The ultimate self-care guide for busy people

As an entrepreneur or freelancer, you know you got to work hard. Put on the extra hours. Go the extra mile. But sometimes, you need to change priorities. If you don’t put yourself first, your health, happiness, and business suffer.

Once in a while, we all have to pull an all-nighter to complete a project. Emergencies happen. Clients forget to tell us about that super important thing they need right now.

But work is not your only responsibility. Family engagements, errands, and mundane little things add up and take some of your time and energy. So it’s common for busy people to put themselves last among all the chaos.

Let’s just put it out there–overwork can kill you. Sounds dramatic, but it’s true.

For example, this study shows exhaustion increases the risk of heart disease by 60%. And there are more extreme cases–over 2,000 Japanese workers committed suicide in 2016 due to overwork and work-related stress.

As you can see, living in a permanent state of overwork, fatigue, and lack of boundaries between personal life and work is unsustainable.

To live a fulfilling life and perform in top condition, you need to give your body what it needs. And it needs fuel, rest, and some leisure. It’s that simple.

Or is it?

Because modern life takes a great deal of your time, it’s not surprising if you’re not fueling and resting our body enough. Who has time to sleep when we have projects to finish and laundry to do and taxes to file? On occasions, you might not be able to take time off or even reduce the number of hours you’re working.

So, what can you do to take care of yourself if you’re super busy?

First of all, don’t worry. You won’t have to clear hours of your already busy schedule. It only takes small changes to make a big difference. Check out this list to taking the first steps into self-care.

Check your priorities

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Sometimes, we find ourselves in less than ideal situations.

Working two jobs.

Clocking in extra hours every day for weeks.

Working nights and weekends to launch a new project on the side.

Taking care of ill relatives.

And when you’re in such situations, it’s hard to take time for yourself. But you can do it if you go through your schedule carefully.

Keep a journal or download an app to keep track of everything you do–from your online activity to your everyday chores. Personally, I use Boosted for Android. It can be hard to remember to do it at first, but keep doing it until it becomes a habit. After a couple of weeks, you’ll start to see patterns.

Maybe you spent a little more time on Facebook than planned. Or perhaps you watched an extra episode of that show you promised yourself you wouldn’t binge-watch.

With all that information, ask yourself–are those really your priorities? Could you use some of that time to do something else? Use some of that time to take care of yourself, doing anything that brings you a few minutes of peace and quiet. And away from social media, preferably.

Now that you know how much time you have for yourself, you can start planning your sweet time off.

Get a hobby

No, your side hustle doesn’t count.

A hobby is an activity that you do for pleasure, and usually without any economic motivation.

Think about it–it’s your chance to have time for yourself, to relax and disconnect. According to this 2015 study, leisure reduces stress and lowers heart rates.

As you can see, hobbies aren’t a waste of time. On the contrary. You need to disconnect and spend time doing things you love to improve your mental health.

The good thing is, a hobby can be anything you want.

For example, when I worked at an ad agency, I’d take half an hour from my lunch break to sit outside, if the weather allowed it, and read. Just being away from my desk, getting some fresh air and focusing on something else helped me feel more energized. It also helps fight those afternoon slumps that kill your productivity for half your day.

Need some inspiration? Here are some ideas of hobbies you can do these on your commute or on your lunch break.

  • Reading. It can be anything–a Russian novel, a comic or a business book; and you can go as fast or slow as you want.
  • Listening to audiobooks or podcasts. If you’re not the reading type or don’t want to carry a book around, go for downloadable podcasts and audiobooks to keep you entertained.
  • Knitting. Doing something with your hands often gives you a pleasant feeling of accomplishment. If you get good at it, you could even sell your work online or make presents for your friends.
  • Sketching. For artistic types, sketching can be soothing and helps sharpen those skills. Also, keep an eye on challenges like Inktober if you’d like to join a community of online artists and get inspired and motivated.
  • Learning a language. Apps like Duolingo make it easier and more convenient to learn a new language on the go. As little as 30 minutes of daily practice goes a long way.
  • Journaling. Writing down your thoughts clears your head, ignites your creativity, and reduces stress. You don’t need to buy a fancy journal to do it! A regular notebook, the notes or voice recording apps on your phone work just as well.

If you have more time, you could try out some of these, too.

  • Photography. Going out? Take your camera with you! Forget about those perfect Instagram pictures of faraway places. Take photos of your neighborhood. Or the beach. Or a family gathering. Whatever tickles your fancy.
  • Dancing. Check out classes nearby. Many studios offer coupons or open classes so you can try them out. You get some workout, meet new people, and have fun!
  • Baking. It doesn’t have to look like a Pinterest recipe. It just needs to taste good.
  • Handicrafts. It can be pottery, wood or metalwork, for example. Learning to create beautiful things helps you disconnect, feel more relaxed and accomplished.
  • Gardening. It’s one of the most relaxing hobbies you can have. Being outside in nature is soothing and sparks your creativity.
  • Learning to play a simple instrument. Love music but can’t dedicate hours to practice your instrument? Casual music lovers have a few options to try their hand at–the ukulele, the harmonica, and even the piano are good starting points.
  • Board games. For the sociable types out there, board games are a great hobby to share with friends.

Take care of your body

Let’s talk about one of our most basic needs–food

Food as fuel is a popular analogy to help people rethink their relationship with food. In short, food is what gives you the necessary nutrients to keep your body active and healthy. Eat with food that is poor in nutrients, and your body won’t work as you want it to. You’ll be tired, demotivated, and sick.

