In the first few years of my career, I have come to realize how easy it is to become fully immersed in the demands of work. Driven by the desire to effectively lead the students I work with, I find my brain continues to work on problems even long after my meetings end. Like so many young adults, I believe a large portion of my identity is tied to my work. With this, I often find myself willingly sacrificing time above and beyond what is expected of me.
However, with the pressure of endless projects and possibilities swirling around me, I have also come to learn the value of capturing moments throughout the day for myself. On any given day, we all experience different levels of stress based on our internal state and external circumstances. Societal norms would tell us to leave these factors at the office door and not let them affect our performance. While this may be possible for some, I know that attempting to ignore what is happening in my life will only hinder my ability to focus clearly.
Instead, I take time to bring awareness to the things I am bringing with me to work each day. Some days it’s a lack of energy and motivation. Other times it’s physical aches or sore muscles. The hurt of a friend or family member. All of these elements vie for my attention. Although I could just push them aside until the weekend, here are a few ways I have learned to create space for myself throughout the day:
- Honor the first hour. I am by no means a morning person. Given the luxury, I would sleep until noon. However, I recognize the work day does not have to begin as soon as I get out of bed. Instead of checking email or thinking about my to-do list when I wake up, I take captive the first hour of the day for myself.
- Utilize my “Einstein hours.” Everyone experiences a point in the day where they feel at their best. For some, it’s the early morning. For some, it does not come until late at night. Either way, this is usually the peak of productivity for the day. By saving certain tasks until these hours, I allow myself to reach maximum focus and produce some of my best work.
- Check in with my body. So many factors affect the way we think and feel each day. However, I believe it is so important to listen to the cues our bodies give us. Instead of taking the mentality of “pushing through,” surviving on willpower and coffee alone, I pause in these moments. I take a walk or stretch different key muscle groups. I grab an extra snack or close my eyes for a few moments. These are routine habits that power my day.
- Trade distractions for encouragements. Many of our spare minutes throughout the day fall captive to distractions such as daydreaming, social media, or side conversations with those around us. Instead of turning to these, I have a go-to list of activities that will lift my mood and help me feel refreshed. These include listening to a favorite song, getting outside in the sun, or reading a few pages from a motivational book.
If you find yourself becoming immersed in your work, it is my hope that you would find new ways to create space for yourself throughout the day. Our identity stems from so much more than what we produce each day. Allow yourself a few moments to unapologetically focus on yourself. Quiet any feelings of guilt or worry that tell you work must always be first in your day. Your health, your values, and your relationships also deserve time, attention, and care.