You came back late from work and you are tired.
You don’t want to do anything important.
You just want to do something mindless like watching the TV and surfing the net.
However, you have family commitments. You have to take care of your kids, tell them bedtime stories. Do the housework, wash the dishes. By the time you are done, it’s time for you to sleep.
You can’t accept this. There’s more to life. You want some time to yourself, but self-care feels like work. You don’t know what to write in your journal. You are too exhausted to move a muscle. You can’t seem to focus during meditation.
So you ended up playing some games on your mobile phone and dozed off while playing it.
How do you find time for self-care? What can you do to take time for yourself?
Here’s How to Make More Time for Yourself.
Each of us has 24 hours a day. No matter how much time you try to squeeze out of your life, you’ll still only have 24 hours a day. So how can you make more time for yourself? There are two approaches — the logical approach and the emotional approach.
The Logical Approach
If you have no time for yourself, then you have to transfer some of your time away from what you are currently doing to self-care. Be it work or taking care of others such as your children.
You have to work within your constraints and choose.
As simple as this sounds, people avoid doing using the logical approach because they don’t want to choose. They don’t want to choose between their family and their personal needs. They believe they have no choice — work, money, and family are more important than their health and well-being.
Prioritizing is difficult when everything is equally important to you. What you have to know is that putting something lower in priority doesn’t mean that it’s not important. Everything has an order. Something may not need your attention right now.
And you need to know the impact of not taking care of yourself. If you don’t care for yourself, how would that impact other things on your list?
The Emotional Approach
When people say they have no time, they are not saying they need an extra 2 or 3 hours. They are actually saying they felt that there isn’t enough time in life. And the reason why they feel overwhelmed is that they tried to squeeze everything they wanted to do into a limited time frame. In other words, they multi-task.
The quality of your time is more important than the number of hours.
Yes, on paper, multitasking seems to be more productivity because you are doing multiple things at a time. But how does it make you feel? Does multi-tasking make you feel that you have more time? More often than not, it doesn’t. When we multi-task, we usually give out the energy of impatience and lack of time.
Furthermore, attention is lost when we multi-task. It’s draining for our brain to focus on several tasks at a time. Focus on one task at a time is much easier for the brain. It makes you feel that you have time and space to focus on something.
And think about it. Time is wasted when we switch between tasks. Doing two tasks at the same time doesn’t give you a clean 50-50% split. In reality, the split is much lower, more like a 45-45% split. Because 10% of your time is used to be transferred your attention between the two tasks.
Life isn’t about how well you juggle it. That’s multi-tasking.
it’s about giving your full attention to each task when needed. Are you present for each task? Or are you physically doing something but your mind is wandering somewhere else?
No Time for Life? Here Are Some Self-Care Strategies for Busy People.
1. Notice how you spend your time.
Before you can prioritize your life and find time for self-care, it’s good to keep an inventory of how you spend your time, especially your free time. You may discover that most of your free time is wasted doing things you don’t want to do.
Are you going to bed early or are you staying up late at night to watch some random TV shows? When traveling on the subway, are you looking at your mobile phone aimlessly? Or are you taking this time and opportunity to:
- rest your eyes (physical self-care),
- turn your attention inwards and check how you are feeling (emotional self-care),
- do something you love like reading a book (personal self-care)?
Are you doing an activity which makes you feel emotionally, physically and mentally healthy? Or does it drain your energy? Keeping an inventory lets you know how much time you really have for yourself.
2. Understand why you are busy.
We are always busy, busy, busy. But what are we busy at?
Understanding why you are busy can help you uncover some of the limiting beliefs you have for work.
- Some people stay back late after work even though they have nothing to do. That’s because they are avoiding some issues back at home.
- For some, work is an obligation. They feel a sense of guilt putting their work down and taking a break.
- For others, it has to do with the self-image. They don’t want to appear lazy in front of the employers or themselves.
- And for many others, they identified themselves with work or the roles they play.
Who are you without your work and roles?
If you are not a teacher, a finance manager, an accountant, a writer, an animator, who are you? Who are you without your work? And what if you are not your roles too — mom, dad, student, child, what’s left of you?
We are busy all the time so that we can feed this identity we have created. Sacrifice sleep to rush for deadlines. Sacrifice meals to rush a project to your clients. Deadline and projects will never stop coming.
But what about the person behind the identity? Isn’t it important?
3. Make a conscious choice.
Nowadays, I seldom feel guilty about taking a break because I give myself a choice. Instead of watching TV or doing random stuff and feeling guilty afterward, I allow myself to make a decision. I ask myself:
“Do I want to play or do I want to work?”
I rather give something my 100% attention than giving it half of my attention. Writing when thinking about the TV program I want to watch lowers the quality of my work. Watching TV but feeling guilty that I should work, will take away my enjoyment of the TV program. If I choose a TV program, then I don’t think about work anymore. If I choose work, then I don’t think about the TV program anymore.
The only time I’ll feel a little guilty is when I didn’t make a conscious choice. I was distracted by social media or a TV program I don’t intend to watch. But even so, I’m able to let it go quickly and I don’t blame myself for not being conscious.
Making a conscious choice not only remove the guilty feeling of not working hard enough, it gives you control over your time. Every time, you get to choose what’s appropriate — self-care or work. Not that one is better than another. But at least you don’t live your life unconsciously.
