what does self-care look like at work?

A reader writes:

I’ve been working through some significant program transitions and expansion as a manager at a basic needs nonprofit. The need, as you certainly know, continues to grow, and we’re feeling it exponentially. My boss asked me what my strategies for caring for myself at work were, and I realized that I don’t even really know what that entails!

I understand how to care for myself in my personal life, etc., but that kind of thing in a work setting doesn’t feel intuitive. I’m wondering if you might be able to talk more about what self-care and recuperation can look like in the office.

The big ones are boundaries and time off. It’s stuff like:

•  Disconnecting from work on a regular basis, and not checking email and messages once you leave for the night or over the weekend. If you have a job that requires you to do some of that, you should be very disciplined about not doing it whenever you don’t absolutely have to. When you have a job that requires long hours, it can be easy to get into the habit of checking/responding to email even when you don’t need to … but it’s hugely important to give yourself large chunks of time when you’re not thinking about work, even if you think you don’t mind. You should mind, because over time that cumulative “always on” feeling will take a toll.

•  Taking real time off, preferably in big blocks like a full week or a full two weeks and not just a day here and a day there. For a lot of people, it takes a few days to fully disconnect mentally, and then your vacation is over as soon as you’ve managed to do that. And make sure it’s clear you shouldn’t be contacted while you’re away.

•  When you have a full workload, being assertive about saying no to projects unless something else comes off your plate or gets pushed back.

•  Carving out time at work where you can just think. If every minute of your work day is allocated to specific tasks, you’re much less likely to come up with new ideas and better approaches, more likely to miss things like “project X isn’t paying the same same dividends it used to,” and more likely to feel drained and exhausted all the time. Ensure your weeks (or at least your months) contain some space to just think.

Beyond that, the answer depends on what you personally find valuable. It might be stuff like making time to take a walk outside every day, or ensuring you eat a healthy lunch away from your computer, or being more deliberate about recognizing your own progress and accomplishments. But very few of those smaller tactics will be enough if you don’t tackle the big ones above.

{ 222 comments… read them below }

  1. The Original K.*

    I had two weeks off for what I think is the first time in my adult life (and it wasn’t vacation), where absolutely nothing was required of me, and it was *glorious.* In my next role I’d love to work somewhere where taking two-week vacations is possible. I took 10 days once for an international trip but I haven’t taken a two-week vacation since childhood, not for lack of interest but because it’s Not Done where I’ve worked, even in places that provide ample PTO.

    1. Minerva*

      I wish it was socially acceptable in the US to take a block of 2 weeks off annually. Of course seeing as how 2-3 weeks PTO is standard here, and often doubles as sick time, it’s extra hard to take that block.

      And you are right that even in places that provide ample PTO you get a side eye if you try use more than a week. I have a generous PTO allotment by US standards and the one time I took 2.5 weeks was for Big Trip to Belgium and Italy to Celebrate Finishing Grad School and still got snark from the manager that approved it and comments about how they only did it because it was an “Occasion”

      1. snarkfox*

        I’m somewhat lucky where I work because I can pretty much take off as much as I want, within reason. I took a 2-week block off to travel internationally earlier this year. The downside is… I only have 10 days combined sick/vacation days, so my travels used all of it. Now I just have to hope I don’t get sick for the rest of the year!

      2. The Original K.*

        When I was a kid we took two-week family summer vacations, but I truly have never had one as an adult. I’ve worked in two places that close the week between Christmas and New Year’s but people very rarely took off a full week before that break. My current employer’s request system will not allow you to ask for more than exactly two weeks – you’ll get an error message.

        I had a boss who was in a “use it or lose it” situation with PTO and he didn’t realize how much he had to use, so he ended up basically taking off the last three weeks in December. He was senior enough that he could do that (and he still checked in periodically). The rest of us would have just lost some of the time.

      3. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I worked at a place where people typically only took one week, but I was able to make a case for two weeks right at the sweet part of my year for doing so. I laid out for the boss that once I had submitted everything for fiscal year-end on June 30, that there was a lull for a couple of weeks while the accountants processed and reconciled it all, and other boring details in support of taking two weeks at that slow point in the year. It was annoying that I had to campaign for that, but it worked out so well that I just had a standing two week vacation for the first two weeks of July for the rest of my time at that job. I wish we would normalize taking two weeks at once.

        1. Sally*

          Me, too! My manager took two weeks off this summer, so it might be more acceptable at this job than at previous jobs (I’m in the U.S.).

          Back in the day, I worked at a bank, and the VPs (and probably others who had access to accounts) were required to take two weeks off per year. It’s to discourage (or discover) fraud or embezzling, and I assume it’s the case at a lot of types of financial institutions. Makes it easy to take two weeks off without it being a big deal. That was my first job in an office setting, and I wasn’t one of the mandatory two-weeks-off people, unfortunately.

          1. Kacihall*

            most banks I’ve worked for had a mandatory full week off for EVERYONE. which kind of sucked as an entry level teller who only got like 8 days of PTO.

      4. Cal B*

        This is crazy to read as an Australian! By law we have 20 paid annual leave days and 10 paid sick days plus 11 paid public holidays – so effectively 8+ weeks off paid a year. In addition to this you get 6 weeks “long service leave” after 7 years with one employer (or in some cases just in the same industry such as construction).
        I’ve never worked in a business here where taking 2 weeks off is frowned upon – and as a boss now I actively encourage staff to use every day they have available to them. We work in what can be quite an exhausting industry at times (tax) and time off to recharge is vital to work at our best while we are on board.
        I’d certainly rather have refreshed staff working at peak for 40 weeks a year, than a tired and unproductive team clocked in for 52 weeks.

        1. BasketcaseNZ*

          Yeah, as a NZ’er, and even though I’m contracting so don’t get paid leave, anything more than a week being a big deal is just so far out of my experience I just can’t fathom it.
          I’m taking all of January (school summer holidays) off this year, because work will be super quiet at my current contract, after taking the coming October school holidays off, and absolutely no-one is batting an eye.

        2. Baroness Schraeder*

          Another New Zealander here. Agree that this all sounds crazy. You’d be hard-pressed to find any office workers at their desk in the first few weeks of January here. Many people disappear at Christmas and don’t come back for at least 3 weeks if not longer. And then if you play your cards right you can ease slowly back into the routine with a few 4-day weeks thanks to a bunch of national and regional holidays in late Jan/early Feb. It’s perfectly normal to have an extended break over Easter/Anzac Day and then another few weeks off in midwinter too. I feel very lucky after reading some of these comments!

        3. allathian*

          Yeah, as a Finn I agree with you. I work for the government, and it’s stipulated in our collective agreement that each employee must take at least 2 weeks in succession once a year. Most people take a month of in the summer, a week off in the winter, and there’s still enough PTO to take a few days off here and there, in addition to a generous sick leave policy. In most cases if you get sick just before a scheduled vacation, you get to postpone the vacation, because the idea is that you’re sick on company time rather than your own. Although if you get sick in the middle of your long vacation in the summer, then you don’t get to interrupt your vacation.

          Of course, I’m particularly fortunate because I work in the public sector. But even my husband who works in the corporate sector gets 4 weeks off in the summer and one week off in the winter. That said, people who work temp jobs or for the gig economy aren’t as lucky.

          I’m just grateful that I get to completely disengage from my job for a month every year.

          I hope Alison allows this thread to stand. Obviously US readers have to deal with a different set of conditions than non-US readers do, but I think that in this case, our perspective is equally valid.

        4. Dennis Feinstein*

          Another Aussie here!
          No one would bat an eye at an Aussie having 2 weeks off.
          It’s quite common for people to take the school holidays off (eg the kids are having 2 weeks off starting today).
          + because Australia is a) so big & b) so far away from everywhere else, it’s just not realistic to only have a week off if you want to travel anywhere.
          Also, it’s a requirement for employees of financial institutions to take time off so they can’t run scams etc.
          It’s just crazypants that our American friends cannot take a decent amount of time off without getting side-eye.

      5. Lizzianna*

        I feel really lucky that at my agency, this is the norm, especially in our slow season.

        You’d get side-eye if you took 3 weeks off in the middle of the summer (our busy season), but no one bats an eye when people turn on their OOO the first week of December and don’t turn it back on until the New Year. Granted, to have that much leave, you have to have earned a huge amount of comp time, so the attitude is, if you earned it, you should take it.

      6. Books and Cooks*

        I have never heard that it is socially unacceptable to take a two-week vacation every year in the US?

        1. Daisy*

          It really depends on your employer. Mine is wonderful, and encourages folks to take their vacation time (tracked separately from sick leave), starts at 2 weeks of vacation per year plus 7 standard holidays, and vacation time increases with seniority up to 5 weeks at 10 years with the company. We can roll over up to 200 hours from year to year which helps those who have family in other countries or like to travel internationally.

          My friend works for a doctor and only gets two weeks of vacation/1 week sick leave despite working there for more than a decade, and one of those vacation weeks is mandatory to be the week Doc is on his own vacation and they close the office. She really likes her coworkers, so doesn’t want to leave but it puts her in a pinch sometimes.

          1. Lizzie*

            Mine is also pretty good, and I have a ton of PTO due to being here forever, as well as a generous carry over policy. This year i had 8+weeks. Of which I will carry over one, and possibly two full weeks. or one and part of a second. I’ve taken 2 weeks off before, and its really not an issue, as long as its communicated ahead of time (we don’t need to have it approved) and doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s time off.

        2. urguncle*

          I’ve worked for places that will require upper-level management sign off to take more than 5 days of PTO in a row, even if it’s planned in advance. A former employer of mine changed hands near the end of my tenure and instituted this policy. A few weeks after I left, I heard my manager left abruptly because they rescinded a 2 week vacation that she had put in for months before, so she waited until the day before her vacation and walked out.

        3. Clisby*

          I haven’t either, unless you don’t actually have two weeks’ worth of days accrued. I’ve mostly worked at places where you can carry over at least some unused vacation. I once worked with an Australian co-worker, and my husband had several Indian/Chinese co-workers. It was pretty common for them to carry over enough that they could take a month to go home (from the US) every other year.

