For the good of the company, prioritize your needs.
By Kate Shipley Richey
As the social focus on mental health has increased, so has the popularity of terms like “self-care.” Although the term itself could be reaching buzz-word status, the concept of taking care of oneself and prioritizing individual needs before the needs of others remains an important lesson. As my sister recently said in her Maid of Honor speech at my wedding: “Fill your cup first. You can’t share from an empty cup; it’s just common sense.”
It’s in this spirit of sisterly advice that I share some of my own tried and true practices for filling my cup (and keeping it full) at work. Although we may often think of self-care in a personal, at-home sense, it’s just as important for our careers and job satisfaction to ensure that we are prioritizing our own work needs—even when the organization we work for may be asking us to prioritize everything else. Many of us spend most of our days working, so shouldn’t we be protecting and caring for ourselves in those hours? To answer my own question: yes.
I believe that prioritizing ourselves should be a daily occurrence, so I’m listing my own schedule of self-care below, and I hope you’ll steal as many tactics as you need as often as you need them.
Kate’s Daily Self-Care Schedule
6:00 AM – Create Space for Yourself
For many of us, waking up and shaking off the sleep can be a difficult part of the day. Preparing for the day ahead, though, is also a key part of owning your attitude, your schedule, and your day. One way to capitalize on the wee hours of the morning, making them work for you instead of against you, is to create a space for yourself during that time. Choose an action or activity that you enjoy doing—something that can affect your attitude in a positive way. Maybe this is the only time you have to get to the gym or do some private journaling. For me, the hour between 7 and 8 AM is strictly for coffee, the morning news, and waking up. Whatever it is, pick something that is yours and sets you off on the right foot.
9:00 AM – Set Work Boundaries
Setting boundaries for your time and schedule at work is a clear and easy way to prioritize and guard your time, which can relieve stress and help avoid over-scheduling. A good time to start this practice is right when you get to work. Say hello to your work-bestie, fire up the computer, and check your calendar. How is your schedule looking? Jam-packed? Wide-open? Now is the time to decide what matters most, what needs to be accomplished, and how you’ll allocate your time to those tasks. If your calendar is open, fill it with self-appointed time to complete what needs to be done. This gives you a visual for your priorities, and it also helps others know that you have actual work to do today, and it might cause them to pause before requesting your attendance at meetings.
If your calendar is already packed, take stock of your commitments. Do these meetings help you achieve the goals that need to be accomplished? Are there any that you can skip or move to a more effective date? If so, take this time to reprioritize.
12:00 PM – Take a Lunch Break
Getting up to retrieve your lunch and then eating it at your desk doesn’t count. Take a real break for lunch with a meal (whatever that looks like for you!) that’s going to give you the energy you need. Not only does the enjoyment of your food require that you give yourself time to taste it, it’s also a perfectly valid and reasonable time to turn your brain off so it can recharge for the afternoon.
Many of us have had or will have days when we need to work through lunch to achieve a deadline or complete a project. If this becomes habit, though, you may find yourself running out of steam by the end of the day, with your mind drifting and wandering, unable to focus. It can be a stretch to expect our brains to consider and work through tasks perfectly for a full workday without a break. If you can, try to carve out time for yourself to eat. If you find that you are consistently unable to break for lunch, consider the difference between feeling as if we shouldn’t take a break and actually being unable to stop working. For some of us, I’m willing to wager that skipping or working through lunch is a self- or company culture-imposed practice that doesn’t really help our creativity, critical thinking, or productivity.
2:00 PM – Identify Opportunities for Personal Development
It’s easy to lose sight of what our professional selves need for the future when we are constantly focused on the problems and tasks of right now. This is an area that needs our attention for three reasons: 1) Becoming better at our jobs (and better employees, all around) requires us to continue to learn, develop, and perfect our skills, 2) development that makes you a better employee and contributor is good for the company, and 3) as humans, we deserve the opportunity to invest in ourselves, if we want to. Finding personal development opportunities is a great way to increase our value as workers, but it’s also an outlet to learn, study, and practice skills that we’re interested in, and that fill our proverbial cups. If it helps us help the company, there’s all the more reason to schedule time for this in our work day. When we are struggling to feel excited about or engaged in our roles, personal development (whether it be watching a YouTube video for free or taking a supplemental class funded by the company or organization) is a great way to refocus our professional attention and passion.
3:00 PM – Take a 15 Minute Break (or two!)
Similar to the lunch debacle, taking breaks throughout the day is an important action to reset our focus, our attention, and our brains. Consider taking a moving break—one where you get up, walk, and physically change your surroundings. In addition to shaking out muscles that may have been stationary for hours, our brains continue to subconsciously mull through content and situations even when we’ve left our work-station. Walking, pacing, or meandering can shift the type of thinking our brains are doing, which gives us a better likelihood of coming up with a new idea or way of thinking about something. Also, once you’re up, you may decide you want coffee or a snack, which is a nice little perk to leaving your desk.
If you don’t have 15 minutes in your day to turn your brain completely off, consider turning some of your meetings into “walking meetings” in which you walk for 30 minutes and meet at the same time, or move work sessions to a new and different space, like a coffee shop or nearby public library or park. Switching up your environment can be a productive alternative to a full-stop break.
5:00 PM – Take Stock & Reward Yourself
How often, when asked, do we struggle to remember what we actually did at work that day? Busy days, weeks, and seasons can often run together, blurring our memory of what was accomplished. Although it may feel good to feel busy, it’s important (for our own sense of accomplishment) to articulate our successes and reward ourselves for them. By taking stock of what we complete each day (or each week), we create for ourselves a sense of progress that might lead to greater satisfaction and self-confidence. As a bonus, logging these accomplishments can give us better leverage when our annual review or bonus time rolls around. You might also consider ending each day with an email to colleagues about what you felt best about that day and invite others to share. Others will likely enjoy sharing in your success and being offered the opportunity to share their own.
Everyone’s needs are different, which means that some or all of these tactics may not be perfect for you. Hopefully just reading through them has gotten your wheels turning. Do you feel like a happy and confident professional? Are your work needs being met? If not, try making some intentional priority shifts to put you back in the center of your career.