5 Tips on How to Make Time for Self-Care

By Liz Kauffelt and Dr. Michele Kerulis

We’ve seen a lot of different messages during this pandemic regarding how people think we should be spending our time, with one of the main themes being the promotion and encouragement of self-care. The pressure has been high to have a fitness transformation or to reorganize your entire home, as much of the country transitioned into remote working. These messages suggested that being inside our homes would magically provide us with all of this “extra time.” However, for most people, this was not the case. Many of us are dealing with jobs that never turn off and are helping children with remote education while also ensuring that we are safe and following precautions. Whatever your situation, if you’re looking for ways to win back time to indulge in something for yourself, here are some simple tips.

1. Reduce Time on Social Media

Yes, this is a common message, but it can’t be stressed enough. We may seem like we have it under control, and say, “I only open Instagram for a few minutes.” The truth is, time really stacks up and causes us to lose our focus. Multiple studies have shown that the average American spends over two hours daily on social media! Now, I’m not saying you need to get rid of it completely, but there are simple tricks to reduce time spent on social media:

  • Delete social media apps from your phone. You don’t need to erase your profile, but make it less accessible. Forcing yourself to type in the web browser will cause you to be more conscious about how often you are using social media.
  • Disable notifications. This includes notifications on your phone and notifications sent to emails. Take away the temptation to jump on.
  • Remove social media sites from bookmarks. Basically, do whatever you can to make social media less accessible.

You will be shocked by how much time this saves. I took all these measures midway through the week, and by the time I got that pesky screen time report, my social media usage had gone down over 50% in just four days. You may see other benefits. Less distraction will help you focus on a task and get items done more quickly. Additionally, your mental health might improve because you are not putting yourself at risk for comparisonitis.

2. Get Organized, Get Optimized, and Get Walking

Some people shy away from to-do lists, calendars, and planning because they don’t have time for yet another thing that will, well, take up time. However, if you have an idea of what needs to be done and when you have time to do it, you will be more efficient and optimize your tight schedule. 

Need to walk your dog, do the laundry, call your parents, and take out the trash? By seeing those to-dos on a list, you might realize, “I could throw in a load of laundry, grab the trash before taking out the dog, and call my parents while I’m on my walk.” This is just a simple example that illustrates how looking at these tasks can help you optimize them.

Also, let’s touch on the benefits of walking and talking. I often call friends and family, make appointments, or finally make an annoying but needed call to customer service while I’m walking my dog. Sometimes, I walk places instead of driving or taking public transportation so I can talk to someone or make an appointment with an added benefit of exercise. (Remember to be aware of your surroundings when you are walking and talking.)

3. Use Technology Where You Can

OK, yes, I just suggested cutting down the time you look at your screen. BUT, that was specific to time wasters. There are great apps and services that will help you cut down the time on tasks:

  • Order groceries online. FreshDirect, Amazon Prime, Instacart, and other local groceries deliver, often on the same day with little or no delivery fee. Most of these services make it easy to get a refund if produce or other perishables aren’t up to standards.
  • Schedule package pickups to your home. Save time heading to the post office and have USPS pick up for free at your home. Other carriers also have this option for a small fee.
  • There’s an app for that! For the to-dos I just mentioned, there are many apps to help you get organized, one of my favorites being Todoist. Ready to order groceries? Their apps make it easy to order and save your most frequently bought items. Also, if you haven’t jumped on the online banking train, now’s the time! Most banking apps allow you to deposit checks, transfer money, and pay bills in just minutes.

4. Make It Fun

Tasks will seem less daunting and you will be less inclined to procrastinate if you make it fun. Need to run some errands? Ask a friend to come! There are weeks that I am so swamped but need to get some friend or family time in, so we run errands together. This means we can spend time together and feel like we got something checked off the to-do list. Cleaning? Blast some music, a mindless TV show, a podcast, or an audiobook. Another idea is to make your to-do list fun! Pinterest has hundreds of ideas for colorful to-do lists, planners, and goal sheets. Having an aesthetically pleasing printout can give you a little more excitement when you check off your to-dos.

5. Ask for Help

When you feel overwhelmed or are just stuck on a task, reach out for help! There must be one thing on your list that someone can take off your plate for you. Review your to-do list and ask:

  • Can a roommate, friend, or family member pick up a task for you?  Maybe you can swap to-dos. Perhaps you each have items on your list that may be easier for the other person to accomplish, or maybe you just like doing better. Have a conversation with someone to see what tasks you can swap or share.
  • Do you have children that are old enough to take on some responsibilities in the household? This could be a chance to help build their independence by trusting them with an important task.
  • Can you delegate a task at work? I know the automatic answer is often “this is too important,” “no one else knows how to do it,” or “they won’t try as hard as me.” However, try to challenge yourself to let go, or give another colleague the opportunity to grow and learn. If you truly feel you just can’t let go, is there an opportunity to at least communicate obstacles and reset expectations for a new timeline?

Helping yourself get some time back is important for your overall mental health. If we feel less overwhelmed by the things we must do, then we can make more time for the things we want to do. Self-care doesn’t need to look like the messages we see about intense workout routines or immediately jumping into a daily meditation. Sometimes, all we want is 20 minutes back to read a book, sit in silence, or take our time showering and getting ready for the day. Whatever you choose as your self-care, you need to work on prioritizing it. If it’s hard for you to transition to that big of a change, then hopefully these are some helpful, simple ways to start you on a path to making more time for you.

Citation for this content: Northwestern University’s online Master of Arts in Counseling program.