      7. amoeba*

        Yeah, it really is so nice to be able to take vacation without stressing about it because it’s just the normal and expected thing to do.
        I’ve always worked in Europe, so *officially* always had five to six weeks vacation, but then I was working in Academia as a PhD student and then postdoc for most of the past decade – and of course there’s always the nagging “but my thesis!” in the back of your head. Doesn’t really help to go away for three weeks and then have to work extra all of your weekends to finish before the funding runs out!

        So changing to my first “real” job in Industry, where basically everybody leaves for 2+ weeks in summer (taking to weeks at some point during the year is actually required by the company) was certainly life-changing. And the great thing is that everybody will be on holiday, anyway, so it’s not like you’ll miss much – the summer is pretty slow around here. And when you’re back, you can catch up and not be overwhelmed because, well, a lot of colleagues will still be on vacation, so still fewer meetings and emails!

        Another thing I love here is that we just get random additional days off – like 3-5 per year or so, the company decides at the beginning of the year. So, for instance, the day before or after a public holiday, making it a four day weekend. Was always hesitant before to “waste” a day off on those, but now you just get them. (To be fair, we get five days of PTO less than was the standard in my home country, so it probably kind of evens out in the end. But still a nice feeling.)

      8. Burger Bob*

        I tend to take two weeks in a row off each year. It really is relaxing. The trick though is having enough PTO to be able to do that in the first place. I have been with my current company long enough that I have 3 weeks off each year (6 more years til I get 4 weeks a year), and that is genuinely one of the reasons I haven’t really bothered looking for employment elsewhere. The salary could potentially be better, but I won’t start out with this much vacation time at a new place.

    2. hamsterpants*

      I took two weeks last Christmas and honestly was life changing. I got to be a person I didn’t know existed.

      1. The Real Fran Fine*

        The year before last (and the one prior to that), I did the same thing, and it was glorious. I’m planning to do that again this year unless something crazy happens.

      2. Lizzie*

        I have never been able to do this, BUT a few years back I started taking the week right after New Years and I love it. everyone is back to work, school, etc. so when you go out to run errands etc. its not as crowded. I also use that time to get in aol my appts, etc.

    3. Blynn*

      One of my favorite things about my current employer is they have a pretty good PTO offering for the US (17 days to start, 22 days after five years, plus five sick days) and they expect people to use it. Several coworkers of mine were born outside the US and they’re able to take extended vacations and visit their families for two or three weeks at a time each year. It makes me really happy.

    4. mlem*

      One of the things my company gets right is time off. I can’t speak to how easy it is to use in the more client-facing positions, but the official company policy is that you can use up to two weeks of PTO as a “normal” thing. (Anything over two weeks requires director-level sign-off. Some folks in my group have used that for international family commitments, so while it’s an annoyance, it’s still possible.) We get a generous, separate sick-time bank in addition to six federal holidays and a *lot* of PTO in US terms.

      I’m taking two weeks off in the middle of October, just for the sake of not-working for that long, and I can’t wait!

      1. mlem*

        *You can use two weeks consecutive without needing sign-off, I mean. Even new hires get more than two weeks of PTO over the course of the year.

    5. Polly Gone*

      I’ve only taken a two-week block off twice. The first time it was glorious, especially since the second week was just me (rented a beach house, sent the husband and kids back home after the first week). The second time it didn’t work out as planned. My mom ended up having heart surgery and the second week was spent at the hospital with her.

      I hope I’ll get to take that two-week block off again before I retire…

      1. Sally*

        I used to work at a bank, and people who had access to accounts were required to take 2 weeks in a row off. I don’t remember if this was annually or semi-annually. It’s meant to prevent fraud/embezzling, on the theory that anything untoward will be discovered if the person is not able to access banking systems for a full 2 weeks.

    6. Free Meerkats*

      You people are all working at the wrong places. In my 31 years here, I’ve taken two vacations that lasted a month, extended bereavement leave for almost a month last year (all but 3 days was vacation time), just got back from a 2 1/2 week vacation that was approved for 3, and have probably taken a 2 week vacation at least biannually.

      Yeah, government work comes with its own problems, but being to take time off isn’t one of them.

      1. Bob Loblaw*

        Oh, man, I feel this. I took three five week vacations while in government. I also took a major trip (10-20 days) every year or two, and did not take a work device. I should mention that I was a litigator (a job with a punishing schedule and not a lot of control). But vacation was deemed necessary to survival, so we would “watch each other’s cases.” A friend once had to write an emergency motion for me. He got a very nice gift upon my return. The five week vacations were all after finishing up details/secondments, so I had no workload yet at my “real” job to worry about.

      2. All Het Up About It*

        Our State Government is not that generous. The lifers and long-haul individuals have usually built up extensive banks of time, but newbies have to wait several years before they start earning anything more than just standard two weeks off. And it’s very agency, or even department dependent on if you actually get to TAKE that time.

    7. Jay*

      I took my first two-week vacation in 2015 for a 30th anniversary trip to Europe. My boss approved it without much comment, which surprised me because he never took more than a week each year although we had 20 days of PTO, 5 days of educational time, and additional sick time. Of course, we also worked 12 days straight every three weeks, so…

      anyway, I went and had a great time, and once I came back that relationship was never the same. A year later he maneuvered me out of my job. He did the same thing to the other woman in the department after she took three months of mat leave (again, this was a benefit the organization offered).

      So in my next job I was understandably hesitant to ask for anything more than the standard one week. I scheduled a week off in July of 2021 and then my husband was invited to a conference the following week in one of my favorite places, which was a short plane ride from where we planned to go. I said I wished I could go with him. He said “So come with me!” I thought “I can’t do that” and then remembered that my boss and grandboss had each taken two-week vacations. So I asked and he said “sure!” That second week was one of the best of my life because I got to do exactly what I wanted to do in one of the most gorgeous places I know. It was heaven. And my boss was delighted for me. SUCH A DIFFERENCE.

    8. Miao*

      Try working for companies who have their actual (not just the for tax purposes) head office in Europe. They generally are more understanding of the fact that work is just -you know – work.

  2. Thistle Pie*

    One thing that I’ve only recently realized has made a big impact on my stress level is giving myself time to think things over without a commitment. I’ve started telling people “thank you for thinking of me for this opportunity, do you mind if I think it over?” when they ask me to do something. I try to do this because I’ll often get excited about an opportunity and commit to itbut not think through all of the requirements or repercussions of it, leaving me stressed out.

    Another thing could be if there are things in your physical environment you could change or replace which would make you more comfortable. A new chair, a lamp instead of overhead lighting, a sit-stand desk, whatever!

    1. Banananaan*

      Both of these! In particular, I recently started a WFH position with a huge raise. I used a little of the extra money to buy the good notebooks and pens I wanted, plus cute storage. Making a place where I’m happy to work has made a big difference.

      1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

        I did the same. $15 for a notebook is crazy, but it’s pretty and I love it.

    2. bamcheeks*

      I’m trying to get my partner tk get better at this! Her career so far has been lots of, “say yes to stuff because I’m flattered and what if you don’t ask again” -> get overwhelmed -> miss opportunities she’d actually have preferred because she’s overwhelmed -> drought -> return to start”. I keep pointing out that there will always be more offers than time to do them all, and “do I WANT to do this” is a much better metric than FOMO.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        This is so important. I am a part-time musician and it’s really easy to fall into the “flattery” trap. I had an older colleague say something once about how she finally realized that she didn’t have to say yes to playing a gig she was offered just because she was flattered they offered it to her. It was eye-opening for me. And also now that so many of my music gigs are offered via email rather than phone calls, it’s really easy for me to take some time to think about whether I want the job before I immediately respond YES PLEASE. I only respond yes immediately to gigs I’m 100% sure of and otherwise nowadays I wait overnight before responding. I also know some musicians who think if they turn down a gig offer then that person won’t offer anything to them ever again, but that seems to rarely be the case (for me, anyway).

    3. Jay*

      Both of these. In late 2020 I finally gave myself permission to ditch the makeshift IKEA furniture in my home office. I got a really good chair, a sit-stand desk, and a set of lovely light wood bookcases that fit perfectly under the windows and are deep enough to have useful shelf space for other things in addition to the books. I set up some of my favorite tchotchkes on the top of the bookcases and bought a monitor stand for the desk that’s actually elegant. I really really love that room now.

  3. Judge Judy and Executioner*

    Some of my coworkers block off their calendar all day Friday for “no meeting Fridays”. I’ve also seen people block their lunches so they can step away from their computer and not get roped into a meeting.

    1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I find it very annoying when people schedule meetings during the lunch hour. Most things can be addressed the next day or two.

      1. Captain+dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        With the obligatory “apologies for the meeting time, this was the only slot where everyone was free” – (can’t think why!)

        1. J!*

          I have a coworker who loves to do the Friday at 4pm meeting for the same reason and it’s like, I don’t know how much brainpower you think I have for an hourlong meeting at the end of the day, at the end of the week, but you need to be realistic about what you’re expecting from people.

          1. Judge Judy and Executioner*

            There was a person who did this at my job until he got a new boss. New boss prohibited him from scheduling Friday afternoon meetings and everyone was so happy.

          2. Doris Thatcher*

            I had a manager who scheduled a regular meeting first thing Monday morning, and I feel the same way about that. Many people I work with are typically responding to emails and any emergencies that have come up over the weekend, or generally just planning their week while shaking off the weekend and getting on track. It was a chore, and I regularly found it completely threw off the rest of my day or at least a large part of it.

        2. just some guy*

          In my old work they scheduled a presentation on mental health self-care during lunch hours for that exact reason. Part of the advice in the presentation was on the importance of taking breaks :-(

        1. Judge Judy and Executioner*

          If someone wants me for a noon meeting I expect to be fed or that we will be walking to a nearby restaurant!

      2. GlitterIsEverything*

        I work in the medical field. Because many of our meetings involve people with clinical jobs, our choices are to meet before clinic, at lunch, or after clinic. A meeting during clinic hours means people are being pulled from their primary job description, leaving others to take up the slack.

    2. Caramel and Cheddar*

      Blocking your calendar is a must. Block off lunch. If you hate meetings first thing in the morning, block off the first hour of your day every single day. If you hate meetings late in the day, same thing. Claw back your time by whatever means necessary.

