Self-care is not time off from productivity; it’s an essential element of a productive life.
Self-care is a necessary component of productivity
A lot of our conversations about productivity center around our calendars and our to-do lists, on how to be more efficient and make time and space in our lives to get the things done that we need and want to do.
Many of those things we need and want to do center around taking care of other people — people we love or people we report to. We take care of our families and we go out of our way to help friends or even strangers in need. We’re attentive to our clients and colleagues and the needs and requirements of our bosses.
So often the commitments we’re managing are centered around other people. Often, the last person who gets taken care of is ourselves.
What is self-care?
“Self-care” describes the things you do to promote your own health — physical, emotional, and mental. One writer notes, “Self care [is] about identifying your own needs and taking steps to meet them. . . . Self care is about taking proper care of yourself and treating yourself as kindly as you treat others.”
Why does attention to self-care matter?
Self-care is about our health and about survival. It’s about taking care of ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Moneycrashers.com shares a number of statistics that indicate that Americans are not very good about taking care of our health:
- “Mental Health. One in four Americans has a mental health disorder, of which one in seventeen has a severe mental illness. Many of these disorders go untreated because we don’t take care of ourselves.
- Eating Habits. Fewer than one in three adults eats the recommended number of fruits and vegetables every day.
- Exercise. 81.6% of Americans do not participate in an adequate amount of exercise.
- Oral Health. Fewer than one-half of all Americans saw a dentist in the last year to protect their oral health.”
Women in particular often find it difficult to make time for self-care, with sobering consequences. According to Self-Care for Women: a Fact Sheet, “Women who neglect their own needs and forget to nurture themselves often become unhappy, have low self-esteem and feel resentment. Self-care means treating yourself as a worthwhile person and showing that you are valuable, competent and deserving.”
Why does it matter? The 5-Step Guide to Self-Care for Busy People says it well:
“Without adequate self care, we are less likely to be the best possible version of ourselves, and our relationships, work, and experience of the world suffers as a result. Although it might feel like the opposite, the times when we feel least able to pay attention to our self care are the times when we most need it.”
What does self-care have to do with productivity?
This is very simple: If we are not well — physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually — then we have fewer resources available to do any of the things that matter to us. Just taking care of ourselves gives us the physical resources, the emotional resources ,and the mental energy to do the things we care about.
Self-care is not “taking a break” from being productive. Self-care is an essential element of productivity. I really believe that. The more I research our neglect in self-care the more I believe it is an essential part of productivity.
What constitutes self-care?
I’m thinking about this in my life and I’ve brainstormed a list and have researched additional information to support these ideas.
Rest — physical and mental.
How does this play out in our lives? We should have a reasonable bedtime. I’m trying to get better about shutting things down at a reasonable time. It’s not just about going to bed at a certain time but creating a setting that will be restful for you.
Taking time off from work.
Take vacations and take breaks throughout the day. It’s so necessary for a life that matters. We must allow for time off.
This can be an emotional rest. I try to do ten minutes of meditation in the morning. I wear an Apple watch which reminds me throughout the day to pause and do a deep breathing exercise.
It’s so important to stay adequately hydrated. Among other things, it helps combat fatigue. As one writer notes, “You can’t run on all four cylinders if you are dehydrated. Water is one of the most important sources of energy for your body. It helps cells complete important enzymatic activities which contribute to good sleep, restoration of bodily systems, and the production of ample energy to get you through your day.”
Exercise and movement.
We’ve talked about this before. It doesn’t have to be training for a marathon, but get outside for even a ten-minute walk. In whatever way appeals to you, get a little movement into your day. It helps with stress relief and helps us to feel better.
Mental and intellectual nourishment.
This can come from reading books that feed your soul or mind, from courses (either live or online), or conversations with smart, stimulating people. These keep our brains working and growing.
We need to take the time to eat foods that are healthy for us instead of grabbing whatever is there.
We all know that laughter is good for us. Find ways to laugh and be around others who make you laugh. It’s good for the soul.
We are social creatures. We benefit from spending time with friends and family who encourage us, make us think, or make us laugh.
Setting healthy boundaries.