You may have a hundred reasons for not cooking at home regularly. Maybe you never learned. Or you’re too busy. Or you woke up late and didn’t have time to make breakfast. Or you just didn’t feel like it.

And that’s all valid, every once in a while.

Your body needs consistency. The internet is full of resources to help you organize your meals if you’re pressed for time. Too busy for breakfast? Smoothies, fruits, and toasts are the answer. No time to cook every day? Here’s meal prep to the rescue. Can’t cook? Check out these easy, healthy recipes to practice your cooking skills.

But eating well is only part of the equation. To keep your body healthy, you need to exercise, too.

Your workouts will depend on your goals, health, preferences, and time. For someone of average weight and good health, half an hour of moderate physical activity every day is enough to stay healthy. However, you’ll need more dedicated routines if you want to lose weight, gain muscle mass, or tone.

You might be thinking, “but I don’t have time to work out!” Well, instead of changing your schedule to exercise, make your workouts work with your schedule.

Remember you kept track of your daily activities a while back? This will come in handy here, too. Take a look at the information you gathered and ask yourself a few questions.

  • Can you spend a full hour at the gym most days? If you can’t, you could break down your workouts into 10-minute routines throughout the day.
  • Which days work best for you? If your weekdays are crazy but your weekends are mostly free, make sure never to miss your weekend workouts.
  • Can you walk or use a bicycle to move around instead of driving or using public transport?
  • Would you like your hobby to be a workout, too? For example, you can take on dancing, hiking, cycling, yoga, or other physical activity.

The point is to make exercise fun and convenient, not a hassle. The best way to do this is to make it fit around your schedule.

Finally, the third basic need is sleep. Getting enough sleep is not a luxury; it’s a biological need. Lack of sleep has been linked to many physical problems, from weight gain to Alzheimer’s. So, of course, you’d want to catch more zzzz at night.

You can do a couple of things to get more sleep. First, stop using your devices before (or in) bed. The blue light from computer, smartphones, and tablets affects the duration and quality of your sleep. And if you must use your phone, use light filtering apps. They reduce blue light emissions and replace it with red light, which doesn’t affect your sleep.

Connect with others

The tips you just read address the more common effects of overwork. But there’s another, less talked about consequence of working too hard.

As people work harder and harder, they may isolate themselves, disconnecting from family and friends.

Even if you’re not the sociable type, make time to see your loved ones as often as you’re comfortable with. An excellent way to do this is to include them in your hobbies and other daily activities.

For example:

  • Does a friend or relative work near you? Make plans to meet for lunch once a week.
  • Do you and your BFF share a hobby? Do it together!
  • Need to run some errands? Recruit a friend to tag along and grab a quick cup of coffee afterward.

Another good tip is to expand your professional network. Join a Meetup or Facebook group and attend events. It’ll not only meet your social needs; it can help you find more professional opportunities.

Spend time in nature

Some time ago, I climbed a volcano.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a city girl, and my idea of relaxing typically doesn’t include a 2-hour walk uphill. But those few hours spent among majestic, powerful nature (and after some physical effort, too) did wonders for me. I returned to work after the holidays recharged and motivated to get my business started.

Nature has a certain kind of beauty that soothes people. And it’s not just me saying it. It’s proven.

Going outside more often helps you boost your creativity, reduce stress, and improve your health.

But of course, you’re a busy person and can’t schedule volcano-climbing trips at a whim. So, what to do?

First of all, take a look at the available resources. Do you live near the beach? Is there a park close to where you live or work? Those are perfect spots to add to your route to and from work. Alternatively, use a few minutes of your lunch break to go for a walk.

Another thing you could do is organizing group activities outside. Having lunch with friends? Choose a location with a lovely view of a park, a beach or a mountain.

In short, spending time in nature will relax you, improve your mood, and help you connect with what matters to you the most.

Disconnect

Turn off your phone. Seriously.

Freelancers and entrepreneurs have a hard time disconnecting, but it’s necessary to stay sharp and energized on actual business hours.

So stop being available 24/7.

You have the right to log off. To have business hours like every other business on Earth.

The cool thing about running your business is that you can choose your schedule. Want to start working at 5 a.m. while your children sleep and the house is quiet? No one’s stopping you! The important thing is to stick to that schedule and make your boundaries clear (politely, of course) to your clients.

The good news is, many apps on the market help you keep your phone down for longer.

Personally, I like Antisocial for Android. It lets you block specific apps depending on a schedule, a set amount of time, or even a timer. It also shows you app usage stats and time-saving tips. My smartphone use is pretty low as it is, but I can get pretty into mobile games sometimes. Not great for productivity and creativity.

For example, you can block your email and other work-related apps on your off time, and games and other distracting apps during business hours.

Indulge

Splurge once in a while.

It doesn’t have to be clothes, fragrances, massages, mimosas, fine leather goods, or your own Batman suit. In fact, you don’t necessarily have to spend big money. Or any money at all. It can be taking an extra-long bubble bath, or cooking a nice meal for yourself, spending quality time with friends, or taking yourself on a date.

Whatever you do to treat yourself, you deserve it. You work hard. Reap the benefits of your dedication.

Taking care of your mental and physical needs will make you happier, more creative, and fulfilled.

What do you do to take care of yourself? Do you have any more tips to share with us? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

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