      1. Jj*

        Also – if you are a manger, sit down and do this with your staff members. I’ve had new staff literally gush with thanks for helping them set that expectation early.

      2. TechWorker*

        …but be aware of restrictions on your team. We work with folks in another timezone so ‘no meetings in the last hour of the day’ is basically then impossible to get everyone in the meeting within their working day. There’s asserting boundaries and there’s ‘what’s required for the job’ and they do sometimes conflict!

        (I’m all down for no meetings during lunch!!)

        1. bookworm*

          Except the same problem can happen with lunchtime if you’ve got team members in different time zones. I used to work on a team with staff in eastern, central, and pacific time, and if you exclude pre 9 am Pacific times, post 5pm Eastern times, and noon-1 in Eastern, Central, and Pacific time, you’re left with being able to meet between 2-3 or 4-5 Eastern– and that’s before accounting for, for example, people who need to leave early to pick up a kid. It’s nice to avoid lunch meetings when possible, but it’s likely inevitable that people are going to have to either be flexible about when they take lunch, or eat during meetings.

        2. AcademiaNut*

          This is the reality of working internationally. I get a lot of meetings at 4pm because during daylight savings that’s the only time that’s in regular office hours for East Asian and Europe – if we don’t do it then, either I stay even later, or my colleagues have to arrive at work earlier. I get regular (about once a week) meetings at 7 am or 9 pm – it’s not great, but at least I’m not one of the people who had to get up at 1 or 4 am. In one project we rotate between three different meeting times, so it’s not always the same people who suffer, so if you can’t attend at 3am, you can attend 2/3 meetings. If I’m remotely attending a conference based in a different part of the I end up with jet lag without the plane travel.

          My solution for lunch meetings, which I also dislike, is to attend the meeting and take my lunch break afterwards. If lunch is served at the meeting, I still take half an hour after and go for a brisk walk outside if the weather cooperates, or stretch inside. If I work straight through, I’m less productive near the end of the day.

      3. Judge Judy and Executioner*

        I block off my calendar for focus time everyday 8-9. NO MORE 8AM MEETINGS! It has changed my life for the better!

      4. just some guy*

        One trick I used to use at OldWork was to schedule meetings starting on the quarter-hour or three-quarter-hour. Everybody else scheduled them on the hour or half-hour, usually in blocks of 30 minutes, so my timing made it harder to schedule me into back-to-back meetings. Having that 15 minutes breathing space between things made such a difference.

        (I guess I could just have blocked out the 15-minute spaces as separate appointments, but somehow I felt less comfortable with doing that.)

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I don’t mind meetings on Fridays but recently my boss mentioned that she doesn’t like them and I told her I really appreciate that about her. She doesn’t block off her calendar for them but given that almost all of our org’s meetings happen T-Th, it’s rare that someone will schedule an internal meeting on a Friday and whenever an outside person asks to schedule something, she will almost immediately request a day other than a Friday. I love my boss and my job.

    4. Ama*

      I started doing this a few years ago for “Admin Thursdays.” The work I do requires at least 8 hours of heads down time a week to stay on top of ongoing issues, making sure things are properly logged in our systems, and checking over contracts and other paperwork — as I moved up the management ladder I found myself with more and more meeting requests and sometimes I’d go 2-3 weeks without being able to get a substantial amount of admin done. I will agree to a Thursday meeting if it’s really important or involves someone who can’t make any other day but at least with the block I get asked first instead of my colleagues just assuming I’m not busy because I don’t have the time blocked.

      When I know I have a particularly intense admin deadline coming I’ll sometimes block off additional days, but most of the time one day a week at least allows me to get enough done that I can keep up with things.

    5. amoeba*

      Blocking the lunch hour would not work here as we regularly use Outlook to send people lunch invites! (Some of them might actually be working lunches, but mostly just catching up/chatting with colleagues you don’t see every day – it’s a very common thing here).

      But at least the people in the same time zone as me generally know and I’m very happy to otherwise decline the invite/ask them to move it because it’s during lunch. (Important meetings with lots of people etc. aside, of course. But that happens maybe once every few months.)

    6. ArtK*

      I’ve blocked both the lunch hour and Friday. IBM used to call it “THINK Friday.” My current company uses a product called Clockwise which integrates with the calendar and Slack. I can tell it that I want “Focus Time” and it schedules it on my calendar. Same with lunch. It also handles meetings that can float, like 1:1 with my boss.

  4. Anya*

    This is such a great topic, I had to write it down and will make it a topic of discussion in my next team meeting. Thank you for inspiring me on conversation topics to keep them engaged :)

    1. ferrina*

      Yes! Thank you to Alison for answering this. And what a great answer- I love this so much. She so neatly identified what I’ve seen in healthy teams vs unhealthy teams (who do the opposite of all this). What great insight!!

  5. Not A Girl Boss*

    “Beyond that, the answer depends on what you personally find valuable.” I like this.
    I had a job that had no work-life balance, I really had to be onsite long enough to have meaningful interaction with all 3 shifts (so usually 6am-6pm and some time on the weekends). I was getting really resentful and bogged down over it. Finally I made a list of the things I missed most about my life ‘before’ this job, and made a plan to take back the top 3.
    1) I missed exercise. So I blocked my schedule to take a full 2 hours in the middle of my day to go to the gym.
    2) I missed lazy Sundays. So Sunday became my non-negotiable day. My husband took my phone away from me Saturday night, and didn’t give it back until Sunday afternoon. We established a tradition of eating a chocolate croissant and drinking coffee together every Sunday morning, after I had slept in a few hours.
    3) I missed vacations. I sat down at the beginning of the year and blocked out 2 week-long vacations so far in advance that there was absolutely no reasonable reason for me to feel weird about taking them when the time came.

    1. WillowSunstar*

      Hourly people aren’t going to be able to block off 2 hours to exercise, unless it’s before (shudder) or after work. I exercise on my lunch break sometimes.

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        But that was in her top 3 and her schedule had her working long hours so it was possible.
        The point is not to also block of 2 hours for exercise during the day, it is to list what is important to you and look for a way to make it happen.

      2. Lenora Rose*

        No, but the underlying technique – figure out what you miss / care about and find a way to prioritize – is sound. I can’t take time off in the middle of the day to exercise, but I’m also not working “long hours”, which I assume means 8 or 9 at night, so I don’t have a reason to need to block time off in the same way. I can exercise in the evening.

      3. amoeba*

        Depends on you schedule/your organsation, I guess? In theory, there’s nothing that inherently prevents having a 2 h block in the middle of the day (like a very long lunch break, basically) as long as you’re tracking your hours correctly, is there?

        And if you actually have to be on site both at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. in order to interact with specific people, this actually sounds like it might make a lot of sense, would also prevent your employer from having to pay you overtime every single day, no?

        1. WillowSunstar*

          Depends on the company I guess, but as an hourly worker, I only get 30 – 60 minutes for lunch. We are prohibited from taking longer. This may just be a US thing, not sure as I have never worked anywhere else.

      4. Not A Girl Boss*

        In this case, I was salaried and routinely working 12+ hour days (and weekends) just to make the scheduled on-site time requirements of the job work. So, I had the opportunity to make the weird schedule work for me and get a lovely chunk of time in the middle of the day to do something important to me.
        Obviously, it doesn’t work in every situation – I had to give up my 2 hour lunch breaks once I moved to a job with a more standard 8-5 schedule.

        If I WAS hourly, I would have been making a lot more money in overtime, so much money that my company would probably not have asked me to work such weird hours, and would have hired 2 people to do my job instead, because it would have been more cost-beneficial for them.

    2. Lady_Lessa*

      I agree with you about Sundays. Even though it is not enough to change anything, I have a personal rule about them. No shopping on Sundays. Exceptions are craft fairs/ethnic festivals and I will allow myself to buy gas on Sundays, but only at a self service pump.

      1. PotsPansTeapots*

        I’m on social media for work reasons. It’s very easy for a quick scroll through my personal accounts to become a full-fledged marketing session.

        I made Saturday social media-free for awhile until I could trust myself to not get entangled with work stuff.

  6. cactus lady*

    I would add: room for creativity. John Cleese has a great training video on Creativity in Management (it’s from the early 90s, but the info is still relevant today) that I watched when I was dealing with burnout, and I will say that aside from what Alison has already recommended, room for creativity in your work is the #1 way to keep a healthy mindset around it.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen a John Cleese training video and now I desperately want to

    2. I bought a cheese*

      If you like Cleese, check out his recitation of “I Bought A Cheese.” You will thank me, just make sure no children are around.

    3. Asenath*

      It’s not on YouTube that I can find, but at one job I had everyone had to watch a video on “Telephone Behaviour” starring Cleese. I thought it was amusing and well done, but I still haven’t figured out whose behaviour was responsible for everyone having to have a remedial class on using the telephone. It can’t have been me, of course!

  7. Lucy P*

    Alison makes some great points here. I’ve developed so many bad work habits over the years that I’m really trying to correct right now. One of them is thinking that the world is going to explode if I’m not in the office. Part of this is on me, but a large part is on my manager who always gripes when I get back from vacation because they didn’t know where to find something while I was out or that things just don’t work right while I’m gone.

    1. Heather*

      I have been at my job for years and a lot of people had got used to asking me questions about, well, everything.

      I wrote a team wiki

      Even if they still ask me, its amazing how much easier it is to just say, it’s on the wiki

      Unfortunately, a few years later they have decided we can’t have wikis. I need to find time to transfer the lot to the Teams SharePoint site

    2. Spearmint*

      Have you tried simply caring less? I don’t mean to sound flip, but I think a lot of people are overly invested in their work and it leads to these dynamics. Why should you care if things didn’t work perfectly when you were gone? You were off the clock, that was your boss’ problem. And if they gripe about it when you come back, of course assist with whatever they need assistance on, but you can just internally roll your eyes and see it as your boss’ problem that they’re annoyed.

