26 Easy Ways to Practice Self-Care While You’re On the Clock

When you work for a nonprofit, self-care is a must.

In a sector ripe with burn-out, it’s no wonder there are zillions of articles practically screaming for us to relax! This line of work gets hard, especially when you’re a well-intentioned professional who just wants to save the world.

So yeah. When we’re not at work, we need to find ways to unwind.

But self-care doesn’t just happen at home. We spend at least 8 hours a day immersed in our jobs. That’s a long stretch of time to be stressed, so if we decide to be kind to ourselves only during off hours….well, we risk doing some serious damage.

That’s why self-care needs to happen when we’re on the clock, too.

Everyone’s workplace is different, and you can only control so much about your environment. BUT. You still have the freedom to practice habits and mindsets that contribute to your well being. Ask yourself: are there tiny things I can do now, while I’m at work, to feel more effective, healthier, and happier?

I’m betting the answer is yes.

So let’s do it! Start practicing self-care by adopting small, actionable habits that can begin making a difference.

26 Ways to Practice Self-Care While You’re On the Clock

26 Ways to Practice Self Care At Work

Before you start: This is a long list, so don’t feel that you need to do this all tomorrow. Overwhelming yourself is the opposite of self care! :] Start with the tips that feel most urgent, and give yourself time for the rest.

1. Ease into your morning.

Don’t jump right into emails. Settle in, make coffee and straighten out your desk. Consider this your calm before the storm (and get in a few minutes earlier, if that’s what it takes).

2. Grab breakfast.

There are lots of good reasons why you shouldn’t skip breakfast; better focus, easier weight control, smooth skin, a happy soul. Just remember to keep it as sugar-free as possible!

*Tip*: Plan your breakfast the night before. You’ll save money and calories that way.  

3. Break away from your inbox.

Yes, you need to do this while you’re at work. Checking email isn’t as productive as we think, especially when it’s open all hours of the day. I’ve gone without for up to 70 minutes, and have found it easier to focus on my tasks.

*Tip*: If it helps keep you accountable, plan those off-times in advance. 

4. Make yourself less available.

Admit it, unicorns; we can be quick to jump in and help others at the expense of our own time & energy. I love being an asset to my team, but I need to be a healthy, functioning one! That means giving myself space to respond to emails later, or fighting the impulse to schedule meetings right away.

My heart may not be into it in the moment, but my brain always thanks me later.

5. Prioritize your self-organization.

Hopefully you have a system for tracking your work. But even the best kept systems delve into chaos when things get too busy too fast. The result? Those systems get neglected, and any semblance of organization we had disappears.

So take the time – daily or weekly – to check back in on your process. Log your accomplishments and make sure you’re really organizing whatever’s left.

6. Carve out time for your own development.

You get better at your job with time, experience and intentional learning. Even if it’s just a few minutes per week, do something that makes you a better nonprofit peep. Listen to a podcast, find your next conference, or read up on best practices for your job function.

7. Excuse yourself from unnecessary meetings.

Meetings are really good at making us think that we’ve accomplished a lot, even when that’s not the case! If you find yourself in meetings where you’re not needed, see if your boss will let you skip.

This depends on your rank, though. If you’re new to your org or work, then don’t do this. Assume they’re all helpful.

8. Subscribe to fewer emails.

How often do you come across a great website and immediately subscribe to their newsletter?  In this time of constant distractions, give yourself permission to be selective about what clutters your inbox.

And if this blog doesn’t make the cut…. I still support you. Just come back and visit!

9. Be kind to your eyes.

Most of us spend the whole day on our computers, which can’t be good for our eyes (if my facial tightness and eyeball throbbing are any indication). Humans weren’t made for this, and we seem to only be adding more screens to more devices.

*Glances at notification on smart watch.*

Let’s address this while our eyes still have time. Print out articles, invest in computer glasses and download apps like i.Flux that lessen the impact of blue UV light.

10. Be kind to your gut.

Snacking is important; food can either keep us going or slow us down. I’m not denying anyone the occasional Oreo, because heck, I need it some days. But for the rest of the time, try opting for healthy snacks like fruits, nuts, veggies.

*Tip:* Pack those snacks in advance too, so that they’re ready and available when you need them!

11. Hydrate throughout the day.

Get your favorite bottle or mug and drink water while you work. It’s an easy way to do good for your body.

