6 Self-Care Tips for Busy Leaders
As a productive, driven leader, you may not feel like there is enough time in your day to devote to self-care. You prioritize work and family, which may feel selfless and honorable, but you may not be carving out and protecting time to ensure that you are at your best.
Like many people in positions like yours, you probably recognize the need for self-care, but you continue to put it off, day after day, until you have procrastinated yourself into an even bigger, more frazzled mess. Or maybe you’re of the mindset that now is your time to “grind,” and you can rest later. But when is later? Next week? Next month? Next year? Honestly, I don’t think self-care should wait; it should be a priority and it should happen now.
Believe me, I understand the feeling of wanting to devote most of your time to your leadership role as this is where you spend most of your time – at work. The truth is that such devotion is unsustainable. Leaders who fail to take time for self-care burn out quickly. They aren’t suited for long-term success, and they are characterized by a constant feeling of being overwhelmed. Leaders who operate in this way do not lead effectively, nor do they provide healthy examples for their people and the future leaders they should be focused on developing.
I think we can all agree that some amount of self-care is necessary for everyone, especially leaders who want to operate in a consistent manner and guide their organizations to greatness. However, every individual is different, so what might work for you may not work as well for your counterpart in a different department or another organization. With that said, there are some basic aspects of self-care that can be adapted to any leader or any leadership situation.
For starters, your self-care routine should involve a balanced approach that takes both your body and mind into account. We also recommend that it includes aspects of your social and spiritual lives, and I have some advice that you can apply to your specific situation. But first, I want to talk about the one thing that stands between you and a healthy self-care routine: Time.
Making the Most of Your Self-Care Time
The idea of self-care for leaders comes inside a tricky paradox: Leaders have the least amount of time available to devote to self-care and yet, they are the people who require self-care the most.
I would be surprised if this paradox didn’t resonate with you. Most leaders I talk to are eager and excited to improve themselves and their skills, but they keep running into barriers imposed by a lack of time in their schedules.
The truth is that you may never get the extra time you think you need for self-care. So, it’s vitally important to make the most of the time you do have. Protect this time; do not let it get pushed to the end of your calendar, only to get pushed into next week (or next month or next year!). Time devoted to self-care is just as important to time devoted to critical meetings or team initiatives in the workplace, so please treat it as such.
Once you start practicing self-care on a more consistent basis, you can begin to integrate it into everything you do. In fact, I would argue that this is the whole point. It’s not so much about carving out time for self-care as it is about integrating self-care into everything you do.
But before you reach that point in your self-care journey, you can improve your ability to stay fresh, rested and feeling good by taking advantage of the following tips.
#1 – Develop a Consistent Sleep Routine
When was the last time you experienced a truly great night of sleep? It’s been a while, right? For many leaders, a restful night of sleep is very difficult to find. For some, it seems impossible. That’s because most leaders and people in general fail to prioritize sleep.
You can get better sleep, and you can experience it on a much more consistent basis. However, that is dependent on you developing a consistent sleep routine.
This means no more staying up to burn the midnight oil, and it means no more forcing yourself to awaken before dawn so you can be the first one at the office.
Give yourself a nightly bedtime routine and be sure to schedule some wind-down time in the hours approaching that bedtime. Make it a habit by going to bed at approximately the same time every night. Ensure your wind-down time doesn’t include searching social media or finishing up last minute work tasks as that will fire you up vs. help calm you down before a restful night of sleep. Then, when you feel tempted to sabotage your sleep, you will instead stick to your healthy routine. This is one of the major keys to overall well-being that many leaders simply ignore. My advice to you: Ignore it no more!
#2 – Move Your Body
Like sleep, exercise is another pillar of self-care for leaders, and what I often see is that time tends to get in the way with this one, too.
Again, I think it’s critically important to create routines around exercise. Turning it into a habit makes it more likely that you will stick with it and more likely to supply the benefits you are looking for.
To give yourself the best chance of success, start small and take slow, deliberate steps to achieve your ultimate fitness goals. It’s not about having the perfect body, being able to lift a certain amount of weight or run a mile at a certain pace. Rather, it’s about making your physical health a priority.
The additional benefit is that when you build exercise into your self-care routine, you also make it easier to get a good night’s sleep on a more consistent basis. Plus, it will provide you with a boost to your overall energy levels.
#3 – Fill Your Tank with Better Fuel
Sometimes people pay more attention to what they put into their cars than they do their bodies. Leaders are no exception!
I like to think of food as fuel for the machine known as the human body. When you give the machine unhealthy fuel, you suffer and your body sputters. But when you fill your tank with healthy whole foods and items that have been subject to a minimum of processing, you give the machine of your body an edge. It’s like trading in an old beater for a brand-new sports car!
#4 – Be Grateful
Psychologically speaking, there are few things more powerful than gratitude when it comes to practicing self-care.
Leaders are often focused on what’s wrong or what needs to be changed. This creates a negative, self-perpetuating mental state that increases stress and strain while zapping energy and removing a leader’s ability to think rationally.
Practicing gratitude can stop this negative process in its tracks. When you take time to be grateful for things, you train your brain to see the world in a more positive, realistic and healthy manner. When your brain swims in a sea of negativity, it can cause you to lead ineffectively. But when you are grateful, you can operate from a place of inspiration and positive energy.
#5 – Just Say No
Here’s a little secret I wish more leaders were aware of: You don’t have to say “yes” to everything just because you are the leader and are in a position of influence.
One of the quickest ways to deteriorate your physical, emotional, spiritual and social states is to bite off more than you can chew. It’s okay to say “no” to things and it’s healthy to have boundaries. Your leadership will be more consistent, energized and inspiring when you practice discernment. It’s hard to not say “yes” to everything, but I urge you to try it out and see what happens.
#6 – Spend Free Time the Way You Want to Spend It
I have spent time with countless leaders who felt like they needed permission to have fun or enjoy themselves. I have also spent time with leaders who have no idea what they enjoy or how they like to spend their free time.
Don’t be the leader who devotes themselves so fully to work that you lose yourself in it. You are a human being with a life outside the workplace, so choose to live your life to its fullest.
I encourage you to focus on what you really enjoy in life. How do you actually like to spend your time? Are you spending any time doing the things you love? Or are you sacrificing fun and enjoyment in order to devote more time to work?
Determine what gives you joy, pleasure, richness and fulfillment in life. Then spend some time doing those things. Yes, you are busy, but that doesn’t mean your free time should be spent worrying about how busy you are. It should be spent living life in the way that energizes you and gives meaning to your story.
How Do You Practice Self-Care?
Do you have any go-to self-care practices that work for you? Have you tried any of the tips I have listed here? I would love to know what you think, so please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 1.855.871.3374 to share your thoughts.