If the phrase “self-care” makes you roll your eyes, I get it.
Many small business owners feel like they don’t have the luxury of making time for themselves. Settling in with a book and a cup of tea? Not this afternoon. Soaking away in a bubble bath? Not any time this week. Taking a day trip with the spouse and kids? Maybe next month… Maybe.
The disconnect goes further than that. The very idea of work-life balance doesn’t match up with reality when you’re working in excess of 60, 80, 100 hours per week building your company, managing your team, and meeting customer demands—and there’s still more to do at the end of the day.
But here’s the thing:
You need to practice self-care.
You need to make time for that bubble bath, that cup of tea, that day with the family.
When you are your business, you don’t have a choice.
Taking care of yourself means taking care of your business. It’s a form of maintenance, the same as maintaining your home or your car—only for your mind, body, and soul.
For business owners, occasional acts of self-care that may seem frivolous and selfish are anything but. Those acts are key to…
- staying happy and focused,
- remaining productive,
- making good decisions,
- showing up authentically for employees and customers.
In other words, making time for yourself is what keeps you, you. There’s a reason they call it “recreation”—it’s about re-creating yourself. Self-care is how you ensure the person in charge of your company is the same passionate, dedicated, big-hearted person who took on the massive responsibility of running the business in the first place.
That said, recognizing the importance of self-care and practicing it the right way are two entirely different things. We’ve all had the experience of misusing our recreational time, of coming back from a vacation even more exhausted than when we left. It happens because many of us aren’t trained to take care of ourselves or are drawn to behaviors that deplete rather than replenish.
The first step to good self-care is recognizing what self-care isn’t.
Real self-care doesn’t look like any of the following:
- Avoidance. Self-care isn’t about procrastination or losing sight of responsibilities. It’s about temporarily prioritizing your responsibility to yourself, so you can return to your other responsibilities with renewed vigor.
- Over-indulgence. Consuming too much of anything—pizza, cupcakes, cocktails, reality television—can leave you feeling physically ill, as well as emotionally unfulfilled. Shame, guilt, and regret often follow. Don’t use self-care as a reason to punish yourself.
- Doing only what feels comfortable. It’s important to comfort yourself, but acts of real self-care go deeper. They also energize you, broaden your mind, and open your heart. They may challenge you on multiple levels; think visiting a museum or going on a hike rather than spending a weekend on the couch.
- A miracle cure. No one activity, product, or substance can magically and instantly revitalize you. You can’t buy self-care in a bottle or an app, and you can’t engage in it only once and expect to feel better. You need to practice it—with regularity and intention.
In fact, self-care isn’t about just taking an occasional bubble bath or quiet afternoon to yourself, but about fitting personal time into your everyday life. The most effective way to practice self-care is to make it a habit.
Find a few activities that refuel you and make time for them in your schedule, the same way you make time for grocery shopping, budgeting, or answering emails. After all, self-care is as important as any of those things.
What does real self-care look like?
10 ways to practice self-care as a business owner:
1. Take breaks. Every hour or so, get up, stretch, and walk away from your workstation for a few minutes. Maybe grab a drink and/or snack while you’re at it. Why not take the opportunity right now? Go ahead—we’ll be here when you get back.
2. Delegate. When you’re the person in charge, being a good boss also means being your own good boss. You’re the only one who can look out for yourself. Ask for help when you need it. Be sure you’re giving yourself a manageable amount of work (and time to complete the work) and delegating the rest.
3. Exercise. A healthy amount of physical exertion does wonders for your health and mood. Doctors recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise (or 15 minutes of intense exercise) once per day. Walking, jogging, biking, and even household chores are great ways to work it into your schedule.
4. Sleep. Far too many business owners are chronically underslept. As unproductive as it seems (“What do you mean I have to spend eight hours lying down and doing nothing?”), sleeping is as important as eating or breathing. Do it right—try for 7–9 hours a night in a dark, quiet, cool environment.
5. Eat well. Speaking of eating, be mindful of what you put into your body. Opt for less processed foods and more fresh fruits and vegetables. Try different foods, as well—variety keeps your diet healthy and interesting. What’s most important is enjoying what you eat. Food is one of the greatest pleasures we have, so make the most of it!
6. Say “yes, and…” This is one of the core principles behind improvisational comedy—and a powerful tool for running your business and living your life. Saying “yes, and…” means accepting a premise and running with it. In the context of your business, it could mean saying “yes” to an employee’s idea and building on it, or perhaps saying “yes” to an unexpected customer request and figuring out how to make it work. Outside of work, it might mean following an artistic impulse by buying paint and a canvas, or letting your kids decide what’s for dinner for a week.
7. Give yourself a daily gift. This one comes directly from our favorite TV investigator, Dale Cooper (portrayed by Kyle MacLachlan) of Twin Peaks:
“Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee.”
8. Give back. Caring for others is one of the most effective forms of self-care. So says Laurie Santos, a psychology professor at Yale University and host of The Happiness Lab, in a recent interview in The New York Times:
“We assume that self-care looks like a nice bubble bath—or even hedonistic pursuits, selfish pursuits. But the data suggests that the right way to treat ourselves would be to do nice things for other people. We actually get more out of being more open and more social and more other-oriented than spending money on ourselves. It’s a bigger increase to your happiness.”
9. Laugh. Laughter is seriously the best medicine. According to Mayo Clinic, laughing relieves stress, stimulates organ function, relieves pain, and even boosts immune response. If you need a quick pick-me-up, may I recommend this video?
10. Express gratitude. In the constant hustle and grind of running a business, it’s easy to lose sight of all the reasons we have to feel happy. We’re fortunate to be busy, to be in business, to be alive. Practice self-care by thanking the people who make it happen, including yourself.
This is a lot to remember on top of everything else you already have to…remember. Download our Self Care calendar and use it to set reminders in your Outlook or Gmail. Build your days around self care. Or just start by building it in.
Remember: you don’t have to do it all.
Running a business is hard work. You don’t have to do it all yourself. Give yourself the gift of more time, energy, and peace of mind by letting a team of industry professionals take care of customer service for you. Discover how Ruby makes small business easy.