12. Wear good shoes.

Your feet carry the weight of your world on their soles (assuming you walk to/from/around the office, which I recognize isn’t the case for everyone). Knowing this, why would we ever put them in shoes that pinch, squeeze or feel uncomfortable in ANY way?

Invest in shoes (and other attire) that’s work appropriate aanndd makes you feel good. And check out this Buzzfeed article for inspiration from one woman’s comfy foot journey!

13. Go out for lunch.

Even if you’re bringing lunch to work (#savemoney), try not to eat it at your desk. Give yourself a real break and go to your office kitchen, the library, the park, or really anywhere else that would be a welcome escape! You could also make plans to see a friend or loved one during that time.

14. Add reminders of the things you love on your desk.

Photos of loved ones, a postcard from the next country you’d like to visit, or anything small and sentimental could be a nice pick-me-up when you’re chugging along in your space. Just keep it simple and remember not to clutter your desk!

15. Get a wrist pad.

If your hands cramp up easily or you’re starting to notice some pain along your arm, it could be a sign you’re typing too much in the wrong position. Get a wrist pad for your keyboard or mouse, and start being more conscious of your posture at work.

16. Stretch something.

Why is it so surprising that our shoulders ache or that our hips feel tight at the end of the day, when we’re sitting in the same position for most of it?? Look up stretches for those pain points and incorporate them into your daily routine.

17. Breathe better.

Short shallow breaths are a stress response. It’s also the default breathing pattern for many of us. When you remember to, try inhaling and exhaling more deeply. This can increase your lung capacity and triggers the microscopic dominoes in our body that allow us to feel more relaxed.

18. Practice some mild aromatherapy.

There are lotions with scents that are designed to calm your nerves or ease tension, if that’s your thing. My go-to is the Origins Peace-of-Mind lotion. A few dabs of this on my temples makes me feel more at ease, and it’s nice knowing that the scent isn’t overwhelming for the folks around me! (Note: not sponsored by Origins.)

19. Step away when things get overwhelming.

Computer crashes, email campaigns with typos, frustrating meetings…whatever’s got you worked up, leave it alone for a few. Go get the cup of water we talked about earlier, step into the hallway and do that breathing thing. It’s alllll good.

20. When reality gets tough, find a reason to smile.

I’m just going to say it: working in nonprofit can be sad! Many orgs are addressing hard-hitting issues, like prison reform or human rights, and the magnitude of the injustices we’re exposed to can really bring us down. That’s why you have to seek out those moments that can re-shift your perspective, no matter how silly it may seem.

My go-to’s are Dogs of Instagram and the Good News Network Twitter feed. Dogs and positivity, man.

21. Choose the battles that are most likely to make a difference.

When you find yourself constantly at odds with your manager or the leadership at your org, it can be tempting to make yourself heard at every turn. But this is a one-way ticket to being burnt out in your job. Pick your battles based on the change you can effect, and remember that being right doesn’t make every battle worth it.

22. Be okay with not knowing the answer.

Some feel that they need to be a total expert at their jobs, in order to honestly say they’re good at what they do. Here’s the big secret: we’re ALL learning here, and anyone who says they know it all is lying. Or outrageously confident. Or a wizard?

You won’t always know the answer, and that’s okay. Just focus on figuring it out!

23. Get comfortable setting boundaries.

You’re allowed to ask that staff not interrupt when you’re in the middle of a major task. You’re also allowed to ignore your email on the weekends (unless this goes against your description), and to disconnect when you go on vacation. You’re on friggin’ vacation!

And I get it if this feels like a grouchy stance to take! But if we don’t set those boundaries, who will?

24. Delegate.

As a manager who doesn’t manage humans, this is usually a big question mark for me! But lack of direct reports isn’t a reason to ignore this advice. If you oversee any people or process, and there are tasks you can reasonably delegate to someone else, find those opportunities and act on them.

25. Plan for the next week.

The only thing worse than Monday morning is the Monday morning where you’re scrambling to remember where you left off in your to-do list. Help future you by making Friday-you set yourself up for the next week.

26. Leave each day with one, small win.

The to-do list doesn’t end, friends. And some days at your org are going to leave you feeling pretty low, even if you’re working your dream job. Leave yourself room to conquer one small task each day, so that you always go home knowing you made some nonprofit magic happen.

What else can we be doing to practice self-care at work?

Share your thoughts!