      1. Always a Corncob*

        This is true! My particular mental wiring means that it is genuinely distressing to me to think about work not going well because I’m out. “Stop caring so much” sounds like useless advice, but it can be very helpful to take a step back and get some perspective on what negative consequence you are really avoiding by never being fully away. Work is important, it’s great to care about your job, but the world will not end if you take vacation and don’t check your email. If someone is inconvenienced and they are annoyed about it, that’s ok. (And if it’s not ok, ask yourself if that’s a workplace-truth or a you-truth. Both have solutions.)

      2. Lucy P*

        I’d love to, but learning how isn’t always easy. I think this goes back to the root of self-care and it’s one of those bad habits that I need to get out of.

        I also say this so that other people don’t allow themselves to get bullied into not taking personal time.

      3. Wired Wolf*

        I’ve started doing that; I’m a department head but still hourly retail, so I’m under no obligation to reply to texts/calls once I clock out (my company email can only be accessed from the company intranet anyway). If someone misinterprets instructions I leave or ignores something completely that happens later in the day that is Not My Problem. I can only control what happens when I’m actually there; it’s the manager’s problem that they won’t let me train a backup person and/or they refuse to help out when needed.

        Ironically, up in the manager’s office there’s a sign “Control what you can control; don’t worry about the rest”. I put a copy of the same sign in my work area and it was removed the next day…sheesh.

      4. Burger Bob*

        This can be difficult. I believe in it in theory and try to live by it when possible. But I work in retail pharmacy. If either my partner or I have to be gone (like for vacation), the options are a) the other person picks up more hours than they maybe would otherwise want to or b) they find coverage to fill in for us and you have no idea who it will be but you can be reasonably be certain it’s someone who won’t do as good of a job and won’t care about your staff and patients the way you would. I don’t let it stop me from taking time off by any means, but you do still worry about your patients to an extent and hope they’ll all get the service they need.

    3. Polly Gone*

      I have had phone calls from the office:
      — while I was on the way to Florida on vacation
      — the day I came home from the hospital with surgery
      — LITERALLY in the stirrups at a doctor appointment.

      And it’s never anything that is life-or-death.

  8. Justin*

    I would add that for me building time for me to pursue passions off the clock helps. I like my job, but it’s always easier when I know I have, say, a podcast interview to record on a given night.

  9. Harried HR*

    A Comfortable work environment and boundaries…


    I HATE overhead strip lighting I have 2 lamps and my office has a window the overhead light is OFF it makes is sooooo much easier for me to work :-)

    I am part reptile and am ALWAYS cold so my space heater is nearly always on :-)

    I try to schedule 3 – 4 day weekends in order to disconnect (I process payroll so a full week is a challenge)

    I WILL NOT reply to e-mails after 8pm (restaurant industry so some funky hours are expected)

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      I think you have a great opportunity to pushback so you CAN take a full week off.

      All businesses should have continuity of operations especially for critical things like payroll. Someone else must be able to step in and do it if need be. People get sick or injured with no notice.

      Arguably the backup person(s) should be routinely DOING the tasks, so they are comfortable with it. Like when you take a full week off.

      Approach it as a business need. YMMV of course, but ensuring the execution of critical tasks should never be a challenge.

      1. Captain+dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        Not to mention the “additional pair of eyes” on the process occasionally. I don’t think for one minute that Harried HR is up to anything suspicious, but it’s easy to imagine a situation where someone doing a payroll or other financial-like process could be up to something, and no one else ever gets eyes on it to find that out.

        1. Adrian*

          Yes. An embezzling bank teller got busted when she got sick and couldn’t work. She would steal money from Customer Deposit A, add the difference from Customer Deposit B to hide the shortfall, and so on.

          The scheme worked fine as long as she was there every day to keep raiding the next deposit.

    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      One of my colleagues had facilities come and remove the fluorescent bulbs from the fixture directly above her desk and one bulb from each of the other two fixtures. Her office doesn’t have a window, and she wants *some* overhead light, but 6 bulbs’ worth was way too much. Now she just has two bulbs total, and none of them are directly above her desk, so she gets a more diffused light from them. She says it makes her feel significantly less cranky at any given point during the day.

      1. NotMy(Fancy)RealName*

        Several of us found these magnetic cloth covers on Amazon that reduce the glare and soften the light from overhead flourescents.

  10. WomEngineer*

    Boundaries are most important, especially if you work remotely. I feel noticeably more tired after just a day of working an hour later than I should be. My favorite tip is to minimize all my windows at the end of the day!

    I sit in front of a computer most of the time, so I need hobbies that are away from the screen (puzzles, making art) or more interactive (console gaming). Weather/Temperature permitting, I like to take a walk during lunch… or at least step away from the computer.

    1. Diatryma*

      Oh, yes, doing something for yourself that isn’t like what you do for work. Make a physical object, be outside, read on paper rather than a screen. Definitely not something I do regularly enough.

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      I also work remote, but on a company provided laptop. I literally lock my screen after work during the week, and shut the machine down at the end of the week. I’m pretty firm on my boundaries, including taking the next Friday off when I have to work the weekend.

  11. LadyAmalthea*

    Leaving the building during lunchtime when I’m in office and even shifting to another chair at lunch when I work from home helps me feel separated from work when not working in a really helpful way.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      My last job did not understand boundaries at all, so I always made it a point to get out of the building for lunch, even it was just to sit in a parking lot and eat my sandwich. I just needed the time away!

      I do not miss that job. I still have dreams about it, but I do not miss it.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        This is a good point. My current job is great at not interrupting my time away from work, but if I’m in the building all bets are off. Sitting in my car on my breaks has been so important.

    2. Siege*

      I’m still remote and I don’t really care to leave my apartment during the work day unless there’s a real errand I have to run, but it also can help to just go flop on the bed and read a few chapters of a book. Something about changing position is really helpful.

      It was not until the pandemic that I realized how little seating I actually have in my apartment!

  12. M.*

    Blocking time off your calendar—especially at the end of the day when the last thing I want is a meeting invite an hour before I’m about to leave/sign off.

    1. ferrina*

      Yep. Some days I have commitments right after work, and on those days I’ll put a block on my calendar starting half an hour before end of day. This gives me time to respond to any last emails, wrap up what I was working on, etc. so I can actually sign out on time.

    2. Esmeralda*

      Yes, my calendar has the first half hour blocked as “no appt/planning” and the last hour blocked as “end of day: planning, notes”

      Sometimes I use those times for other urgent matters, seeing students — but I try really hard not to.

  13. Sloanicota*

    I hate to sound cynical but sadly, I’m guessing these aren’t the kind of strategies OP’s boss was looking for, as they all involve maintaining better work boundaries; in my experience most people aren’t thrilled about strategies that create boundaries *against them.* Whose boss is going to be happy to hear that your new goal is to take more vacation and stop doing work off the clock? They called that “quiet quitting” as of this week. My guess is the boss is looking for fluffy things like a stressball or an standing/exercise desk or treating yourself to ordering a healthy lunch in once a week (at your own expense, obviously) or scented hand lotion (true story from my boss) or a commitment to work out after hours.

    1. Siege*

      Aside from the fact that’s really bleak and pessimistic, it’s simply not true. My boss has encouraged me to block off time on my calendar so I can focus on tasks that require actual attention, and good bosses will recognize that people who are fulfilled and feel like they’re successful in their jobs – which includes time off – are less likely to quit.

      And it’s been called quiet quitting for a while. It’s the latest moral panic by employers to increase their obscene level of oversight on employees, because it’s much easier to install keyloggers and require you to log into Zoom for full workdays than to actually manage. I can’t overstate how much it is a moral panic intended to sell spyware and similar tools. We don’t have to side with the employers doing this by worrying preemptively about whether we’re being monitored enough to keep them happy.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I think there’s a way to frame it so it’s “boss-friendly”. I’m encouraged (by my boss’s boss’s boss) to step away from my desk every day, so I would say something like, “Block off time to take the dog out.” Vacations/PTO? “Trust my colleagues to manage while I’m out, take days when I need them, try not to push through illness.” Not working off the clock? “Let things wait that can wait.”

      See also: block time several times a week to focus/think, be sure to stay hydrated, join co-workers for lunch.

      1. Dinwar*

        If a team can’t handle a person going on PTO for a week, that team is already doomed. A team member taking a vacation is a good test for the robustness of the team, and how well it could handle the sudden departure of a team member.

        Sadly, my office experienced such a departure (years and years ago). A PM had a heart attack one morning and died unexpectedly. The rest of his team had to scramble to figure out what his actual workload was, much less how to handle the work he was no longer around to help with. It drove home to many of us the necessity of having backup systems within teams–files we can all access, folks cross-trained in the various tasks, that sort of thing.

        1. Pisces*

          You should see my ExEmployer. I submitted an invoice to the accounting department, to be charged to the firm.

          The accounting clerk couldn’t figure out which internal account to charge it to, until I returned from a two-week vacation and got someone else in the department to find out. And it was two more weeks before I found out the clerk didn’t know what to do.

      2. Wired Wolf*

        Our store doesn’t allow (non-service) dogs inside; plenty of customers will bring their pets and tie them to a pole outside. Especially in the summer, I make it my job to supply bowls of water and give attention to dogs that I can sense don’t want to be away from their people. Supervisors don’t mind because I’m making sure the dogs are safe on our property and not causing a disturbance (yay to phrase fuzz-therapy as work related).

    3. bamcheeks*

      Whose boss is going to be happy to hear that your new goal is to take more vacation and stop doing work off the clock?

      I mean, I am a boss, and I am. I have a couple of employees with really terrible boundaries around work who are accepting and creating extra work with clients when I’m telling them they should be saying no. Being able to manage their workload and maintain healthy boundaries is part of their job description and we are going to be moving to more serious measures if there isn’t an improvement.

      1. Siege*

        I felt very called out when I was encouraging my boss to take a long vacation last month and she told me it was the pot calling the kettle black and she was going to make me take a vacation this fall before we get busy in the spring. I thought I was taking enough vacation, but apparently not!

      2. ferrina*

        Yes! My industry has a busy season, and I would always pester my employees to take at least a week to unplug and relax a month or so before the busy season. I’ve also been known to scold people who respond to late night emails (gently and lovingly, almost always for junior staff to set expectations – senior staff I assume are flexing hours and running their own schedule)

    4. Dinwar*

      “Whose boss is going to be happy to hear that your new goal is to take more vacation and stop doing work off the clock?”

