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Me First

Don't let work and other obligations consume you-make yourself your number-one priority.

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Q: With my family and business obligations keeping me busy, I'm having a hard time finding any time for me. Do you have any suggestions?

A: This can be a common dilemma for people with lots of different interests, friends and family, and their own businesses to boot. So rest assured you're not the only person with this problem.

Over the past few years, there's been an increasing emphasis on "taking time for yourself" and giving yourself permission to get some rest and relaxation. Setting aside time for yourself doesn't mean being selfish. In fact, the argument goes that by giving yourself time away from your other commitments (including other people), you'll be able to give more to your family and business when you return.

Another way to think about it is this: Who looks after you if you don't? Seriously, think about it. If you don't take the time to look after yourself (in terms of things you do just for you), then do you really expect other people to make sure you do? That's unlikely for most people, unless you're very fortunate to have people like that in your life.

You sound as though you understand the importance of taking time to reconnect with yourself and your dreams, to step away from the hubbub of life and all its electronic immediacy, and to remove yourself from the all-encompassing suction power of your business.

The problem is how to put this plan into action. Here are a few tips:

  • Convince yourself that you're worth it. I know it sounds corny, but view yourself as one of the most important business assets you have-if you're not working at 100 percent, then neither is your business.
  • Teach your family and colleagues that you need your time alone. Let them know that it doesn't necessarily mean you don't love them anymore or need them any less. You just need a break. This also helps you act as a role model for others in effective stress management.
  • Make a formal appointment with yourself. Schedule your breaks in your work calendar. You schedule meetings with other people-why not schedule some with yourself? Writing your breaks in an appointment book makes them seem more formal, which reduces the chance that you'll break the appointments.
  • Make your time meaningful. It might be a walk around the block, getting a cup of coffee up the street-anything to remove you from your everyday stress monkeys and give you a break. Hanging around the office doing nothing in particular won't give you the same benefits as removing yourself from the environment.
  • It's OK to feel unproductive during your break. It's unlikely your business will fail while you're out for 15 or 30 minutes.

It may take some practice before you can take time for yourself without feeling as though you're slacking on your duties. But remember-who looks after you if you don't?

Elizabeth Inskip-Paulk has worked in the field of stress management and other health-related fields for more than seven years in both the public and the private sectors. She has a master's degree in English and has been freelance writing in her spare time for a number of years, which involves a significant amount of personal balancing. She tries to live what she teaches in terms of life/work balance (although it's not always an easy journey!). Elizabeth grew up in England, lives in Texas and now says "y'all" when necessary.

Note: This article originally appeared online in 2000.