4. Stand up and move.
You don’t have to hit the gym for a workout or run three times a week to maintain a healthy body. What your body really needs is movement. Body isn’t meant to sit down all day in front of the computer. You need to move about from time to time. Movement loosens up the stale energy in your body.
If you sense that your body is tired, stand up and move. Go to the pantry and take a cup of water. Go to the restroom. Any movement such as standing, walking or shaking your body helps. Find an opportunity to move. It doesn’t take much of your time.
If you don’t want to exercise, just move.
Realize that people in the past don’t schedule for time to exercise. They did agriculture and they had most of the physical activity they need.
Going to the gym for a workout could backfire if it becomes an obligation. Instead of doing it willingly, you see it as a chore. You don’t want that because it makes you feel that you have less time for other things. If you exercise, enjoy it. If not, just move. Don’t trade your emotional self-care for physical self-care.
5. Breathe consciously and deeply.
Emotional self-care also doesn’t take too much of your time. It’s all about awareness. When you have negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, anger or depression, notice them in your body and your breath. Bring your attention away from your mind to your breath. Realize how short your breath is when experiencing the negative emotions.
Inner peace can be achieved when you focus on your breath.
Breathing is already something we do automatically. All we need is to give it some attention and breathe a little deeper. When you put your attention on your breath, you naturally connect with the peace residing within you.
There’s no need to schedule a time for meditation. Any moment can be a time for spiritual practice — waiting in line, taking a transport, talking to people etc. Just breathe and be present.
6. Take any interruption as a reminder to care for yourself.
Recently, my laptop restarts on its own quite frequently after I installed a new operating system (OS). After many restarts, I realized most of them happened when I was too engrossed in my work. When I’m doing my work slowly and consciously, not opening so many web pages at the same time, my laptop works fine.
So instead of being frustrated with it for disrupting my work, now I see it as a reminder to care for myself. I would take a break. Do one of the things I mentioned above such as stand up and move or focus on my breathing, while waiting for my laptop to restart.
Seize any opportunity to care for yourself.
I’m not suggesting you don’t get your laptop fixed if it’s not working well. But any interruptions such as transport breakdown, a phone call, power shutdown, you can take this opportunity to care for yourself too.
7. Let the first thing and last thing you do each day be for yourself.
It’s important to begin and end each day by yourself. You don’t want to start your morning or end your day with work. Thinking about work for e.g. “What am I going to do tomorrow? How do I resolve the problem at work? Why am I not getting it?”
Let sleep be sleep.
You don’t have to find more time when you use your time for the right purpose.
Leave the first three activities in the morning for yourself. 15 minutes of reflection and gratitude in the morning doesn’t take too much of your time. Enjoy washing your face and brushing your teeth. Be present and immerse in the self-care process. Morning is not about rushing to work or thinking about what to do at work.
And for nights, instead of dozing off while working or watching TV, make it a habit to prepare for sleep. An hour before sleep do things which require less mental stimulation. Slow down your brain activity and your quality of sleep will improve.
8. Have a routine.
Have a routine for self-care definitely helps. It helps you to get into the habits of caring for yourself. Also, it’s a good way to let other people know that there’s a specific time during the day you don’t wish to be disturbed. You need time alone for meditation, exercise, journaling and etc.
Start with one small habit and add more habits later.
If you were to develop only one routine, I would suggest developing a good sleep routine. Lack of sleep affects both your physical and emotions well-being. Getting enough sleep means less self-care maintenance needed.
And it doesn’t take any of your time. Just know what time you need to go to bed every night and keep to it. With the end in mind, you then can work backward and schedule your day. If you don’t have enough time to do all you want, it means you have to let some of the things go. The last thing you should do is to sacrifice your sleep.
9. Give yourself more time to do a task.
Instead of scheduling 15 minutes for something, give yourself 30 minutes. Be conservative in planning. We usually take a longer time to do something than what we expect. Plus, there might be unforeseen events along the way that disrupt your progress. I find it more useful to do just one thing for a few hours than doing several different things within the same period.
Read The ONE Thing by Gary Keller.
Having more time to do each task also gives you the space to breathe. If you completed your task faster than the time allocated, it means now you have some extra time to practice some self-care. It’s better than checking off your to-do-list one after the next without any space in between.
Going slower feels better than rushing through all your tasks. Enjoy the task you are doing instead of going through the motions.
Each task is important.
Even for eating my meals, I find that it more enjoyable when I eat it slowly and really chew the food. As I’m eating, I feel grateful for all the work that has been done to get the food onto my plate — the people who prepare the food and harvest the food etc. Eating food with love and enjoying your meal is also a kind of self-care.
Read Peace Is Every Breath by Thich Nhat Hanh.
10. Make self-care a priority.
Each task you do suppose to be important. “Important” means things which are worth your time and effort to do. If it’s not, then don’t do it.
A huge part of self-care is knowing your own personal boundaries and standards, and learning how to say no to others. Usually, when we don’t have the time for ourselves is because we are too busy with other people’s lives.
Know that self-care isn’t selfish. Let go of whatever negative image you have for caring yourself. Caring for yourself is important. Everyone must take responsibilities for themselves and their own life before helping others.
Self-care isn’t an afterthought.
It’s not something you do when you have extra time. You can plan for it and make it as a routine. You can look for ways to integrate self-care into your daily busy life. Don’t practice self-care, only when something happens to your well-being. Make it a priority.
Featured Photo Credit: Think / Mathieu HERVOUET