      Working off the clock is illegal for me–federal law requires that I bill all hours worked. So having this as a goal would raise red flags, but not for the reason you indicate!

      More seriously: My boss is pushing me to be home more and take time off. He actually told me to in a meeting recently. Turns out there are bosses who understand that people who are over-worked and saturated with cortisol typically are not operating at peak level. Plus, I’m supposed to be handing more responsibility off to the new guys, so this was a gentle reminder that I need to, you know, do that. The instinct when things are busy is to get it done as efficiently as possible, which works in the short term but kills the team in the long term.

      So there are bosses like that. Not many, I’ll grant you, but they do exist.

    5. H.Regalis*

      That may be so, but you will still burn out if you push yourself too hard for too long; so what would you suggest doing instead of what Alison mentioned above?

      1. Sloanicota*

        Oh to be clear, I think OP should *do* what Alison suggested, absolutely – I just think she might want to talk about it differently / not talk about these exact things to her boss (and maybe highlight some of the “boss friendly” ones instead). YMMV, it totally depends on your own knowledge of your bosses’ attitude. Mine is a very work-y one and would probably change her opinion of me if I talked about more vacations, but would be very approving if I said hittin’ the gym harder, or whatever (but then I would try to take the increased vacation anyway).

    6. to varying degrees*

      Ehh, I don’t know about that. Both my current boss and the ones I worked for just prior to this job all are/were very respectful of my home time. In my last job I was exempt (still am) and there were occasions I had to stay late due to meetings or maybe answer an emails/text here or there (typically brief, less than 5 minutes and they always were very contrite), but other than that I was never expected to do “off the clock” work.

    7. Cendol*

      Hopefully OP’s boss would be supportive of the things Alison listed, but I also think there are ways to frame them—for instance, “Taking time to fully disconnect and recharge so I can bring my best and most productive self to the office.” Clunkily phrased but you get the idea! If OP is looking for anodyne things to list, they could say, I’ll get up to stretch periodically, avoid eye strain by doing XYZ, take a breather after tough calls, etc.

      Here’s a big one that I keep to myself: untether your sense of self-worth from your job if you haven’t already. It was so easy to stay late (and work on holidays), pick up another deliverable, and volunteer for another project when I felt like the only place where I had value was at work. Now my hobbies and home life are much richer and the job is just a job. I know that can be hard especially in the nonprofit space.

    8. anonymath*

      Well hey, I’m a cynical boss, so I’ll respond!

      As a boss with a group doing high-profile high-financial-value work, I want reports who are bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to do really ambitious work and go all in when we need it. When we need people on, we need people *on*. That means they need to take vacations and enforce boundaries. When I work with no-boundary work-all-the-time don’t-really-take-vacation people, 1) they don’t have the oomph to go the extra mile when it’s actually important, 2) they tend to have poor prioritization skills, 3) they tend to say yes to stupid *(& that is a waste of their and my time that then renders them unable to dig in on the important *(&^. They don’t cross-train anyone, so when they get sick no one can help them out and it causes a lot of problems for the rest of the team as well as the company. I’m in a company where random people will ask you to do all sorts of things for them forever — being able to route those requests appropriately is a far more useful skill than just saying yes to everything and dragging around your martyrdom as you get less and less productive.

      I want people who can prioritize (sure we’ll tussle about the priorities now and then, but I’m paying to people to be smart and thoughtful, not yes-people). I want people who can gracefully set boundaries and escalate things when processes are not working. I want people who see the benefit of cross-training their peers so they can take a vacation or grow into new roles. Different places are different, but I really need excellence from my resource-constrained team, not just extra hours slowly doing work that’s not impactful.

      1. The Real Fran Fine*

        I’m copying this entire response so I can read it to my team – this is what I’ve been trying to get across to them, and I’m not sure if it’s clicking for a couple of them, lol.

      2. Summer Day*

        100%! My least productive employee is the one that’s exhausted because she works long hours, doesn’t take breaks, works on weekends. My most productive employee works half as much, regularly schedules time off, never responds to emails on her days off, but I know will fire at 100% for the hours she is working.

    9. one L lana*

      I hope that OP’s manager is sincere, and I don’t think there’s any need to assume they aren’t. (As a manager, I would be fine with hearing these things from my direct reports, especially if they were phrased as “I plan to disconnect from work outside working hours as much as possible, take my time off, and manage my priorities” rather than “I plan to work only an 8-hour day, take more vacation, and say no to more stuff.”)

      That said, the person at my organization who looooved to talk about self-care and feelings and boundaries was also the first person to freak out the moment anyone tried to take her seriously in any way that wasn’t convenient for her. So there’s definitely precedent for cynicism.

    10. Warrior Princess Xena*

      One lever you can use if you are very cynical and are in any way connected to finance is to remind your boss that requiring people to take a big chunk of PTO (at least a week but 2 is better) is a commonly recommended anti-fraud control and will look very good to the compliance people you have to report to.

    11. FashionablyEvil*

      I routinely encourage my employees to set better boundaries and take actual vacations because I’m selfish: it makes them better employees! They don’t drop balls because they’ve said yes to too many things, don’t burn out, and come back refreshed and with new perspectives and renewed energy for their work.

      For people who really have trouble disconnecting (especially to take a two or three week vacation), I encourage them to think of it as a growth opportunity for their team: let someone else have a chance to be in charge! Encourage your team to problem-solve more on their own! Realize that you are, in fact, replaceable, but that that’s not a bad thing: it’s liberating.

    12. Kate+in+NZ*

      I am a manager of 35 people and I do want people to take time off and have boundaries. Besides it just being the right thing, over-stressed and over-worked people are not very productive and often create issues because they are not thinking straight

    13. Nesprin*

      How about boss friendly things like:
      -Making sure for business continuity all essential tasks are cross trained to a couple of people (so people can take vacations/sick days as needed)

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Yes, this.

        I’ve been the only person who knew how to do a thing. If I took a week’s vacation things went to hell. Even if I was out in the field for a couple weeks stuff got messed up. I had a very hard time cross training anyone else in the task, but I did it. This was a good thing because I ended up in the hospital for nearly four weeks after brain surgery and a stroke. They literally had to do the work in order to get reports out on time.

    14. DrSalty*

      Good bosses want you to enforce boundaries and take PTO. My boss does. I’ve seen coworkers with poor boundaries forbidden from sending emails to clients after hours. We’re all encouraged to take all our PTO. I encourage my junior peers to do the same. No one does their best work burnt out and we need to retain good employees.

    15. Day Dreamer*

      Another boss here. I encourage everyone to take their full PTO, and I also use all of mine every year. You’re not helping anyone by sacrificing yourself to work. Your work quality will suffer, and you will burn out. I’m fortunate to have worked for a relatively benevolent organization for most of my career where this attitude comes from the top. Take time off. You’ve earned it.

    16. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      My team is hourly, so the only thing that would upset me about a goal to stop working off the clock is that I’ve been telling them in no uncertain terms that they need to not work off the clock for ages, so that shouldn’t be a goal now. :P

    17. mlem*

      I do actually think you’re right that there are some bosses who only want to hear the fluff. It’s not universal, as you can see from the other responses to you, but knowing your audience is very important indeed.

    18. snarkfox*

      Apparently I’ve been quiet quitting all my life, because I’ve always taken all my PTO and I’ve never worked off the clock. I’ve never had any pushback for this, either.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, I think the whole ‘quiet quitting’ thing is slightly ridiculous. As far as I can tell it just means ‘doing your job without killing yourself over it’, which is what I’ve always done. I suppose I must be lucky, but the vast majority of bosses I’ve had have had the philosophy that if you can’t get your work done in your contracted hours then there’s a problem with workload that needs to be addressed. People generally understand that publishing does not pay enough for anyone to be doing unpaid overtime. I do my work (and I do it very well) but then I shut my laptop at 5pm and absolutely do not deal with anything work-related until my next working day starts. I know not all industries are like that but I think this idea that not flogging yourself to death at work every day is some sort of subversive ‘quiet quitting’ movement is ridiculous. It’s called having a work/life balance.

        1. Tau*

          Yeah, I’m just staring blankly at that whole concept right now. Especially because I know myself, I know how my brain works, and I know for a fact that I will not be able to tolerate working long hours without making stupid mistakes and burning out hardcore, which is in nobody’s best interest. Viewed through that lens, keeping hard boundaries around my work/life balance and working hours is actually a matter of professional responsibility! Allowing those to be eroded will make me a poorer employee and likely result in me needing to unexpectedly take long-term sick leave or quit, which is also bad for the company.

        2. snarkfox*

          Yeah, I don’t want to discount others’ experiences or anything, but it’s certainly not my experience, even in my most awful jobs!

          I mean… in my current job, I’ve occasionally gone “above and beyond,” but I’m compensated for it… or else I wouldn’t do it!

  14. Siege*

    This might be counterintuitive. If I have a vacation scheduled, I tell my coworkers to text me with anything really urgent, because I’m not checking email. Nothing ever rises to the level of them texting me! I really think part of it is that they can’t just forward an email and expect I’ll see it but they hesitate to shift it to text. And I am the only person in my position (very small organization) so if I’m out on vacation, there’s no one really covering. It’s enough of a barrier that they would contact me if our local news station needs an interview, but not to let me know that a member is having a panic attack about their newsletter or whatever.

    I will note, I have a work phone, so it’s not intruding on my use of my phone.

    1. SansaStark*

      I do this, too! I say something like “I won’t be able to fully relax unless I know I can trust you to let me know if something is truly urgent and requires my attention” to the person I know understands what constitutes a urgent situation. I’ll even joke, “don’t text me if the building’s on fire because I can’t help you, but if ABC happens and Boss is angry, please give me a heads-up.” I’ve never been contacted but the key for me is identifying a trustworthy person whose judgement I trust.

    2. Sloanicota*

      Yep this is actually my preference, because it gives me permission never to check email at all. The act of opening my email will recreate all that work stress, and even if there’s nothing urgent in it, I still had to see all the non-urgent stuff. And you’re never “done” checking if something can come in any time.

