Before I had children, my go-to technique for getting things done was “delay of gratification.” Essentially, as a way to motivate myself to get unappealing things done, I would always have a reward in place for myself once I accomplished those tasks.

For example, if I had to pay medical bills, clean house, do laundry, schedule a dentist appointment (you know — the fun adult stuff), I would tell myself that once I finished everything on my list, I could reward myself by getting a mani-pedi or watching my favorite show on Netflix and so on. In other words, I would take care of my to-do list before

taking care of myself.

This worked really well for me — that is, until I had kids.

One thing that motherhood quickly taught me was that this old way of getting things done was not sustainable. Medical bills grow in number. Laundry multiplies exponentially. As soon as you tidy up and clean the house, you twirl around — think like Cinderella style, but the difference is some sort of cursed magic where, instead of perfection, you find just more mess and filth.

As they say, a mother’s work is never done. So, as my to-do list grew, I found self-care farther and farther down the list.

One recent Monday, I decided to do things differently. Mondays are my day “off” from “work” — I stay home from the office but take care of all the fun adult stuff. On this particular Monday, I woke up feeling exhausted and facing another long to-do list. I asked myself, “Does all of this absolutely have to get done today?” The answer I gave was an emphatic, “Nope.”  The bills, the laundry, the mess, it could all wait…

The very thought of tackling the list left me feeling more exhausted. I thought about my trusty old “delay of gratification” trick — but I. Just. Couldn’t. Do. It.

What I felt like doing was throwing that old trick out the window — so I did, and I did the complete opposite. Rather than “doing,” I just let myself “be.” I drank my coffee while it was still hot. I had a nice breakfast that I could actually be mindful of and taste. I took a hot shower until it ran cold and – get this – without interruption (during which I was actually able to shave my legs). I went and got a mani-pedi — I usually do my own nails, but doing them myself somehow felt like one more “to-do” and not an actual self-care act, so I headed out to the nail salon instead.

By then, it was mid-day and, paradoxically, I felt my energy stores replenished. I arrived back home feeling more motivated and able to tackle my to-do list filled with adult stuff.

What this experience taught me is that, sometimes (well, perhaps most of the time), the best way to go about getting things done is taking care of yourself first.


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