By Tasha James
From the moment we wake up, we often hit the ground running. We’re reading and responding to emails before we’ve even brushed our teeth, and we’re two Zoom meetings in before we’ve eaten breakfast. We aren’t prioritizing ourselves from the time we open our eyes, and it’s no wonder more of us aren’t “morning people.” No wonder we all crash by noon.
There’s a saying: “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” and yet many of us are trying to do just that. We want to maximize our days and ensure constant productivity but, how sustainable is that when we don’t prioritize even the most basic things for our own wellness? The balance between taking care and taking care of business lies solely within our ability to create and enforce healthy boundaries—but what does that look like, and how do we do it?
Many of us have an instinct to take care of others’ needs before our own, no matter what, because the validation we get from being seen as agreeable, flexible, or even nice is so ingrained in us. We all want to be liked and seen as valuable, but the cost is high. This is a lesson I learned the hard way after starting my own business almost ten years ago.
After suffering from massive burnout from always being available and putting “me time” on the back burner, it took a trip to the ER to truly understand that I needed to unlearn many of my behaviors—and quickly. Not giving myself boundaries when it came to a work-life balance felt passed on from generation to generation, becoming the norm without question.
Getting my mornings back was my first effort in drawing that line in the sand. I often thought that being a morning person would require me to wake up three hours earlier than everyone else so that I could eat breakfast or do some yoga, but what it actually required was the ability to tell others and, most importantly, myself, “No.” The thing is, none of my clients ever asked me to work on their projects before the sun came up, and no one asked me to roll over and check my phone before I’d gotten out of bed either. Yet, there I was: putting unnecessary pressure on myself and nurturing my attachment to being busy.
So, the first step to reclaiming the morning? Tell yourself that none of these things serve you the moment you open your eyes. You’ll have plenty of time later in your day to engage in responsibilities.
Take an inventory of what you need to do for yourself in the morning and write them down. These tasks don’t need to be complicated or aspirational—just think about what’s essential and what it would mean to get these things done before starting work on anything else. These should be non-negotiable moving forward. My entire routine in the morning takes about forty-five minutes, but it will be different for everyone, depending on what you need to do.
People-pleasing steals a lot of time from us in the long run. It’s one of those habits that feel so innocent until you sit and think about what it does—individually and culturally. Snapping yourself out of that place can be difficult, but here are a few things I do to make it easier:
- I restrict my work hours—this is especially important when you’re a business owner or freelancer. Business hours exist for a reason. If you are chronically overworked, it’s likely because your work hours lack structure. Adhering to a work schedule is going to make balancing the rest of your day so much easier.
- I restrict the access others have to me by choosing when I respond to texts or emails. Phones and laptops have skewed the perception of our availability. Unless you’re in the kind of field where you are on call 24/7, you are not on call 24/7. Meaning, work-related communication begins and ends at appropriate times of the day. If you need to, make it clear to your clients that your personal phone number is not for conducting business and direct them to where they can best reach you.
- I delegate where possible. The younger version of me used to pride herself on doing every single thing on her own, but I know now how important it is to trust tasks to other people who may be better suited to complete them. From splitting work tasks with your colleagues to splitting chores with your spouse or roommates—pass on what you do not have time for or what you cannot do on your own.
- I set (or reset) realistic expectations. This one is so helpful when it comes to timelines, as sometimes, we bite off more than we can chew. We all feel responsible for completing tasks in a specific timeframe, but when you consistently undersell the amount of time you need, you’re working against the clock to get it done. I find communicating upfront addresses expectations for all involved.
- I do not feel guilty for being selfish. Period.
If you’re afraid of coming across as “difficult” or being liked any less for having these boundaries in place, I actually think the opposite has happened. I’ve found that people take me more seriously, and across the board, I have better, more meaningful relationships because I have made it clear how much I value myself and my time.
Admittedly, it has taken me years to get here—but without a doubt, there hasn’t been a negative to doing so. What helped me the most was to implement a lot of these steps in phases. It’s not possible to change your habits overnight, but like anything else we do, repetition over a long period of time is going to produce the results you’re looking for.
This is why reclaiming your morning is so necessary: if you do not value your time when you’re “off the clock,” no one else will either. Every task the day has in store will always be waiting for you when you’re ready to take it on—at the very least, get suited up and fueled up first.
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