    3. ferrina*

      Yep, I’ve done this with my personal phone. I won’t check email, but I’m available for true emergencies (of which there are very few that can’t be handled by someone else).

      I’ll also set gate keepers- I’ll give my phone number to my boss and key people on my team (the folks that are senior enough that if they can’t solve an issue, it’s a real issue). I also provide a list of people that should be contacted before anything is escalated to me. I once had a boss try to skip that list and texted me on a non-emergency. As soon as I got back, I met with her and nicely said that I was deeply concerned that Contact Person couldn’t answer the question. Boss sheepishly admitted that she hadn’t actually contacted that person. She never contacted me on my PTO about a non-emergency again.

      1. German Girl*

        This exactly.

        My bosses have always had my personal phone number and have been very good about not using it. I’ve been contacted once while on vacation in the 10 years I’ve been working – plus a couple of times while on maternity leave, but that was because I specifically asked to be kept in the loop on anything significant going on in my projects while I was out.

        I wouldn’t give my number to junior co-workers. They can go through the boss if they really need to reach me.

    4. amoeba*

      Yes, I do that too. I would absolutely want to know if the lab burned down during my vacation, so if there’s no other means of contact, there’s no way I’d feel comfortable not checking my email. So my team has my phone number and I can relax. (And I’ve never been contacted on that except for actually urgent things – OK, or birthday wishes, which is complerely fine with me ;))

    5. londonedit*

      Yep, I say to my boss that they can send me a message if there’s an emergency while I’m on holiday, but they know I won’t be checking my email. I’m the only person on my team who does my particular job, and while I make sure I get as much off my desk as I can before I go, and I leave notes on anything that might crop up, there’s always the risk that some sort of issue will raise its head and my boss won’t know how to deal with it. I think it’s only happened once or twice but I’d rather they sent a quick message to check with me than trying to deal with the thing themselves without the necessary context.

  15. WillowSunstar*

    Some of these will depend upon your manager. I have actually been chastised for even asking things like how big of a project is this, when I was swamped with other stuff. Didn’t even say no outright.

  16. bamcheeks*

    This is not a proper answer but I’m going to say it: a group of peers you can bitch with about people above you and people below you, whom you 100% trust to take it as venting and not as a greater reflection in either of the groups of people you’re venting about. You need to be able to say, “to be honest, the constant complaining about the alpaca trimming schedule is Getting To Me” and “that meeting could have been a musical email!” without harming yours or their working relationships.

    My manager said to me, “What’s the difference between this regular meeting with you and the other Senior Trimmers and the weekly one all the STs have with me?” I said, “um— in all honestly, the fact that you’re not there?” And she said, “right, fair enough, say no more! That’s important!”

    1. Siege*

      It will also improve your relationships outside of work! I have deliberately distanced myself from my partner’s wife (long story; she can’t tell me how to improve my life because I largely have my act together so she doesn’t talk to me) but the other day we needed to pick her up due to timing, and I was reminded all over again why I don’t like her – she spent the 15 minutes we were together not once asking a question about either me or him but instead complaining A LOT about the people she’d had to deal with at work. By the time we dropped her off I felt as stressed as if I’d just done a retail shift. It was just so much, and all of it was negative, and to some extent unrelatable, since we work in different industries.

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      This is something I’ve tried to bring up with upper management in places I’ve worked, with no success so far.

      In libraries, you frequently have one manager per building, and if you’re lucky one assistant manager. Your peers are in buildings all across town and you rarely get any opportunity to interact with them in an unofficial capacity, so you don’t really have that network of people to talk to about things you aren’t allowed to talk to your staff about and aren’t comfortable venting to your boss about. Most of the reactions I get when I bring that up are along the lines of “you’re right, it’s lonely and isolating, but that’s the job.”

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I brownbag my lunch and after eating (about 1/2 of my lunch hour) I will go to a quiet place and needlework for the rest of the time.

  17. Lady In Pink*

    If you sit all day at work, be sure to stand up and take stretch breaks. Be mindful of your posture while sitting at the computer. One of the most common problems I see as a massage therapist is upper back and shoulder pain from hunching over the computer. I tell my clients to never feel guilty about taking time for self care. It’s hard to take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself!

    1. Manders*

      This might not be fully on topic for the overall thread, but I am a huncher at my desk and I learned this trick that helped me a lot, and I have been preaching this gospel for years… If you have tension in your shoulders/upper back around the neck from hunching, the best thing to do is to massage on the opposite side. Start under your collarbone near your sternum, and using direct pressure, push your fingers toward your armpit (if you are sore on the left, use your right hand to apply pressure toward your left armpit). Repeat several times radiating in slightly different directions. Do this 1 minute per side, several times a day. Works wonders.

    2. Wired Wolf*

      The only time I can really sit down is when I’m on break; my desk as well as all the registers are standing only. I don’t mind when I’m at my desk as it’s a good height for me, but I hate being on a register as all of the screens are too low and not adjustable (and there’s not enough room to do some covert stretching).

  18. Slow Gin Lizz*

    Getting away from the computer at some point during the day is a really great way to make sure you have time to think. When I’m on the computer all day long I don’t come up with anything creative, because when I’m on the computer I’m always either reading, writing, or on a call. So Alison’s notions about going for a walk or eating lunch away from the computer is a great way to tune into your creative side. It may seem like you’re not working if you’re away from your computer, but sometimes thinking is more important than being in front of your computer. You could even try having outdoor walking meetings with coworkers if they also like to walk, just to help spark some creativity.

  19. H.Regalis*

    I’m around a few people who have serious, permanent health problems due in part to pushing themselves too hard for too long. The stuff I see scares me: they’re like Jacob Marley’s ghost to me. I don’t want to go that route.

    **On top of** (not instead of: there is no substitute for all the stuff Alison talks about above), for myself I need to go outside every day, and I also need to move my body. Walking, working out, stretching, whatever. If I have to skip either of those, I can coast along for a day or two, but past that things start to fall apart.

  20. Cedrus Libani*

    One thing I value: making time to be proactive, rather than reactive. It’s easy to get so caught up with the crisis of the week that you don’t properly invest in tools, procedures, training, etc. But it’s quite satisfying to get that stuff done, so that the next round of mischief is easily managed. And then you can step back and say to yourself: “Phew! What a disaster THAT would have been, but it wasn’t, so I’m doing a well-deserved happy dance and then going home on time.”

    1. ferrina*

      My company wastes so much time because they’re always in crisis mode. Part of the issue is that no one ever wrote down certain processes, so Every. Single. new hire has to waste hours trying to find the info and talking to the wrong people. Finally someone wrote it down, and now that process goes so much smoother!

  21. The Person from the Resume*

    Ugh! I have just realized – through trying to make sure I lose none of my “use or lose” leave this year that apparently I haven’t been taking enough time off. I do have a week long vacation planned in November, and what I consider reasonable and fair (to coworkers who I trade off with) time off over the two slow December weeks but I still have almost a whole week of leave I need to use or lose.

    With a week long trip already planned in November and week or so off in December, I don’t see a place for another full week trip out of town in October which is already filled up with appointments and events. So I think I’m piece mealing it – a day here, a few hours there – that allow me to run errands or work out during what’s normally work hours so my evening or weekend is more free than it would have been. That’s not as good as a week away, but it can be rewarding and allow for a dinner with friends (especially retired ones).

    But next year I’ve got to plan at least one more week away early on in the year.

    1. Squidhead*

      YMMV, but I like taking a week at home! Either when I don’t have an agenda (sleep in, long workout, maybe do a Task, relaxing dinner) OR when I have a lot to do (the first week of December to do the holiday baking/shopping/wrapping/mailing, and then it’s done).

      1. All Het Up About It*

        Also, if PFTR does need to just piecemeal it, having a long weekend at home (or a Tuesday and Wednesday) can feel more relaxing and recharging than traveling for a couple of days.

  22. green bean*

    LW here. At my job, our PTO bucket includes sick time. Due to some ongoing health issues, I’ve burnt through most of mine, which means any kind of vacation is off the table for months, at least. A vacation sounds dreamy, but it’s just not in the cards. Am I…allowed to ask for more? Maybe that’s a silly question but I genuinely don’t know how that would even go down!

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      That’s the problem with bucketed time like that. If you’re healthy and single, you get to use most of it as PTO, but if you’ve got any kind of healthcare need or children (who are germ factories) most of it goes to sick care.

      You can always ask! They might say no, but you can ask.

      1. River Otter*

        If you are healthy and single, you also get to use your entire paycheck on yourself instead of under doctors visits and children!

    2. DameB*

      I mean, you can ask, esp if your manager actually cares about your well being. (FWIW, my UK based boss, upon hearing that my sick time and vacation time were the same bucket looked at me in shock and breathed “That’s barbaric.”)

      1. ferrina*

        Yes, definitely ask!

        Your manager might also have a few tricks to help you get time back- I had at least a dozen ways to steal more hours for my team, or rebalance work so you can get a mental break.

    3. River Otter*

      There is probably a policy about it. Whatever the best way is to find policies at your workplace (employee handbook, HR partner, your boss,) do that and check the policy first. In most workplaces, PTO is part of your compensation and asking for more would be the equivalent of asking for a raise. some places allow you to borrow PTO from future allocations (This is analogous to asking them to advance you your paycheck), and you would have to check your workplace’s policy to know if you can do that.

    4. Cedrus Libani*

      My workplace gives the option to “purchase additional PTO” – at the cost of a week’s salary per 40 hours, so it’s actually UN-paid leave, but the option still exists. So long as we’re talking an extra week or two, and you’re willing to forfeit the pay, it’s a fairly small request.

      1. mlem*

        Or some workplaces offer the ability to directly take leave unpaid — not possible for everyone to use, certainly, but for some folks, it’s an option they can weather but don’t think of.

    5. Dinwar*

      When I got married I got PTO in arrears. I had only been working for the company for a few weeks and had something like 8 hours of PTO built up. But we’d planned the wedding date two years prior. Basically my PTO went negative, and I didn’t build any up until I’d paid it back.

      My manager wasn’t thrilled about it, but was willing to work with me. And it worked out pretty well for both of us.

