How often is taking care of yourself right at the top of your to-do list?
We all have good intentions. After all, we know how important it is to take care of ourselves – to build good daily habits that protect and enhance our well-being.
But knowing it and doing it consistently are two different things.
Ideally, self-care should always be at the top of our to-do list. But life happens.
Even when we do develop good self-care habits, it can be all too easy to let them slip when life gets in the way.
The key is to pay attention.
When we pay attention – when we notice that things are starting to slide, we can take action to get back on track.
When is it time to prioritize self-care?
If we listen carefully, our body and our mind will let us know that we need to take better care of ourselves.
Here are 5 signs to watch out for. When you notice any of these signs it’s time to put self-care at the top of your list.
1. You feel scattered and unproductive
We’ve all had those days when it’s difficult to concentrate. When your mind feels like a whirling mass of thoughts, taking you in a million different directions.
When you feel like you are going around in circles and not achieving anything, it’s time to stop and take a breath, and do something for yourself to clear your head.
2. You feel bogged down in negativity
Whether it’s negative self-talk or feelings of resentment towards others, too much negativity is a sign that it’s time to switch gears and focus on kindness – and we can start by being kind to ourselves.
3. You feel overwhelmed or stuck
The stress that comes from overwhelm often leads to us feeling stuck, unable to take action on anything, including taking better care of ourselves. But this is precisely the time that we do need to take action.
You may have heard of the saying “action is the antidote to anxiety”. Getting unstuck starts with taking just one action. As difficult as it may feel, now is the time to take some action to get you moving forward. Start by doing something that revives you.
4. You feel tired and sluggish
There can be many reasons why we feel tired and sluggish, from not getting enough sleep to not getting enough fresh air, exercise, or the nutrients you need in your diet.
Do you need to move more today? Or perhaps put your feet up for 5 minutes with a cup of tea? Do you need to get outside in the fresh air?
Take a moment to listen to what your body is telling you, and then take some time to give it what it needs.
5. You feel too busy
I love this Zen proverb…
You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.
I’m not suggesting that you need to meditate for an hour (or even for twenty minutes), but I love how this proverb highlights the paradox that the moment we feel we have too much to do is precisely the moment we need to slow down.
Remember too that self-care doesn’t need to take a lot of time. There are plenty of effective things you can do to boost your well-being that take just 5 minutes or even less.
Why self-care is the best time management strategy
We’ve all got a lot going on, and it’s easy to let self-care slip we when have SO many other things to do.
But here’s the thing – when we prioritise taking care of ourselves life just becomes that bit easier. Not perfect of course, but easier to navigate.
Self-care gives us the energy to sustain us during challenging times. It builds our self-esteem and self-compassion.
It helps us become more focused, resilient, and confident in making decisions.
And when we have energy, and we are focussed, confident and resilient, we make progress. We move forward and get the important things done.
Another way to think about the importance of self-care is using the oxygen mask analogy. In aeroplanes, you’re told that if the oxygen mask drops you must put your own mask on before helping anyone else. Because if you pass out, you’re not going to be much use to anyone else. In fact, you’ll be a hindrance.
If you really want to be there for others, you MUST take care of yourself first.
How to put self-care at the top of your to-do list
I read a fantastic book recently which has reframed the way I look at the time and how I manage it.
It’s called Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It by Oliver Burkman.
Burkman takes a refreshingly different approach to time management in that he impresses the finitude of time. It’s an obvious point, but one we frequently forget – time is limited. He demonstrates how freeing it is to accept that we can’t possibly do everything, even if time management and productivity experts try to tell us differently.
…a limit-embracing attitude to time means organising your days with the understanding that you definately won’t have time for everything you want to do, or that other people want you to do – and so, at the very least, you can stop beating yourself up for failing.Oliver Burkman, Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It
There is never going to be enough time for all those things we think we have to do, should do, or want to do. Some things just won’t get done. And if you don’t choose what takes priority, someone else will.
Don’t wait until you ‘clear the decks’
So thinking that you’ll get around to self-care eventually, once you’ve ‘cleared the decks’ of all the other stuff going on in your life, simply won’t work.
There will always be something else to do. The sooner you clear the decks, the quicker they will fill up with other things demanding your attention.
So here are a few ways to ensure that taking care of yourself stays a priority – at the top of your list.
1. Schedule it
Allocate time for you on your calendar.
When you’ve finished an appointment (for example at the dentist, massage therapist, hair salon, or beautician), make an appointment for the next visit immediately. This works well for catch-up dates with friends too.
You might think it’s quicker and easier just to call when you’re ready for the next visit. But it’s so easy for time to slip by, and then making that appointment, or plans to meet up, is just another thing to add to your to-do list. So it gets delayed, and delayed some more, then never happens.
When the appointment is on your calendar you’ve committed to it. When means it’s much more likely to happen.
2. Tell others
How often do you put your self-care plans aside so you can respond to requests from your partner, family, friends, or colleagues?
Your partner, family, friends or colleagues aren’t mind-readers. If you don’t let others know what your plans are and why it’s important to you it’s harder for them to respect your need for this time.
They won’t know what you need unless you tell them. YOU know what you need. Remind them this is your time.
When you say your plans out loud it may seem strange at first, but you are making a commitment to yourself. And it’s healthy for others to see that you are doing this, and to learn to respect your time.
Along the same lines, joining a book group, having a running buddy, or making plans to meet a friend can make it easier to stick to your commitment to yourself to read more, exercise regularly or socialise more.
3. Build it into your daily routine
Effective self-care is an ongoing practice. It’s not a do once then move on kind of thing.
What kind of self-care is best?
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all self-care solution, we all have different self-care needs at different times.
Taking care of yourself means paying attention to what works for you and what doesn’t.
So self-knowledge is key here. It’s important to know what activities relax, revive and replenish you, and recognise that you may need different things at different times.
Read more: How to create a self-care routine that works
Knowing yourself also includes recognising when you need some extra assistance. So be sure to seek advice from a doctor, therapist or mental health professional when you need to.
In a perfect world, we would have time for everything we want to do, including taking care of ourselves. But unfortunately, the world (and time) doesn’t work that way.
The best way to take care of ourselves is to prioritise self-care – put your own oxygen mask on first. Put it at the top of our to-list and take action to make it happen.