I have an autoimmune disease. When it flares, my joints swell. I can’t walk or sleep. Team meetings and other work are postponed. My partner is saddled with making our food and caring for our chickens and rabbits.
The pain is much worse when I’m frazzled or exhausted, so I prioritize taking care of myself. I regularly meditate, play music, and move (swim, bike, yoga, tai chi, etc.). Beyond minimizing my disease, these activities also improve the rest of my life: I have energy during the usual afternoon slump, I’m more creative during design meetings, and I respond to last-second project changes with calm thoughtfulness. I’m much more productive.
But fitting these activities in my schedule is tough. Even though I know they’re important, other things always come up. A client has an emergency, a morning meeting adds more tasks to this afternoon, or a new fawn wanders into our yard.
I’ve tried blocking off self-care activities in my calendar: setting aside time at 11am to stretch those desk-sitting muscles, or splashing around in a front crawl at 5pm. But sometimes 11am is the only time clients can meet, and there are days when I’m wiped out at 5pm. Even when I've blocked the time, it’s too easy to let other things overtake my best self-care intentions. Ugh.
These activities also take a lot of time. An hour feels like the bare minimum for moving around. Am I really playing the piano if I don’t practice for at least 45 minutes? Is it worth meditating if I can’t carve out 30 minutes?
After hearing my lament of failing to squeeze self-care into each day, a friend suggested that the activities are much more important than the amount of time I spend on them. Fifteen minutes playing piano is actually better than zero minutes. Five minutes sitting quietly is still calming. I can definitely find five minutes.
Shorter durations also mean they’re easy to do side by side. Instead of finding three separate times for meditation, movement, and music every day, I can schedule one block of, say, an hour to practice them all.
Even one hour can still be displaced by other things that arise throughout the day, however. What if I moved self-care before everything else?
Boom, my magic combination: timeboxed self-care activities, as soon as I roll out of bed in the morning. Sunlight warming my face as I’m quietly cocooned in the quilt Eileen and I made together. Fingers pumping out the rhythm of Coldplay’s Clocks. Muscles burning with excitement as I’m racking up the seconds in a free handstand. At 6am, client emergencies, meetings, and other tasks feel far away.
Putting my self-care first thing in the morning, even when it's only an hour, keeps me healthy and productive. I no longer worry about where to squeeze these activities in, and I start my day incredibly happy and awake, ready for what comes next.