Communicating what we need is not selfish. Part of living a productive life includes setting healthy boundaries to protect ourselves, physically and emotionally. We need to be okay with prioritizing our priorities and not letting others dictate what our priorities are. We need to be okay with saying “no.” In Brooke Castillo’s podcast, The Life Coach School Podcast, episode 163, she says that a boundary isn’t about getting other people to do what you want (that’s manipulation). It’s about knowing what you will tolerate, and letting people know what you’ll do if the boundary isn’t respected.
Learn to encourage yourself and surround yourself with people who are encouraging. Look for that in the world as part of your self-care.
Have some hobbies outside of your “day job.” It could be something that you do just for the joy of it. Find those interests you have and pursue them just for fun.
Learn healthier ways to deal with stress.
We all have our go-tos (food, shopping, alcohol, binge-watching Netflix, etc.) for dealing with stress — Brooke Castillo calls it buffering. Instead, we can create a list of healthier alternatives and train ourselves to look at that list when we feel stressed. It might be reading a book, calling a friend, taking a deep breath, etc.
Regular medical and dental check-ups.
Make those appointments and keep them.
Make sure the schedule you set up for yourself is reasonable. We all have times when our schedule is more full. Prepare for those busy times and incorporate some self-care during that time. Plan for some downtime after the busy season. We can be intentional and more purposeful about managing our schedule instead of letting it manage us.
Protect your heart.
Choose wisely what you read, watch, or listen to. Pay attention to who you spend time with; avoid or limit time with toxic or negative people. It’s important to protect our emotions by not feeding into our minds what will turn our thoughts negative. That is very much a part of self-care. Know what your limits are.
Making time for self-care
How do we make time for self-care when we might have a full-time job, kids at home, a spouse, parents to care for, and volunteer activities to attend to?
Prune the schedule.
We can cut things out of the schedule by either deferring them, delegating them, or deleting them completely in order to prioritize our self-care.
Get more efficient.
We can get better at the things we do, like setting up routines and “best practices” for things we do regularly. As you get efficient at your tasks, you buy yourself time you can use do something to take care of yourself.
We can also learn to schedule differently. Instead of asking ourselves, “How long will it take me to do this thing?” ask, “How much time will I set aside for this thing?” (Whatever task you are doing will take as long as you let it.) We can look at our tasks differently, like devoting only two hours to cleaning the house instead of our entire Saturday. We can learn to schedule intentionally and purposefully.
Take advantage of small opportunities.
Learn to create little self-care oases, like taking ten minutes to lie down and listen to music and rest or taking 30 minutes to have lunch with a friend who is encouraging. Use those little bits of time to do things for your self-care.
Prepare for those little pockets of time by making a list of things you can do when timer permits.
“Have a list handy of self-care activities that you like, or want to try. Some possible options include swimming, walking, meditating, napping, reading, watching TV, doing yoga or breathing exercises, cooking, drawing, playing sports, hanging out with pets, gaming or journaling. Have you missed anything? Put it on the list!” (“6 Strategies for Self-Care”).
Making a Life That Matters
I recently saw a YouTube video of a college commencement speech by retired football coach, Lou Holtz. Among other things, Mr. Holtz said everybody needs something to do, someone to love, something to believe in, and something to hope for. Part of making a life that matters is identifying what those things are for you, and the value of self-care is in enabling you to protect your time and energy and ability to pursue them.
What do you think?
How do you take care of yourself? How do you make time in your life for those things?
Resources and Links:
- Pinterest post on Self-Care
- “What Self-Care Is — and What It Isn’t,” By Raphailia Michael, MA, World of Psychology
- “6 strategies for self-care,” Coping, ReachOut Australia
- “What Is Self-Care — Definition, Tips & Ideas for a Healthy Life,” by Mary McCoy, Money Crashers
“What is Self-Care?,” Habits for WellbeingTM
- “The Importance of Self-Care for Productivity in an Office Environment,” by Sue Montgomery, Business.com
- “10 Essential Benefits of Drinking Water, Staying Hydrated,” by Christina Sarich, Natural Society
- “The 5-Step Guide to Self Care for Busy People,” by Hannah Braime, Lifehack
- “Self-Care for Type A Productivity Monsters like Myself,” by Amy Shackelford, Everyday Feminism
- “Self-care and Productivity,” by Matt Gaunt, Superyesmore.com
- “How to Optimise Your Productivity and Creativity Through Self-Care,” Ellen Bard
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