Life can get so busy, can’t it? There’s only so many hours in a day, and once you take out working, commuting, eating, sleeping and other essential life activities, there isn’t much time left.
This is something I really struggled with last year. I am, by choice and situation, a busy person, powered by tea, to-do lists and a desire to feel on top of things all the time. However, I realised that over the past 12 months (and beyond if I’m honest) I have been, at best, neglecting the fun and creative things that make me who I am and, at worse, not looking after myself properly. Instead, a lot of my free time was taken with doing things I didn’t have the energy to do or seeing people I didn’t have the energy to see, no matter how much I wanted to do them. And when I did give myself some breathing space, I would be so exhausted by trying to do everything that all I wanted to do was lie on the sofa and watch reruns of Taskmaster with the curtains closed.
As well as setting myself on the all-too-familiar path to burnout, I also started to feel a bit lost. Like I had become a half version of myself, built to function and work, rather than to thrive. Which, despite what the societal pressure to work ourselves to death tells us, is not what life is all about! We all need time to relax, repair and recharge. As my often-wise dad says, “if you work hard, you play hard.”
So, to try get out of this habit and make space in the chaos for that all important me-time, I’ve set myself some ground rules:
1. Figure out what’s stopping you
Feeling guilty or like I should be doing something more “productive” or “helpful” to someone is one of the key reasons I don’t spend much time on myself. Sometimes it’s genuine, when I am trying to put off doing something. But mostly it’s caused by having unrealistic expectations of what I’m supposed to be doing. I am trying (semi-successfully) to recognise and challenge these thoughts, reminding myself that downtime is not only important for me, but that I won’t be as productive in the things I have to do if I don’t rest and have fun!
2. Be more disciplined with your time
This doesn’t mean setting some crazy strict schedule where I get up at the crack of dawn to do all my housework before going to work. I am just trying to draw lines under moments in my day, clearly defining time for work, time for socialising, time for exercise, time for writing, reading or other creative stuff and time for rest. This is done for us when we are kids, but it’s up to us as adults to do this for ourselves.
Of course there are going to be days where this doesn’t go exactly to plan; I have to work overtime or, like today, I set aside an hour of blogging time and accidentally delete four (FOUR) blogs and have to start again (I can’t even). BUT, so far, this has been working quite well. I’ve also been setting timers on my phone for specific tasks that I can end being wrapped up in and them taking me all day, like cleaning or filing at work, which has been useful for keeping the balance.
3. Keep some time as sacred
Whether it’s a regular class, a show on TV you want to watch or setting aside chilled out evening at the end of the week, making (and keeping) regular commitments to things you want to do is a good way to make sure you are doing something for yourself in the week. I do have a tendency to over-commit myself though, so it’s about getting the balance right of active and peaceful activities.
4. Be more realistic
Being honest with yourself about what you can actually achieve in the time you have to do it can be tricky, especially if people are relying on you or it’s at work. But no one can do everything. Rather than trying to cram in loads of things in my week, I am trying to focus on getting a few key things done properly, both at work and at home.
This leads nicely on to…
Get the shit you need to done, if you have the energy to do more then maybe do a few extra things, but honestly the rest can wait. I am also trying to make sure I am prioritising doing the things that make me happy, like reading and drawing and stretching, over mindless habitual things like scrolling through Instagram. Which, don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy doing and I think it has its place but it doesn’t always “feed my soul”, if you know what I mean.
6. Delegate or let things go
Not only can you not do everything, but you also don’t have to. Asking a colleague at work, someone you live with or a friend to help you out with something that needs to be done doesn’t mean you are incapable or that you are letting anyone down. Neither does letting a few things slide. Not managing to finish something is not the end of the world. I have learnt that most deadlines can be moved, bathrooms can function half cleaned, washing can be left on the dryer for an extra day, and I will be just fine (just please don’t apply this logic to cooking food.)
7. Just say no
It’s okay to not want or have the energy to do something. As Emma said in her blog ‘The Power of NO’, “saying no doesn’t make you a bad person, you aren’t going to automatically become a Disney villain if you say you’re busy or that you can’t help with something.” Good friends will understand and appreciate that you are looking after yourself. A good workplace will understand that you aren’t be difficult, but honest. It’s hard to feel like we’ve let someone down, but it’s important to look after yourself. And you’re no good to anyone when you are drained!
Here’s to a more productive, happier and more balanced year and please share any more tips you have in the comments below (I need all the help I can get!)