When you become a freelancer or business owner, you may find it surprisingly challenging to play your own boss. Make 2020 the year you learn how to maximize your productivity, play to your strengths, and be your own inner coach with these 20 self-care tips.
1. Do the obvious.
There are usually no magic bullets or magic beans in life, though our ongoing search for newer and better “life hacks” is commendable. If you’re struggling on some level, either personally or professionally, first do the most elemental things that keep you at your optimum. Eat for energy and nutrition, get to the gym to get the endorphins flowing, and accommodate for extra stress by adding in a massage if you need it. These are basic prerequisites in the school of life and success.
2. Stop comparing.
Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t try to keep up with what others are doing. Look within yourself to recognize your strengths and values and use these as guides for your days. This is how you will find the motivation and focus to thrive (or at least survive when the going gets tough).
3. Stay organized.
To cut down on stress, embrace organization tips that save you minutes over time and keep up with the items that most impact your productivity. If it’s important or helpful to you to sit down at a clean desk, with an at-a-glance task list prioritized and ready for you each time you start work, then set yourself up for success. Take a moment at the end of each workday to note your current status on key deliverables or use a project tracker and plot out any upcoming deadlines on your calendar. Keep a running list of tasks, using tools like Gmail’s “Tasks,” to manage your time practically (not obsessively).
4. Keep a routine and work when you’re at your best.
Repetition can help you gain speed on routine tasks, just like having a regular work routine can help you be more productive. Set a regular working schedule that allows you to work when you’re “at your best,” and you’ll find that you can work much faster and more efficiently, saving you some additional time for the fun things in life. Overall, you’ll spend less time and energy completing the tasks than you would if you’re tired or distracted.
5. Touch things once, or at least fewer times.
For example, when you bring in a stack of mail, don’t just set the whole stack down to deal with later. Decide right then which items you’ll keep and which you’ll recycle or shred, and then take those items to the right locations (or at least closer to the right locations). If you need more time to address something, set it front and center on your desk so you’ll see it the next time you sit down. The point being, never leave yourself an uncategorized pile for later. Put each to-do in its own place.
6. Give yourself the time.
Start earlier on projects, and you will feel less stressed overall. When you receive a new project assignment, try to guesstimate the amount of time that will be required to finish it. Work backward from the official due date and give yourself extra days in case emergencies and other priorities arise. Turning in work early can also feel like an automatic mood booster. Start working ahead by making a quick list of deliverables, in a bullet list you can visually refer to, and then assign each of those deliverables a specific date that you will work on it.
7. Take breaks.
You are not a machine. Take an eye break from the computer. Take a coffee break. Take a vacation (even if it’s a staycation).
8. Make perfection less of a priority.
As a human being, you are probably your own worst critic. Be sensible with your own expectations for your work. For smaller projects, try allotting yourself a reasonable amount of time to tackle such a task and then setting a timer if you have to. Do your best job during that reasonable timeframe and then assess whether you’ve accomplished the original goal before spending any additional time. Rather than being perfect, focus on other practicing other qualities that are important in business relationships, such as being personable, transparent, and authentic.
9. Focus on doing just one.
Don’t try to do all the things. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the touted best practices for self-care. Try doing just one thing for yourself here and there. To make it easier to adopt a new healthy habit, you can tie the new practice to another daily habit or routine you already have. For example, listen to a three-minute mindfulness meditation after reading the last bedtime story to your little one. What’s good for you can be good for them, too. When you feel you don’t have time for yourself, search to find ways to weave just one important self-care strategy into your daily routine.
10. Know what’s important.
Recognize what is important to you and what your biggest priorities actually are. Walk the dog, get some rest, and be present with your family. If you’re able to get one other task done, then pay a bill. You don’t have to accomplish everything that you write down on your to-do list. As Stephen Covey says, “Keep the main thing the main thing.” Doing so will make it easier to have a day that feels productive, fulfilling, and worthwhile.
11. Break things down.
Does a project seem overwhelming and huge, and is it causing you stress just thinking about it? Divide the task into smaller parts. Identify what’s hard and why. Is there anything you can delegate, postpone, or ask for help with? If you need some inspiration, check out how Danielle Jackson broke down the huge goal of raising funds for a mission trip to Uganda and how she recruited other people to help her throughout the process.
One thing we’ve learned from successful leaders is that all the effort and ideas definitely don’t have to come from yourself. Powerhouse Planning President Jessica Bertsch regularly invites suggestions and ideas for projects from her team. Rely on others to support you on the journey, and decisions and tasks will feel much easier—and more fun.
13. Make incremental changes.
Apply simple fixes and changes to make your life “just a little easier” every day. Always realizing you need to run upstairs and grab socks at the last minute as you go to put on shoes? Stop folding and putting socks away in a drawer upstairs and instead keep a pretty basket near where you store your shoes.
14. Stop doing things you don’t love.
Leave behind the things that weigh you down. Friendships that are wrought with unhealthy obligation. Volunteer roles that aren’t a best match for your strengths and that drain your energy. It’s okay to walk away. In the end, you don’t receive a badge of honor for maintaining close friendships with everyone who comes into your life. And you don’t receive a gold star for taking on every freelance project that is offered to you, especially if it’s not something you enjoy or are well suited for. Use this time wisely and direct your course by selecting your stops along the path.
Indulge in dreaming about what you want to learn or achieve. For fun, you can write these dreams down and come back to them later to see if they still excite you. It’s healthy to explore new avenues and new motivations, as long as you are grounded in what you can reasonably accomplish right now.
16. Don’t let the hard things linger.
Tackle the hardest things first, at the beginning of your day. Crossing them off your list will give you a tremendous sense of relief, and then you won’t be worrying about a looming to-do, which can leach away your creative energy throughout the workday.
17. Set a time limit on regret and guilt.
At some time or other, we all second-guess ourselves or dwell on past decisions and results. If you find yourself having a hard time and dwelling on a past situation, or even a difficult conversation, set a time limit for how long you will allow yourself to ruminate. When that time is over, be resolute in your choice to close the door and move on. If you need to, seek therapy to help you overcome things that you just can’t seem to let go of on your own.
18. Know your value.
If you are repeatedly working more hours than you are getting paid for, you’re looking at serious burnout over time. Track your time, take inventory of your feelings about the work you are doing, and be personally accountable for asking for what you need. In the end, if you consistently ask for less than you need and deserve, you can get stuck in a cycle that is hard to break and that can have a negative impact on your self-confidence.
19. Stop staring at projects you never finished.
If you have piles of would-be projects (these may be unread books, unfinished writings) lying around your office on a desk or bookshelf, they may be subconsciously weighing you down. The act of making a decision takes energy, and sometimes we avoid it. However, repeatedly looking at projects we haven’t finished but meant to can drag our energy down even more. Purge books and project supplies that are no longer relevant to your goals today. Moving on can feel like a breath of fresh air—and you’ll have renewed energy and space for endeavors that are of current interest.
20. Give gratitude a foothold.
Cheerfulness begets cheerfulness, and gratitude begets more gratitude. The more you intentionally practice taking note of positive changes and things that are going well, the more easily you’ll make these observations going forward. Soon, you won’t have to think about noticing the positives; it will just come naturally to do it. Start a gratitude journal, if you like. And definitely take opportunities to reflect and write down everyday accomplishments and big achievements that you’re proud of. Remember to say “thank you” and “job well done”—to yourself.