Whether you’re tackling work for clients, learning how to become a copywriter, or any other task that takes up a significant amount of your time, energy, and focus, you need to plan breaks.
And I’m not just talking taking the weekend off (though definitely plan in days off, whether it’s Saturday and Sunday, or other days of your choosing!).
I’m talking planning breaks as part of your work schedule to ensure you’re not racing fast towards burnout and so your brain has time to process everything you’ve been working on (Don’t believe me? It’s been studied.)
Here are some of my favorite ways to build self-care into my routine.
1. Add Mini-Breaks to Your Calendar
If it’s on your schedule and includes a reminder, you’re far more likely to take that break than if you just say it in your head or put it on paper. The old-fashioned route of pen and paper is great for goal setting, but it’s not great for remembering to do things you need to do.
I like to schedule three, 10-minute breaks during the day at times I know my energy wanes (if you don’t know when your energy wanes, track your time for a couple of weeks to see where the times is going and note which parts of the day are your most productive).
During these breaks, I do a 45-second plank, 25 push-ups, and 25 squats. The simple act of getting out of my chair and moving in a way that I can’t think about work gives me a true break from whatever it was I was thinking about.
You certainly don’t need to do a workout during mini breaks. Choose a productive activity that you know will take your mind off work. Walks, even short ones around the block, are great for clearing your head.
Stretching, yoga, meditation, reading (non-work material), listening to music (really listening and not multitasking), calling a friend to catch up … there are so many productive uses of 10 minutes that will make you more productive when you revisit your work.
2. Set a Morning Routine …
Getting ready to go into work mode can help you hit the ground running when you do sit down at your desk.
For example, Mondays and Fridays, I like to “commute” to my office. So, I get up a little earlier, I go to a local coffee shop for my coffee, take a walk around the block, and come home to read the paper for a half hour. Just because we work from home doesn’t mean we can’t commute!
Most other days, I get up, make coffee, and listen to a podcast while I get ready. I then look at my to-do list that I’d written out the day before and try to determine which items are best tackled in which part of my day.
3. … But Shake Up That Routine
Having a routine doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing every day. Develop a few different routines that allows you to keep things interesting.
Whenever I know I have a particularly challenging day ahead, I build in a “commute” time. It sounds counterintuitive, but the busier or more mentally taxing the day, the more of a need for taking care of yourself.
I’ll also occasionally build in time to pick up lunch from someplace outside the house (usually Wednesdays).
On any given day, challenging or otherwise, I like to have several beverages on hand, too: something hot (coffee or tea), something cold (usually water), and, on Fridays after 4, something bubbly. These beverages act like special treats that keep me going throughout the day.
4. Turn Off
Admittedly, this is the hardest of all for me. As service providers, it can feel like we need to jump as soon as a client says jump. What I mean by that is as soon as we hear a “ding” or vibration of a text, Slack message, Facebook notification, or any of the other bajillion notifications we get each day, we are now conditioned to stop whatever it is we’re doing and address that ding, beep, or buzz.
Schedule time on your calendar to check these notifications (I’m attempting three times: when I first sit down at my desk, around lunchtime, and again at 4 in the evening).
All other times? Shut all platforms, apps, and browsers that contain a communication platform. Put your phone outside your office or away from where you work (if you’re afraid of missing important calls, put the volume up).
And, if you’re not setting a hard STOP time to your work (as in, it’s now 6 PM, I won’t check anything related to work until tomorrow), you’re on the fast track to burnout. I know because I’ve been there with a client who prided himself on answering emails at any hour.
Sleep is critical. Set your “shut down” time and make sure you’re getting sleep.
5. Say “No.”
One of the best ways we can take care of ourselves as freelancers is learning to say, “no.”
That may be turning down a project, or letting a client who is pushing you to deliver faster that you have to stick to the agreed upon deadline. Or it may be something else entirely.
The key is being able to say “no” when you really need to.
Think of the last thing you’d rather do in life. Mine is grocery shopping. If I’d rather go to the grocery store than tackle a certain project, then I need to turn it down.
While all of these self-care tips can make you feel like you’re slowing down, they’re only doing so in the short term. In the long term, they can help increase your productivity by giving you the fresh energy you need to tackle your to-do list.
And having a long, successful freelance career is what we all want, right?
Your Turn! How do you build self-care into your routine?