While we’re becoming increasingly aware of the importance of self-care in our daily lives, it’s not always true to say that that knowledge is carried over to the workplace. These six self-care strategies for workplace wellness are positive, proactive places to start.
Years ago at work, the lady who cleaned the staffroom would often send around an email asking if all of those with coffee cups in their offices could please return them to the kitchen so we could have a cuppa at morning tea. Shame-faced, I would collect up my ten coffee cups, usually consumed within the last working day, and take them back.
Coffee at that time was the ritual that began every transition in the school day, of which there were many: arrive at work, go to staff briefing, begin period 1, break for morning tea, have a free period, break for lunch and so on. I also smoked back then, so I hardly ate. All in all, it was a pretty unhealthy existence.
Nowadays when people ask how many coffees I have in a day and I say four, some are shocked. But when I think to myself how far I’ve come, I don’t think that’s any cause for concern. I’m still a work in progress: I’m inclined to have lunch at my desk and eschew breaks in favor of getting more done. Yet as well as cutting my coffee consumption, there are six self-care strategies that I incorporate into my working day so that I can function at my best. If you’ve been neglecting yourself at work, see if any of these might help you.
Have a start-work ritual
I mention start-work rituals a lot, because I believe they are really important. A start-work ritual is a clear progression of activities that signal to yourself that it’s time to start work. Start-work rituals work both equally well if you work from home or in an office.
My start work ritual involves getting to work, making a cup of coffee, starting my computer and unpacking my bag, then beginning my number one task for the day. I get to work at 7.00am, which gives me an hour of interruption-free time as a rule, as most colleagues don’t arrive until after 8.00am. By making the first task the task that requires the most focus and sustained effort, I feel that satisfaction of completing a high-value activity.
A start-work ritual is very personal, but often follows a similar structure. If this sounds like something you’d like to try, then check out How to create a start-work ritual.
Set your intentions
In our working days we can often have a variety of activities to complete, and if we’re not careful we leap from one to another with such rapid-fire transitions we finish the day exhausted. As a teacher in management, I might go from a large staff meeting, to teach a class, to meet with a smaller group of teachers, then back to a class, then meet with parents, and in between be writing lessons, engaging in strategic planning and writing emails, as just a small example. What’s worse it because some events are timetabled, such as classes, you can be fully engaged in planning staff professional development and then drop that abruptly to get yourself in the headspace to teach.
One strategy to practice better self-care in the workplace is therefore to provide some buffer time of a minute or two to finish the activity to the best of your ability at that time (even if it’s restricted to saving the work and closing the file). Then close your eyes, breathe, and set your intention for the next activity. Imagine what it is that you want to achieve, and importantly, how you want to be. I often imagine myself greeting my students at the door, smiling, and being engaged with them and their learning.
Setting your intentions is a powerful technique as it literally helps create your reality. If you want to know more then Set your intentions goes into more detail on the process.
Have a clear work space
I once worked for a woman whose desk was literally covered in piles of paper. It actually made my head hurt to go in there. She claimed that was how she worked best but to me it always looked like she was barely in control.
According to research, she must have been stretching the truth a little, as having piles of paper related to different tasks all over the place not only makes you look disorganized, for most people it also makes you feel anxious, helpless and overwhelmed.
I’m a firm believer in the clean slate state to keep yourself both at peak productivity and consistent calm. When you finish a task at work, put away all things related to the task. File or bin the papers, save the work, and close the tabs. Return everything to the status quo before you start the next task.
At the end of the day, if you can’t have anything put away then at least create a neat pile or two of your work. You’ll be amazed how different it makes you feel when you arrive for work the next day.
Connect with others
Social connection at work isn’t just an extra – it’s a necessity. Increased happiness, reduced stress and increased productivity are all the results of positive social connection at work.
Go beyond the cursory, “Hello,” and “How was your weekend?” and really connect with your colleagues. Listen to what’s going on in their lives and follow through by asking about it later. Then take the next step – organize lunchtime walks or shared potluck lunches. At my work, several of my colleagues are involved in Fitbit challenges. This creates a friendly competitive atmosphere and encourages physical exercise.
Nothing can make me hit the wall in the afternoon as much as not being hydrated. Drinking water on a consistent basis does come down to convenience. Ideally have a bottle which holds as much liquid as you want to drink during the day. I have two to three glasses of water in the morning when I wake up, and a couple at home in the evening, so 750ml to 1 litre is about right for me at work.
Keep your water bottle right next to you in plain sight. And when you feel tired, before you go for the coffee, knock some back.
Manage email effectively
Email is one of the largest contributors to workplace stress when it is not handled correctly. From the above, you’ll see that I make sure NOT to check my emails first thing in the morning. I only look at emails for the first time at 8.00am, where I have a ten minute break before my first meeting.
Checking your emails first thing is like someone else dictating what’s on your to-do list. When you read something that seems to require your immediate response, particularly if high emotion is involved, the temptation is to drop everything you had planned and deal with it. My mantra for this is Don’t let someone else’s emergency become your priority. A delay doesn’t hurt, and in fact many times can actually be beneficial as the upset person cannot sustain their emotion and tends to calm down.
I have set times a day I deal with email, spaced around early morning, lunch and afternoon. If you do anything on this list, make it the habit of chunking your email communication into blocks throughout the day.
To sum up
While we’re becoming increasingly aware of the importance of self-care in our daily lives, it’s not always true to say that that knowledge is carried over to the workplace. Yet for many of us, our workplace is where we spend the bulk of our waking hours. These six self-care strategies for workplace wellness: having a start-work ritual, setting your intentions, having a clear desk space, getting connected, drinking water, and managing your email, are positive, proactive places to start.
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