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How To Prioritise Self-Care

When you’re committed to work, family and countless other demands, there’s often little to no time left for ‘you’. Robyn MacLarty has a few tips to help you to take back control.

Ever since it caught on in the noughties, the expression ‘me time’ always made me cringe a little. It smacked of self-indulgence, a manic preoccupation with regular pedicures, as well as a new generation that seemed to favour well-being over getting what needs doing, done.

Convinced this sort of sentiment did not align with multitasking, never-say-no types such as myself, it’s perhaps not surprising that I hit a wall, circa 2020.

After simmering in a spicy stew of stress and a back-breaking workload for several years, I experienced total burnout, and was forced to face the mortifying realisation that I was subject to the same human frailties as everyone else.

The Importance of Prioritising Self-Care

The thing is — if we don’t prioritise our ‘self-care’ (me-time’s cousin), chances are good that life will do it for us, via a rift in a relationship, illness, a professional disaster, or some other form of ‘nervy-B’, as one of my delightfully sarcastic friends likes to refer to a nervous breakdown.

That’s if we’re lucky. If not, the best we can hope for is to stagger through life a frazzled, sweaty, resentful hot mess, wondering where the time, and our happiness, went.

‘Many people, especially women, battle to put themselves first because they have been taught not to,’ says Johannesburg-based life and career coach Penny Holburn. ‘We have been taught to believe that we are not nice or good people if we stop to think about ourselves.

The problem is that if we don’t, we are not usually nice to be around, anyway,’ she points out. ‘You cannot give from an empty cup. You cannot perform good work if your brain is frazzled. You are not a good role model for your children if you never take care of yourself.

It’s only when you learn to take care of yourself, that you become able to give of your best to those around you.’ Penny teaches a practical course in time management. Here’s her advice on how to take back control of your time:


Set Boundaries

Those of us prone to feeling overwhelmed (and who would rather stick forks into our kneecaps than say ‘no’) may need to work on our boundaries. Penny suggests three ways to improve:

‘Building time specifically for self-care into your diary is the simplest way to make sure you actually do it’

  1. Observe someone you know who is better at saying ‘no’. Learn from them.
  2. Practice setting boundaries with people you know well, first. They are likely to be more receptive to your new resolve.
  3. Book a few sessions with a life coach or therapist who can offer guidance about how you can set and maintain boundaries.

Time Magic

You have to admit, ‘time magic’ sounds a lot better than time management (yuk). And yet good time management is a discipline that can — hey presto! — magically add extra hours to your day.

Hours you could spend bubble-bathing, reading, studying, hugging a tree, working out, napping, socialising, or whatever fits your definition when it comes to self-care. ‘Most people who are successful in life have good time management skills,’ says Penny. ‘You get ahead if you are able to do more.

However, there comes a point at which doing more becomes self-sabotage, and your performance starts to deteriorate. It’s a fine line, but with practice, it’s one you can walk. When you learn to manage your time well, you become able to let go of what you just cannot fit in.’

Pull Rank

As in, rank your goals. ‘In my course, I teach clients how to understand their goals for the year, the month, the week, or even the day,’ says Penny.

A good place to start is to write down what you want to achieve for the day. ‘Assign each goal a number, from 1 (your top priority) onwards,’ she advises. ‘Next, list all the tasks that will help you reach your goals, and rank those in the same way.

Then ask yourself: can I delegate? Can I dump any?’ Be ruthless. ‘If you can, do,’ encourages Penny. ‘This will help you focus on the more important tasks that only you can do.’

Book Time

Building time specifically for self-care into your diary is the simplest way to make sure you actually do it. ‘I advise clients to put it in their diaries as an appointment with themselves,’ says Penny, who explains that it’s essential to make ‘time out’ an important activity.

‘You must know why it is important; otherwise, when the demands begin to pile up, self-care goes out the window.’ Start with small changes to your daily routine, and build from there. ‘All of these skills take practice,’ says Penny. ‘But you can — and will — get better at them.’

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