Making time for me: finding time to take care of yourself

When people suggest or tell you to take care of yourself or take more time for yourself, how do you typically respond?

“I don’t have time” is THE most common answer I get when I ask what they are doing to take care of themselves aka practicing self care. I get it—it really feels true when we say we don’t have time. The operative phrase here is that it “feels true”. Because it feels true doesn’t necessarily mean it is true.

Bear with me. Let’s take a closer look at this issue of time and the belief that we don’t have enough of it. Laura Vanderkam, an expert on time management has a no BS approach.  As an exercise to remind us that time is a choice, she suggests that we replace “I don’t have time” with “It’s not a priority”, and then see how that feels.

This is a powerful exercise. Vanderkam is beautifully pushing us to get completely honest about how we spend our time.  Imagine replacing “ I don’t have time to go to the doctor” with “I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.”  If the rephrasing doesn’t sit well, Vanderkam tells us, that is the point!

How can I make time for myself?

Vanderkam’s  first recommendation is to track how you are actually spending your time. Refreshingly, she doesn’t see this as an exercise to shame us or make us feel guilty when we find out how much time we waste. She has a “so what?” perspective about wasting time. We all waste time, period. But by seeing how we’re wasting time, we’re able to see where we can carve out time for self care.

The value of tracking time is that it brings to the forefront the false stories we tell ourselves. For example, I often hear: “I don’t have time for self care. I work and am taking care of my parents now.” The implicit point here is that if self care is a priority (or at least one of your priorities) you have to  make time for it.

So … is it? Don’t whisper it, say it out loud & mean it: YES, self care is a priority for me!

Self care may be a foreign concept at this moment in time and you may feel some initial discomfort in putting yourself on a priority list. My suggestion is that you push through this discomfort. If you wait to feel comfortable, you might be waiting until the proverbial cows come home.

Alright, self care has now made it on your priority list. Your next question is likely, “How exactly do I make time for myself?” I have pulled out 3 of Vandkerkam’s suggestions which I think can be especially helpful for people who are caring for others.

Make more time for self care in 3 simple steps

  • Plan your week using a 3 category priority list: career, relationships, and self. Make sure there is something in each of the categories. I like to look at priorities as what matters to me, or as what is important to me. Describing it this way further encourages self-honesty.
  • Recognize that time is elastic and can be stretched to accommodate what you put in it. Vanderkam uses the example of a water heater explosion. If this happened in your home, you would make time to deal with the crisis. I think about in terms of a medical emergency with one of your parents. You might say at the beginning of the day that you don’t have time to visit them today, and yet, if there is an emergency you make the time to go to the hospital and see them.
  • Use bits of time. This might be as short as a 3 minute block. There are self care activities that are beneficial that can take only 3 minutes. Examples include: a deep breathing exercise, stretching, listening to a wondrous piece of music, or a quick phone call or text to someone about how grateful you are to have them in your life.

How we spend our time is a choice. Taking care of yourself has to be made a priority in order to ensure you make it happen! I make no presumption that creating and taking time for yourself will be easy or easily achievable, but it will be impossible if you don’t first get yourself on the priority list.  

Are you going to use these three steps to make more time for self care? What tips do you have for making more time for yourself?

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