5 Ways I Focus on Self Care at Work

This is a post by Julie Ryan on Counting My Spoons.

My husband will probably be the first to tell you that I can be a bit of a workaholic. Add to that that my brain works under entrepreneur guidelines and that can be really bad. If you don’t know what I mean by that last bit, there’s a joke that says something like “entrepreneurs are the only people who will work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40”. It’s not a joke. I work best when I’m self-driven to meet my own goals rather than working to meet someone else’s. So, yes I’d rather work 80 hours a week for myself than 40 hours a week for someone else, even if it means making less money.



Unfortunately, living with a Fibromyalgia means that working 80 hours a week isn’t an option. It also means that working for someone else probably isn’t an option, so I have to find a balance. Self-care in the workplace means that I have to find that happy place where I can work for myself and make enough money to make it worthwhile, without working myself to death.  The last 5 years with chronic illness have taught me that I have to make some important choices when it comes to balancing work and life so that I can work and still have a life beyond work.

  • Set Limits – I recently took an entrepreneurial business class and when they asked me about my goals, I said something about being able to stop at 5pm when Paul comes home and only work 5 days a week. They looked at my like I was crazy.  For the most part they didn’t see that as a possibility, and while I know that starting a new business means working your butt off, I also know that you can set limits and that I have to if I want to succeed. So, while I do usually end up putting in some hours on the weekend, overall I work less than 40 hours a week. I stop working when (if not before) my husband gets home from work, and I don’t do any phone calls before 10am, which allows me to sleep a little later if I need to.
  • Take time for myself – Having the brain of a workaholic, I have to remember to take time for me – time to exercise, time to rest, time to enjoy life- even during the workday. I have to make myself get on the treadmill first thing in the morning because if I don’t, I’ll start working and never get on there. Regular exercise actually helps me focus better and get more done, plus it gives me more energy. I try to meet a friend for lunch at least once a week. This gets me out of my “office” (aka my recliner in the living room) and out of the house. If I let my workaholic brain control me I’d never leave the house during the day, I’d probably also never eat, or exercise.

The Health StoryLines app for my phone is helpful in reminding me to take time for me and the things I know i need to do – like exercise. I can set up a Daily Routine in the app and it will remind me to do things like exercise, or even stop and smell the roses… or for that matter stop working at a certain time.

  • Schedule my day – I had an interesting conversation with another business-person recently. They are on the other side of the world and we were trying to figure out when we could do a phone call. He was all for just turning on Skype and seeing when we crossed paths, but I knew that would never work for me. I have to schedule calls. I used to hate schedules before I got sick, but in the last few years I’ve learned that it’s not schedules I hate, it’s having to be on someone else’s schedule. These days I’ve found that I have to schedule pretty much everything, because if I don’t it either never happens or I get really stressed out worrying about how it will fit in my schedule. Having it on my calendar and scheduled makes me feel better, and ensures that things get done. Of course, living with Fibromyalgia means that sometimes I’m a flake and have to reschedule something, but it’s a lot easier to be prepared for something when you know it’s coming, than when it just randomly happens.
  • Use my To-Do List wisely – Speaking of having things on my calendar, I can’t live without my Google Tasks lists. I put everything on it, because if I don’t I will forget to do something. (Ah, the joy of Fibro Fog.) Funny, before Fibro I hated lists, and now I love them and have lists for everything and if I don’t write it on my list I can guarantee I will forget it. I put everything on my To Do because it ensures that I don’t over-extend myself. I try to limit my number of tasks to 4-5 per day. There are days when the list is longer because I have a number of tiny tasks that get added, but generally I stick with just a few tasks per day. A longer tasks list adds stress that I don’t need. I also try to balance the items on my list each day so that larger tasks are spread throughout the week.
  • Prioritize my work – Each evening I take a look at the “to do” list for the next day and try to prioritize it by putting a number next to each item. The item with the #1 should be done first, with the others to follow. This way if I run out of time or energy it’s the lower priority items that get shifted. I’ve also learned that the worst thing I can do is check my email first thing in the morning because doing so is the fastest way to make sure that nothing else gets done. So, I try to make sure I do at least the first item on my list before checking my email, or better yet wait till the end of the day of the day to check it.

Being able to continue working despite Fibromyalgia is important to me. I want to work for as long as I’m able, whether it’s just a few hours a week or full time. Doing what I love makes continuing to work a lot easier, because it doesn’t feel like work. Instead it feels like I get paid to do my favorite hobby. Even so, it’s important that I work wisely and that self care is just as big a part of my workday as it is my personal time. Making self care an important part of my workday allows me to be better able to enjoy my personal time, rather than working simply to spend the rest of my hours in pain or fatigued.