How to prioritize self-care, even if you don’t have time.

Before I took my month-long sabbatical in October of 2017, I would grimace at the thought of taking time out from work to do anything that involved self-care. It didn’t matter if those things would make me feel better, more inspired, or happier, I had to eek every ounce of productivity I could from the small amount of time I had without my daughter.

I would literally find myself getting angry if the dog needed to go outside and pee. How DARE she interrupt me when I was working. Don’t even get me started at how I would feel when my daughter decided not to nap in the afternoon.

And then, I stopped working for a month and filled my hours and days with the most luxurious self-care that I could think of. I scheduled massages. I went in for Reiki. I went to the library and took home stacks of books at a time. I went for long, leisurely walks with my dog. I painted. I spent hours writing down every single thing I was grateful for.

And in that time I noticed a few things.

  1. I felt better — physically, emotionally, mentally — than I had in years.
  2. The constant anger and resentment I had been feeling for the better part of the year simply disappeared.
  3. I had more energy.
  4. I felt more inspired and connected to the world around me.

When it was time for my sabbatical to come to an end, I found myself getting anxious. I didn’t want to give up the level of self-care that I had grown accustomed to. I knew that I had to figure out a way to make time for self-care alongside the work that I was doing.

The more I thought about how to make that work, and the more I began to take a long hard look at what I was spending my time on, I saw a few patterns.

First, I was wasting a LOT of time on social media. I would tell myself that it was a respite from the stress of dealing with a sassy three-nager (totally a thing). Or that I needed to be there for my businesses. Yeah, right.

When I signed off of social media for my sabbatical month, I realized just how much of a time suck it was. And I was able to fill that time with activities that actually brought me joy, like reading and painting. Those two things made me feel more energized and gave me a more impactful respite from the stresses of my day than social media ever did (or could).

Second, I realized that taking care of my whole being — mind, body, and soul — was non-negotiable if I wanted to be able to function at my best. How could I ever expect to be top of my game if I constantly felt run down, depleted, and bored? (Spoiler alert: I couldn’t.)

That meant that I needed to find a way to build in more regular self-care practices like massage, reiki, yoga, meditation, reading, gratitude journaling, tarot card pulling, automatic writing, and time spent outside.

In my excitement that first week of my sabbatical, I tried to cram every single thing into my day and it was … exhausting. Thankfully, I got the hint and decided that I could reach for one or two of those tools whenever I was needing a boost. Quality over quantity became my new mantra.

Third (and probably the most surprising), I began to notice where my energy leaks were and worked hard to plug them. That meant cleaning up my house, organizing my closet and letting go of clothing that didn’t excite me, tossing old makeup and keeping only what I used, and menu planning for a month at a time. Yes, the organizing and cleaning took time up front, but MAN did it make getting ready in the morning a heck of a lot easier. It also made me way more upbeat to live in an uncluttered space.

How to prioritize self care, even if you don't have the time.


  1. Get off social media. Or at the very least cut back on the amount of time spent on your phone. Even 10 minutes less a day opens up time for things like reading, meditating, deep breathing, and yoga.
  2. Make self-care non-negotiable. You don’t have to be like me and do all the things all the time. Remember, quality of quantity here. If it helps, come up with a list of things that make you feel good, give you energy, and/or leave you feeling inspired. And when you’re starting to feel like you’re running on fumes, pick something on your list and give it a go.
  3. Plug up your energy leaks. It could be social media, it could be a disorganized home or closet, or it could be having too many commitments on your calendar. Whatever they are, you deserve to spend your (limited) time on this earth doing things that make you happy.

And if you still feel like you just can’t find the time in your busy schedule, here are some additional ideas (and resources) to help you make the time:

  1. Buddy up. As in, pair the thing you want to do with something else that you’re already doing. When you walk from your bed to your shower or your kids room, think of something you’re grateful for with each step. When you eat breakfast, make a point to chew slowly and taste your food. While showering, do a forgiveness ritual and allow that energy to be washed away. Pop in an audio book or fire up a podcast while driving (or walking) to work. Whatever your goal is, find a way to pair it with something you’re already doing.
  2. Do a 1-minute meditation. Even the busiest among us can find 60 measly seconds in their day take a deep breath and focus the mind. Mediations that have you focusing on your breath or the 4-7-8 technique courtesy of Dr. Andrew Weil would be optimal here. And if you’re feeling brave, you could read a passage from a book like Simple Abundance* or Journey to the Heart*.
  3. Discover the 7-minute workout. Who knew that you could get a full body workout completed in under 10 minutes?! Hey, it’s backed by science. So who am I to dispute it? I discovered the 7-minute workout when my daughter was a wee babe and I barely had enough time to shower or eat. There are plenty of apps to choose from, so you really have no excuse.
  4. The 6-minute Miracle Morning. When I was peak exhausted and sleep deprived because of a newborn who woke up every 3 hours to nurse and thought 3:30 AM was a perfectly good time to get up for the day, I read The Miracle Morning* by Hal Elrod. Not one to let something like exhaustion get in the way of being my best self, I really wanted to give it a go. Buuuut, I’m also a realist and knew that I wouldn’t be able to carve out an entire hour for myself each morning. Enter in the 6-minute Miracle Morning. Even could find the time to do that.
  5. Anchor your day in gratitude. One of the simplest ways to feel better is to write down something you’re grateful for. Keep a note on your phone or a journal on your nightstand and make a point to write down 1-3 things each day that put a smile on your face. The more specific you can get, the better.
Taking care of your whole being — mind, body, and soul — is non-negotiable if you want to be able to function at your best.

*These are affiliate links.

More about Emily Levenson

Emily Levenson is a therapist turned holistic health coach, podcaster, meditation encourager, and seeker of everyday magic. Emily recently kicked off her third #The100DayProject, focusing her efforts on daily meditation.

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