Pay Yourself First: Self Care for Leaders

July 30, 2020 - Mark MacLeod

Pay Yourself First: Self Care for Leaders

‘Pay yourself first’ is a principle from the personal finance world. The idea is that you put away your savings first and live from everything else. The logic being that if you don’t do this, you likely won’t save.

The same principle applies to how we show up for work and life every day. Most CEOs I know are warriors. Every day is a battle. Fighting a never-ending list of demands, priorities, meetings and emails. You suit up (mentally or actually…) and swing into battle.

Over the long run, this is unsustainable and unhealthy. Both for yourself and your loved ones who have to witness this mess unfolding.

Here’s the thing with work: It expands to fill all available time. If you give a task an hour, it will take an hour. If you give that same task 30 minutes, you guessed it – it will only take 30 minutes.

Similarly, if you allocate 12 hours for work today, you will find 12 hours of work. If you cut it back to 8 or 9, everything will still get done. Just with less time.

Self care for leaders and sustainability

Recognizing that nature of work (that it fills time) and matching it with this principle of paying yourself first, I suggest doing things that feed you, that you enjoy, that bring you joy, health & happiness BEFORE you settle in for your work day.

Yes, this means less actual working hours. But, you will still accomplish everything that needs to be done. And you will do so in a way that is sustainable over the long run because you have fed yourself. You have paid yourself first.

Leadership habits that prioritize personal wellbeing

Here’s how I feed myself first:

It starts the night before. I aim for 7 hours of quality sleep per night. I track it and try and follow good sleep hygiene habits to achieve this.

For my first hour of the day, I read. I catch up on headlines, news. If time permits, I read a book.

Another one of my leadership habits is writing. Writing brings me joy. I don’t do it every day, but I do it 2 – 3 times per week.

I workout. I find that I think clearer and am far more productive on days when I have worked out. My metabolism is fired up. Everything just runs better when I workout early in the day.

Paying yourself first leads to more healthy leadership

When you make this time for yourself, when you pay yourself first, a beautiful, compounding thing happens: First, you are more effective and efficient when you work. In addition, you realize that you can do things that are good for you without hurting the business. This makes you want more of that. To actually take vacations. To actually not pick up the phone all the time in the evenings.

This promotes a virtuous cycle of personal health and healthy leadership – doing your best work while getting more out of life.

Try it!

Questions to consider

What are the activities that bring me happiness, health and joy?

How did I feel the last time I did each of these?

How often do I make time for those activities?

How can I start implementing this? What is the first activity I can start with? What one activity, done regularly, would bring the most positive impact to me?

Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

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