Precision Nutrition’s portion size guide to help me keep the “not too much” part of eating in line with what my body actually needs.
- Sweat it out. Walking is great and something you should do daily, but aim to get some hard exercise where you work up a sweat and get your heartrate up for 30 minutes to an hour, at least 3 times per week.
- Journal. We have a lot of stuff in our heads. Writing things out helps clear your mind and better process how you think, feel, and act.
- Disconnect. Have time away from all screens — especially in the hours before you go to bed. Unplug and enjoy some rest and quiet. Try mediating.
These are all just suggestions and you don’t have to do all at once (especially if you’re not in any of these habits). Try a few different ways to give yourself the care you need.
Not everything someone else suggests is your jam. And that’s fine. Don’t be afraid to take on something new, but feel free to move on if it doesn’t work for you.
Along those lines, place one last tool in your self care toolbox and practice this one daily: forgive yourself. You will make mistakes. You will fail, you will misjudge, and you will make decisions that don’t work out.
Instead of beating yourself up when you feel like you’re not doing enough, or you’re not keeping up, or you didn’t do something right, forgive yourself. Don’t withhold self care as punishment for things done wrong.
Allow for mistakes and errors. Then get up, brush yourself off, and move on.
At the end of the day, you are your most important asset. If you want to do good work, make great art, or excel at your craft, you must take care of yourself. Start now and provide that time and effort for yourself often.