Rookie parents with newborn babies are told to take care of their own needs first if they want to take care of their children effectively. It's like when the flight attendant tells you to put on your own oxygen mask before you put one on your child: It sounds counterintuitive. It even sounds downright selfish. But if you don't do it, both you and your baby will be in trouble.
Owners of successful startups find themselves in a similar situation. Employees, clients, and even friends and family can overwhelm you with their needs, and if you're not careful, it can deplete you. This is why you have to make time to do the one thing that centers you, and do it every single day without fail.
Unfortunately, this is typically one of the first tasks to fall off of to-do lists. But there has to be a chunk of time every day that's for you and you alone. Otherwise, you won't be much good to the employees, clients, and others who are counting on you.
It's "me time"
If your definition of taking care of yourself starts and ends with "not eating lunch at my desk," you're doing it wrong. The point of "me time" is that it should be a source of joy that strengthens and replenishes you.
For me, it's the bubble bath that I take at the end of every day. The salts and scrubs that I throw in vary, and I might bring along a glass of wine sometimes. Sometimes I might not. But what never changes is that I always take the bath, it's always an indulgence, and it's always about me.
Your mileage may vary, so however you choose to use this time is up to you. But it has to be something that lets you sincerely recharge and replenish, so you can get out of bed tomorrow morning feeling fired up and ready to kill it.
It's a ritual
"Me time" is different from a break or a vacation because it's an ongoing, regular thing, and it's a given. There is no "But do I have time for this today?" Take the decision making out of it and count on the fact that it will happen. You already make enough decisions, thank you very much.
I teach this to people as an approach to saving money. The people who do it effectively don't log every purchase and count every dollar. They decide in advance to set aside a certain amount, set up an automatic transfer to their savings accounts when each paycheck comes in, and then go on with their lives. Set it and forget it.
It's essential for your success
Life happens, and sometimes it hands us bills we didn't know we needed to pay. But it can't be your retirement savings that takes the hit. Your future self needs your present self to be looking out for her.
The same is also true of "me time." You can't dip into it to take care of other things just because you're busy. You have to insist on making the time, every day. And your ritual is just as crucial on the days when you feel great as it is on the days you feel lousy. It's all about consistency.
You owe it to yourself, your business, and your clients to create your ritual, and make sure it happens. Not only will this make you more effective today, it guards against entrepreneur burnout tomorrow.