      Also, look at it this way: If you ask, they worst they can do is say no. Which means you’re in the same position as you are now. If the answer is no, frame it as an opportunity to learn more about company policy.

    6. mlem*

      If you think your boss really is receptive, you can ask as part of a conversation — note that you had to use up your combined leave, so does he know any other ways for you to get time away to recharge? (It’s not the same as a full week away, of course, but some bosses might tell you to sign to a meeting all day and then go do something just for yourself. That is *absolutely* company, culture, and boss-dependent, though.)

    7. My 2 cents*

      Totally depends :) If you are in a position that is salaried and you don’t have to track your hours, it’s much easier for your boss to say, “ah, just jet out early Friday” or take a long weekend. If you are paid hourly or have to charge your time, it’s harder because then it typically goes through payroll, accounting, etc.

      But bottom line, I’d say it’s worth asking, especially since much of it was due to illness and not excessive vacationing.

  23. DameB*

    Take lunch. Like, actually take a full hour (if you get a full hour). I work at a British company where that is just expected and it was a revelation. I have time to eat an actual meal, read a book, go for a walk. (Not one but ALL THREE.) Or I can eat a meal and run an errand. It’s amazing how much that’s improved my world.

    1. liquidus*

      At my last job I always ate at my desk because lunch wasn’t billable so if you stopped working to eat lunch for 30 min or an hour, you just had to stay longer at work. So everyone at at their desk.

      But now my break time is enforced — that is my 30 min break is subtracted from my hours whether I actually take one or not. So now I take my lunch in the cafeteria while listening to a podcast or watching Netflix offline.

  24. This sounds familiar. . .*

    I have gotten better at this over the last few years. Taking weekends, etc. My bosses are very respectful and take the time off too (most of the time). I have one coworker that I need to “train” to be respectful of time off. I took a few days off (and it wasn’t a secret) and this person called and texted me twice on one of the days and three times on the other. When the person finally got a hold of me, after I came back to work, they mentioned the calls and messages that I never returned. I said, “I know, I had PTO on those days and was unavailable.” Thinking that this person forgot. They said “I know, but it was only a quick question.” Anyone who knows this person knows there is no such thing as a “quick question” everything turns into a 45-minute phone call.

  25. Captain+dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    “carving out time to just think”

    Cries in billable hours and agile teams with ‘story points’…

    1. Presea*

      I’m assuming you’re working on software – thinking is work. Thinking through the problem so you can solve it, or the feature so you can build it, or whatever, is more of the work than writing code or producing deliverables is.

      1. Wisteria*

        I assumed they worked in defense, where agile has crept into everything and … yeah. Try that line about thinking on the US gov’t. Bless your heart.

      2. Tau*

        Also a dev, and every time I jump straight into a problem to solve it without thinking it through first, I end up spending more time going “wait, this isn’t the best way to solve this” or “oh crap I overlooked this edge case” halfway through and then needing to rework than I would have by just spending the time sketching out a solution to start.

    2. Dinwar*

      I mean, you don’t say the quiet part out loud! Come on now!!

      Call it “Reviewing project financials” or “QCing Project Files” or something! I’m only half kidding here–I’ve done exactly that, because A) those files needed a hug anyway, and B) I desperately needed time to figure out how to adjust what I was doing, because what I was doing obviously wasn’t working. Adjusting the hard-copy project files was a way to spur thinking with regards to how to move the project forward, so I wasn’t lying.

  26. River Otter*

    If I am working from home: booze. Not only is the booze delicious and puts me in a good mood, but it gives me the satisfaction of feeling like I am sticking it to the man by partaking inappropriate activities during work hours.

  27. Always Sciencing*

    Thank you for this perfectly timed post Alison! I work in postsecondary education and these ideas fit right in with the Supporting Your Own Wellness resources I’m in the midst of developing. :) <3

  28. Quite Anonymous*

    Switch up duties or schedules. Cross train. It is so easy to feel burned out when you are the only one who does a certain task, and that gets compounded if it’s an emotionally demanding or care-oriented task. If there’s a task that drains you, maybe someone else can handle it once a week, etc.

  29. I'm Out*

    I come from an environment where people were sort of brainwashed into loyalty to the company. The company learned to operate by squeezing the most out of people. New projects and work demands were coming much quicker than new hires. People were pushed close to the limit. Changes were made only when things would start falling apart, like deadlines missed, incomplete work, people left, etc. There was a lot of meetings and meetings to prep for meetings. I learned to block my calendar in chunks of 1 to 2 hrs at a time for projects/thinking, leaving some small blocks as available. If there was something truly critical happening, I would reschedule, but generally I would say I’m tied until X date & time. Otherwise, the thinking was “hey, you are not doing anything, here is another meeting for you”, while in reality I was drowning in work. If we as employees don’t put boundaries, the employer won’t do it for us. I told this to my team too and guided the new managers to do the same.

  30. Lavender*

    The book Trauma Stewardship was enormously helpful to me professionally and personally. You can’t show up for others if you’re not taking care of yourself. I can’t recommend it enough for anyone taking on heavy emotional burdens at work or in life, so basically, all of us!!

    Much of self care has come down to my mentality. I am constantly trying to remind myself that I cannot fix every problem that arises. I don’t have all the answers. It’s helped me to actively seek out input and assistance from others and put less pressure on myself. It helps. It’s helped create good relations with others on different teams too.

  31. Jane Bingley*

    I find an end of day ritual is really helpful.

    When I worked in an office and commuted by foot/bus, I always felt better by the time I got home compared to when I drove. I started going for a short walk after driving home, whenever I could.

    Now that I work from home, I try to get outside after work when I can. I also try to spend some time in personal prayer (for those who aren’t religious, this could easily be time meditating, journaling, etc).

    What’s key is a daily signal to my brain that I’m shifting from work mode to home mode, and I do everything I can to avoid checking emails or Slack messages once I’ve made the shift. It helps me decompress and really rest on evenings and weekends.

    1. allathian*

      When I stop working for the day, I usually take a walk, especially if I haven’t taken one after lunch. If the weather’s so bad that I don’t feel like going outdoors, I’ll exercise indoors for a while. But usually going outdoors resets my brain better than anything else I could do.

  32. NeedRain47*

    It’s a strange question, to ask about self care “at work”. All of my self care happens outside of work and the more time I spend not at work, the better I feel, because I’m allowed meet my own needs which in no way include sitting at a desk for eight hours.

    1. Plumbum*

      I think that makes it a more useful question, if anything. Currently you do nothing toward self-care for 1/3 of your day during the work week, but maybe there’s a suggestion here that could reduce that fraction.

    2. Dinwar*

      Really? There’s nothing–not one thing–you do at work to make it more fun or better suit your mental mode?

      I mean, I’m currently drinking from a coffee mug with the SCP Foundation logo on it. It makes me smile–it’s a sideways commentary on my job, and I’m curious to see who notices. It’s nothing lewd or offensive, just a subtle little thing that makes me a bit happier.

      Is something like that really impossible in your situation?

    3. allathian*

      Self care at work for me includes reading AAM, taking microbreaks and longer breaks consistently during the day, eating nutritious lunches, going for a walk in the middle of the day, or at the end of the day when I’m WFH, and saying no to stretch assignments when I feel that I don’t have the spoons to handle them.

  33. A Girl Named Fred*

    Does anyone have tips on how to maintain your sanity when the things listed in this post and comment section aren’t allowed in your work environment? I’m doing everything I can to find another job so I can get to someplace I can put these things into practice, but I still need to show up here every day until then and I’m on the last threads of my rope at this point.

    1. Yellow+Flotsam*

      If you are on your way out anyway – how much leeway do you have to just not do everything expected while you job hunt? I know some places have incredibly precarious employment, and being sacked on a whim is a reality. But if you can afford to burn a bridge (or at least singe it) and it’s not going to leave you unemployed – think through what you can get away with even of it would halt your growth at the company.

      If you can’t turn off your phone/email – can you add a filtered do not disturb so you still get calls/texts/emails from critical numbers/people (subject lines) but not everyone? If you can afford it, having an urgent phone number and a general phone number can be handy (I’ve worked with people who have their the world better be ending phone – and that is the one they use when on call). 2 phones also helps keep things separate.

      Booking a meeting with a colleague to work individually on critical tasks (things you often take home) is a good way to ring fence time. You can sit on a call /in a meeting room, and get stuff done. I’ve found people respect a meeting more than solo work time. You just have to pick the right colleague.

      I used to leave work to have lunch at one place, because if I was in the tea room I’d get interrupted (we were hourly and lunch wasn’t paid). If things often get out at lunch time – shifting your patterns to take an early or later lunch can help.

      I’ve found people often didn’t respect my finishing times because I didn’t have a “good enough” reason to go home – or everyone else had “acceptable” reasons – having scheduled after work events that mean you can’t work more than say 30mins back is helpful. It means you’re still staying to help – but have to run for physio/cricket training/shift at the soup kitchen – you do however need to actually do those things but it can help create boundaries when just having a life isn’t accepted as one!
      If your workplace always stops you leaving, can you work a compressed week so you formally have long days and get a day genuinely off, or start later because you never get to leave before 6 anyway?

      Do you have reasonable sick leave provisions? Can you speak to your doctor about a weeks medical leave and completely disconnect while off sick? I noticed that I was heading for burnout with a past job, so spoke to my doctor about taking a break before I fell over the edge – they were very supportive. Not a long term plan – but to help get you through till you find a new job

  34. Just stoppin' by to chat*

    Love this! This kind of insightful blog post is exactly why I recommend this blog to everyone :)

  35. A Pound of Obscure*

    I just learned this lesson myself. Or, to be more accurate, I’ve had to re-learn it in my current job, which in every other way I’m very happy in. Alison’s comment, “When you have a full workload, being assertive about saying no to projects unless something else comes off your plate or gets pushed back” is exactly the situation I found myself in last month. I have been here almost 6 years and there is always something I should do, but can’t because of twenty other things. It took me that long to realize that I’ll never get them done. In larger organizations, my job is never done by just one person, but we’re small and so the “wear many hats” mantra had become too ingrained. I made a case to my boss that my job is really two jobs, and he agreed! Now, we both know that finding someone with the unique skills we need locally will be difficult, and we can’t even consider hiring until next fiscal year (budget is already set). But just having the conversation helped, and having a boss that respects your opinion is huge. In my case, I made it clear I want to do what’s best for the organization. Burning out staff members is never what’s best for an organization, and they know that. Hopefully your organization does, too.

