One thing that I’ve noticed about a lot of up and coming writers is that we are so very, very busy. To take my own personal example, I work a full time job that takes up 45-50 hours a week, spend 2-3 hours a weeknight writing, and on my weekends spend 6 hours minimum (usually closer to 8 to 10) writing and editing. That leaves…just enough time to sleep, and maybe a little bit of socialization. For perspective, I’m in Minnesota for a friend’s wedding, and writing this blog post from a hotel room.
You know what that doesn’t leave a lot of time for?
Taking care of myself. And I know I’m not the only one. You don’t have to be a writer to know that life is busy. Parenting, for example, is a full time job that you rarely get a break from for 18 years. Maybe you work two or more jobs, or just have a life that leaves you so busy that you don’t have much time to do anything else. I’ve looked at tips to distress, and so many of them are things like “do yoga,” “go out to eat,” “read a book,” and while all those are good if they work for you, they take time I usually don’t have.
Here, then, are my top three things you can do for self-care that can fit into a busy schedule.
1) Take a shower
This is one of my personal favorites, and it’s extremely low effort. You get the water as hot as you are comfortable with, you step in, and you’re golden for five minutes. It’s calming and relaxing, it means the kids/pets/emails can’t get to you, and eliminates pretty much all distractions or annoyances. You can’t be thinking in the shower “I should have my laptop so I can get some work done,” because if you do you’re going to – best case scenario – ruin your laptop. Let’s not talk about the worst case scenario.
Electronics and water don’t mix.
Now, I can hear you already, because I’m great at reading the minds of people who say exactly what I want them to say to make a point: “taking a shower isn’t a quick thing. You’ve got to wash, dry your hair, dry off, pick out new clothes – it’s thirty minutes to an hour I’ve lost right there. More if my hair is long!”
That’s an excellent point, but you’re talking about a different kind of shower than what I’m thinking of. I’m not talking about the daily shower we all (hopefully) are taking to be clean, I’m talking about five minutes under hot water. You can tie your hair back to keep it dry, and just keep the water off the face and head. This isn’t about physical hygiene, it’s about mental hygiene.
It’s especially useful if you’re trying to think something through. 72% of people have their best ideas in the shower, and science will back me on that number. The isolation from distractions, the relaxation, all of it is amazing for clearing your mind and getting your creative juices flowing. I speak from personal experience here – when I first started writing Weird Theology, I had vague ideas that the main characters were some kind of aliens or something. It was in the shower where I went “What if they were gods?” which is the question that turned a short story into a full blown series of novels.
2) Schedule Breaks
This may sound counterintuitive, but hear me out – you breaks are often more relaxing if you have them as items schedule. It lets you feel like “Free time” is not time you are wasting, because you budgeted for it. You planned for it. You can take five minutes to play that game on your phone, because it’s scheduled break time and you’re not supposed to be working. I’m a big fan of the pomodoro technique, where you break your tasks into single discrete blocks – usually 25 minutes – separated by short breaks. (I tend to do them in 15 minute blocks, which I’ll explain below.)
It has two benefits – it means you are as efficient as possible during the 25 minutes you’re working, and it means that during the short breaks, you can do something that’s good for your mental health. If I’m at home, I take those times in between work sessions to play with my cat, because nothing is quite as much fun as watching him desperately try to disembowel a clump of feathers on a string. If I’m at work, I take those times to grab a snack or some water and catch up with coworkers. Find whatever works best for you, as long as you make sure those breaks are actually breaks.
For writers specifically, there’s a version of the pomodoro technique you might be familiar with – writing sprints. If you’re not familiar with writing sprints – short version is, they’re a short chunk of time where you write as fast as possible without editing, then take a break in between. If you want the longer version, I’m certain at some point I’ll do an entire post about why sprints are awesome.
Oh, and as an aside – if you’re like me and have to deal with ADHD, I’ve found that working in intervals like this actually helps me focus since it’s for a small chunk of time, so it’s nowhere near as taxing as trying to focus for 8 hours. That’s why I do shorter blocks – I’ve found that during longer ones, I lose focus part way through.
3) Find Relaxation During Low Brain Engagement Tasks
Again, this one might be a bit counterintuitive. But it’s possible to find time to relax while you’re doing things that are productive. Multitasking is a myth, and trying to truly multitask is a great way to stress yourself out and end up losing productivity. But if you can find a way to make your work time less stressful, it can become relaxing.
Yeah, I know, it’s confusing. Just stay with me.
Here’s some specific examples: if you don’t work from home, it’s impossible to get around the fact that you have to commute to work. Kate over at All the Trinkets has some great tips for finding relaxation during your daily commute. For me personally, I find listening to an audiobook while taking care of tasks like cleaning, trash, and all of that is a great way to fill the time. The trick is making sure you’re not engaging the same part of your brain for both work and relaxation. I’ve sorted everything I do on a 1-5 scale. At one is high energy, high mental activity tasks. During those the most I can have is some music, which is less for relaxation and more to drown out distractions. At five are things that are extremely low mental activity, like cleaning or formatting a document. These are things I can have a full on audiobook or podcast running in my ears and not lose productivity.
This has been great because it makes those little chores into something I don’t resent doing. I’m not going to lie and say they have become “Fun” or something I look forward to doing, because no, no I do not. No one looks forward to getting cat hair out of the drain. If anyone says they do, they are either a zen master of chores or a pod person. However, they are not things that I hate having to do anymore. They’re still annoying tasks, but they’re now also when I get to find out what indignities Kvoth suffers next on his road to becoming the Kingkiller (my guess is all of them). They are also when I get to hear what shenanigans Harry Dresden gets into this year (again, I’m guessing all of them). The tasks are no longer something to run from or to dread. They are just the entry fee I pay to enjoy some of my favorite stuff, and that is still some self care.
Anything you do for self care I haven’t mentioned? Let me know in the comments below! And if you haven’t yet, click here to join my mailing list and get your free book.