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10 Ways to Put Yourself at the Top of Your 'To Do' List

Updated: Sep 8

I read a quote in my daily planner a few months back that really helped me better approach the concept of ‘self-care.’ The quote by Michelle Obama goes like this, “We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list.” And to me, that thought is so pure and simple, especially when you are an avid list maker like myself. It cuts through the bullshit (read: commercialization) of self-care and gets to the fundamental truth of it. Here’s the thing - I’m as big a fan as anyone of lux spa days, superfood smoothie bowls, and tropical yoga retreats. But I just wholeheartedly disagree with the propaganda that those are what self-care is all about. To me, true ‘self-care’ are things you do for yourself that put you first on your to do list, whether or not they cost a dime or make a pretty Instagram post.

To get your mind thinking more in-line with the No B.S. approach to self-care, I've rounded up 10 of my favorite ways to put myself higher up on my 'to do' list.


1. Move Your Body

I don’t care if it's a walk, HIIT workout, yoga class, or bike ride. Take the time to move your body - 5 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour - whatever you have the capacity to do in your day. It’s amazing how good you can feel in your body after doing something as simple as 20 jumping jacks, 20 push-ups, and 20 seconds holding a plank position. Just because you don’t have a full hour (or whatever you tell yourself is necessary for a ‘good workout’) doesn’t mean you can’t take care of your primal need for movement.


2. Sit in Silence (with no electronics present)

I refrained from listing meditation because that isn’t everyone’s jam -- I’m not a particular fan of it myself. But I do think sitting in silence can be incredibly grounding and centering, especially when you *silence* any electronics or (better yet) put them away. Something that I’ve been loving lately that has me sitting in silence, but not meditating, is breathwork. I set a timer for 5 minutes and focus on my breath - inhaling for a count of 4, holding for a count of 4, exhaling for a count of 4, and repeat. So I guess I do use an electronic for the timer, but the important part is to sit in silence without using electronics to distract you.


3. Make Space for Your Emotions

I’ve always been a big fan of turning on a sad movie (personal go-to: A Fault in Our Stars) and crying it out if I’ve had a bad day or week. There’s something so cathartic about a good cry. I also love screaming into my pillow or stringing together a bunch of swear words when I’m pissed. A recent activity that I’ve fallen in love with is JournalSpeak -- I love being about to write out ALL of my thoughts and emotions, no matter how ugly or cruel or unpopular, and then tear it up when I’m done. Whatever resonates with you, make some time to let the emotions out and not trap them inside you.


4. Eat a Meal You Love

Sometimes I get so caught up in ‘eating right’ or trying new recipes that I can forget the true pleasure that food can bring. And for those that have multiple people they are cooking for, especially little ones that are picky eaters, meals can feel like something to get through or to do to fill a basic need. To avoid this, I’ve been purposefully planning at least one meal a week that is something that I know I’m going to love regardless. Food is delicious! What you eat shouldn’t always revolve around your kids or only eating ‘healthy.’


5. Sleep

It might just be me, but I feel like there is so much buzz around sleep lately - and for good reason. Rather than just telling you to get more sleep or go to bed earlier, my biggest tip with sleep is to learn what sets you up best for getting a restful sleep. For me, that means turning off electronics an hour before bedtime. It also means going to bed with my alarm set for at least 7.5 hours later. For me, if I even think I’m going to get less than 7 hours of sleep, I fall asleep just ‘knowing’ I’m going to be tired in the morning. Ultimately while I do believe you should strive for 7-8 hours of sleep, I know that’s not always possible. But an easy way to put you at the top of your ‘to do’ list is at least set yourself up for the best possible sleep.


6. Get Outside Everyday (even in crappy weather)

Something about seeing the sky and breathing in fresh air perks me right up. Even on super cold or rainy days, I still enjoy getting out of buildings for a bit. Since I have a dog and live in an apartment, I don’t really have a choice about walking her everyday. But, even when I’m dreading the weather or feeling like I don’t have time, I always feel better after being outside -- even if it’s being happy to be back inside because the weather was so crappy.

7. Schedule & Go to Your Health Appointments

So this might be the least glamorous suggestion for how you can put yourself first, but I recently realized that I haven’t been to the eye doctor in over a year and missed my last dentist appointment. I’m not a big fan of either (or my looming pap smear that I need to schedule), but I also really believe in the preventative aspect of healthcare. In doing for everyone else, we shouldn’t let our health suffer.


8. Take a Bath or Shower -- but take your time

I might be the world’s biggest fan of taking baths, but this isn’t about taking a luxurious bubble bath. This is about enjoying time away from your phone and the other demands placed on you when you aren’t awake, wet, and naked. If you hate baths, you can easily do this with a shower. Take your time in the warm/hot water, let your mind water, and (if you can) don’t get out until the water runs cold.


9. Learn Something New

I love learning random facts about things that I can pull out as a conversation starter or to show off how smart I am (eye-roll at myself, but kind of true). I also love learning new skills that can help me with my career because it not only is a great way to constantly build a resume, but also makes me feel super accomplished when I can take what I learn and put it into use. How do I make this part of putting myself on the top of my ‘to do’ list? I listen to podcasts (for the random facts), and I volunteer for work projects that I know will stretch me. And if this isn’t you, you can still learn by watching documentaries, reading books, finding free online courses, using a language app on your phone -- the possibilities are endless.


10. Declutter/Organize Your Space

I know this one may just sound like more work and less ‘taking care of you,’ but hear me out. When there is clutter around, it can be really hard to focus. And when things aren’t organized, it takes longer to finish whatever you need to do. For the sake of efficiency and being able to do things you would rather be doing, I would argue that taking the time to clear out clutter and organize your space is an important way to take care of yourself. But if you really don’t care about clutter or having things organized, that’s great -- you can spend your time doing other things that help you feel your best.


While this list is by no means comprehensive, it’s a good place to start when re-framing your thinking of self-care or, as I now prefer to call it, putting myself at the top of my ‘to do’ list. Now, ask yourself - what can you do today to put yourself at the top of your 'to do' list?


Check out our episodes for more ideas on how you can put yourself first!

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