  36. Anja*

    Funnily enough I read this post right after I came in from a walk around the block. I was glaring at an attachment where I’m waiting for responses on specific questions/edits and it was stressing me out sitting there just waiting for a response – very watched pot never boils. So I just locked my computer and went for a quick walk. Cleared my head, released some frustration.

    And in general I always try (once or twice a month a meeting messes it up) to take my hour-long lunch. I eat for 20-30 minutes depending whether or not I have a social chatting buddy around. And then I go for a walk for the remainder of my hour. Sometimes with headphones on, always by myself. My direct colleagues all know that I zone out and disconnect in that time. Word spread after I inadvertently ignored a few people while in my own little world.

  37. IrishEm*

    Current employer INSISTS on a mandatory 2 week break plus all the public holidays and remaining statutory holiday days spread over the year to avoid burnout. Compared to Old job where they discouraged ppl from taking more than a week when they could get away with it. Which one do I find toxic? Not Current Job for sure.

    1. Doris Thatcher*

      I’d like to build on this by saying that non-toxic employers do more than insisting people take time off, they build a work culture where people can actually take the time off without working a pile of unpaid overtime or burning out in the lead up or after. Expecting people to do a full month’s work in two weeks so they can have the other two weeks off…is not that.

  38. anonymath*

    I’m going to turn things in a slightly different direction. One thing I’ve worked on for myself and for my reports is thinking through 1) what they want to be doing 2) what they want to be learning/growing toward and 3) what the team/company need. Can we find projects and work in that sweet spot? If a report is working on something they hate that the company needs, can they also take on something different that they like better? or can we time-limit the work that they dislike? It’s work — people need to do things they don’t like at times — but if someone likes mentoring, maybe they can take on some junior folks; if they like research, they can do the groundwork for an upcoming project; if they like coding, they can contribute to a code-heavy project and maybe work on moving into the software group. I’m not perfect at making this happen, but I do think we have a decent flow so that folks can try to move toward work they like/toward their strengths. To be really honest, I am open to developing these sorts of skills with reports even if they’re looking to transition to something else (leave my group or leave the company). As long as my group/the company is getting benefit, I’m happy to help folks develop right on out of my group (at this time I usually get a backfill so that’s why I’m pretty sanguine at the moment, hahah). This is a different kind of self-care.

  39. Self-care is a gift to others too*

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned, that I personally find critical, is that if you’re working in any kind of non-profit or a cause-driven role, you need to accept that you can’t single-handedly fix the problems, and that you burning yourself out trying doesn’t actually help anyone.
    It’s really easy to feel like you need to keep pushing yourself, because other people need you, or other people are so much worse off, etc etc, but you can never fill the gaping holes of the world’s ills, and trying to will just make sure you end up in one of them, sooner or later.
    It’s hard, and it’s something we’re often discouraged from overly doing, but as someone living with multiple chronic illnesses and disabilities, I’ve learned that if I want to help other people, I _have_ to be able to put my own well-being first, or I’ll quickly end up needing other people to rescue me.

    1. Dinwar*

      I keep telling my wife “A person can only absorb so much horror.” As you say, if you keep pushing past that point you break. That not only removes a resource from the attempts to resolve the problem, it usually adds to the problem! She volunteers with a suicide prevention group and I clean up toxic waste for a living; we more or less have our fill of horror. Having time to recover–and that’s what it is, recovery–is critical.

    2. Generic+Name*

      Even in the for-profit consulting world, this applies. I’ve told colleagues that they can’t care more about a project than the client does.

  40. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    For me the ultimate self care was 1) taking minimum two week vacations, three was even better; 2) recognizing when it was finally time to get out of a terribly toxic job with a boss that bullied ad traumatized me. Nothing is worth having to put up with someone who degrades, demeans, disrespects and threatens you. Taking care of your self means valuing mental health enough to get out in those situations.

  41. zebra*

    A big one for me is phone notifications — turning them off, I mean! Removing the notifications or setting notification-snoozing schedules means that I am far less likely to get sucked into work during my off hours. I work with an internationally distributed group so I do receive a fair number of messages outside of my working hours, so I find that it’s better if I just never see the notifications until I sit down at my desk the next morning.

    I have my work email connected to my cell phone in case I need it, but I don’t use it. I have it in a separate mail app than my personal one, and I’ve turned notifications fully off for that app, so I am not tempted to even open the app. If I happen to need to look at it for some reason while I’m not at my desk, I can choose to, but I hardly ever do.

    Same with Slack – I have the default set to disable notifications on evenings and weekends.

    1. All Het Up About It*

      I do sometimes use my email on my phone, but I have turned off notifications. Also – awhile back I made the app harder to get to. Just buried it a couple of levels deep, so there are couple of taps before I open it. This stupid simple change has made a big difference. It was previously way to easy for me to pick up my phone and open the app. I caught myself doing it even when I didn’t want to.

      Now those extra steps mean that I have to think more and I check my office email on my phone with purpose and not just idly.

  42. EmmaPoet*

    My work self-care ideas:
    1. Keep a physical book at my desk and read a couple of pages when I need an eye break.
    2. Listen to my lunchtime playlist while eating, it’s got nice mellow cheerful music.
    3. Chocolate stash for stressful times.
    4. I keep a stash of nonperishable food at my desk in case I forget to bring my lunch. That way I don’t have to go blow $10 for a quick meal.

  43. Yellow+Flotsam*

    Down time during the day, a chance to chat with coworkers peripherally about work.

    I’ve seen a lot of snark addressed to people who take downtime during a workday (the I’m here to work kind of comments), and while that may work in some industries – if you have a high stress role, or routine exposure to critical incidents, not using that peer support on a routine basis places you at much higher risk for burnout and more serious mental ill health.

    Even if your role is not especially high stress etc – taking time to build relationships and destress over minor annoyances is healthy.

    Another good strategy is having time to decompress after work before you go home. Parking 20min from the office and walking can allow you to properly disconnect. If you have a stressful commute – building in even a walk around the block before you enter your home is a great option.

    1. allathian*

      I enjoy taking downtime during a workday on my terms. I intensely dislike it when coworkers interrupt me when I’m trying to focus, which is why I’m more productive WFH, which even my manager admits. I don’t use a pomodoro system with a timer, but I instinctively seem to focus in 20-30 minute bursts and then take a shorter or longer break between sessions when I really do need to focus. Granted, I have routine tasks that require less focus, and when I work on those, I don’t resent being interrupted nearly as much.

    2. Dinwar*

      “Even if your role is not especially high stress etc…”

      See, I think this is part of the problem. (To be clear, I’m NOT accusing you of this. This comment just sparked the line of thinking.) We tend to think of self-care as something we have to earn–things have to get this bad before I’m allowed to care for myself. The reality is the opposite. We should take care of ourselves as a matter of routine.

      Think about the equipment you use. Everything from a laptop to a hammer drill to the Space Launch System to a ladder has an inspection and maintenance schedule. Someone who’s maintenance schedule is “Use it until it breaks, then fix it” would be considered an EXTREMELY poor steward of company property in most cases, and likely dangerous. A good worker is expected to diligently follow the maintenance schedule, even if the equipment is operating just fine.

      As a worker, we are very, very, very expensive pieces of equipment. Without routine maintenance (self-care), we break–we quit, or we get burned out, or we get injured, or the like. Training replacements takes time, effort, and money away from other activities, as well as reducing institutional knowledge. There’s no real upside to refusing to allow routine self-care among workers, not on any timescale longer than “Next quarter’s shareholder meeting” anyway.

  44. kicking_k*

    Yes, we’ve probably all seen it. It’s not the existence of the research people are objecting to – it’s the framing of it as “unborn babies are judging their mothers”. This isn’t really what the research says; and it’s also condescending (and verging on mansplaining, from a male colleague), unnecessary, and irritating. Those are the objectionable aspects.

    If it had been framed as “Look, foetuses can distinguish different tastes – how interesting,” it would still almost certainly not have been relevant for a mass work email, but it would have been less problematic. That’s not what happened here, though.

  45. samantha*

    Among the better advice I ever got (in my profession, which is collaborative knowledge work): “No one can protect your time except you.”

    This comes up for me at least weekly in my job — this week it was getting a meeting request for something I wanted to be part of on a day that I had blocked out for a day off. I did end up attending this meeting and taking a half day off instead, but I think even the awareness that it was my choice and that I can’t always make that choice that was important for me.

  46. I'm just here for the cats*

    see I find the time off answer varies depending on the person and the job. of you have a high stress, really busy job like sales or if your a manager. then I can see the point of taking a week at a time. but for me, even though my job I stressful at times, I find it annoying to take a super long time off. maybe it’s because I have a slight medical condition so taking a few days off every month is more refreshing. but unless I was going somewhere (which I rarely travel) I would just get bored.

  47. Zweisatz*

    Might be a little out there, but I avoid scheduling meetings when my period is likely at its worst. For me it’s the same principle like blocking times you’d rather not get meetings. (Only that I don’t block it in my calendar, might look weird…)

    If there’s particularly long or complicated meetings or just generally stuff that can happen whenever in a 5 day span I’ll ask people to reschedule.

  48. DJ Abbott*

    I was seeing a primary care doctor who was great. I thought I would see her the rest of my life.
    After about 16 years, she started to change. She was using way too many tests to diagnose things that she had been able to diagnose from symptoms before. She scared me more than once by going to the worst case scenario and not handling my diagnoses well. She was burned out.
    After about two years of this I stopped seeing her. At one of my last visits she mentioned that on her vacations she went to Third World countries and worked as a doctor there. I told her she shouldn’t do that, she should do something fun and completely different. And she said “oh no, it’s all right, I like it.”
    Just a couple months ago I heard from a doctor who knows her that she has retired. If she had taken care of herself and had real vacations she could have worked another 10 or 15 years.

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