Taking care of physical and mental health while at work

Highly successful leaders understand the importance of self-care as a foundation for their effectiveness and well-being. There is a plethora of literature and articles on this topic which often focus on aspects such as healthy eating, adequate sleep, and regular exercise – all of which are good habits to maintain. However, little focus is given to those ‘in-office’ practices that positively contribute to self-care, which compound over time and can make a tremendous difference to a person’s quality of life, career success and fulfilment, a leadership expert says.

“As year-end nears, most people are tired, and the holiday break cannot come soon enough. But 2024 and a fresh year of work is not far behind the break, so this is the time to think about implementing in-office practices that will ensure you maintain your energy and can give your work and personal life your all in the new year,” says Peter Kriel, General Manager at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s leading private higher education provider.

“The most important habit to develop is effective time management.” — Kriel.

He says while it is important to build those habits that support mental and physical wellbeing outside of work, the 8-hours-plus of our workday should also be harnessed to ensure optimal and ongoing wellbeing, to avoid burnout.

Peter Kriel, General Manager at The Independent Institute of Education

“While the specific in-office self-care habits can vary from person to person, there are some fundamental ones that successful people employ to improve both their personal well-being and their performance as leaders and managers. These are helpful tips regardless of your status – whether you are a student, employee, manager or self-employed,” he says.

The most important habit to develop is effective time management, says Kriel.

Effective time management is a critical self-care habit. Successful leaders often use time management techniques, like prioritising tasks, setting boundaries, and delegating, to avoid burnout and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Procrastination is the main enemy of good time management practices and ultimately adds to stress levels.

“So, if you know yourself to be somewhat of a procrastinator, resolve to understand what lies beneath your tendency to put things off, and deal with it as a gift to yourself in 2024.”

In addition to ensuring your time is used efficiently, the following habits can help you maintain agency at work, and feel empowered and in control of your life, says Kriel.

Continual learning and professional development

Learning and personal growth are vital for success. Successful leaders often engage in lifelong learning by reading, attending seminars, taking courses, or seeking mentorship to stay updated and adapt to changing environments. Not being on top of developments, the latest technologies and other changing aspects in the business world may not seem like something that would impact self-care, but it does, because you are less likely to feel stuck in a rut, and your skills will remain relevant in a highly competitive work environment which reduces stress and concern about job security.

Regular mental and physical breaks

Taking short breaks during the workday can help recharge the mind and prevent burnout. Use these periods of downtime to reflect and refocus. Not deliberately planning and executing such breaks will add to stress levels and loss of productivity, which will ultimately negatively impact self-care.

Effective stress management

We all experience stress, but managing it is crucial. Stress-management techniques, such as deep breathing or journaling, help. However, many less obvious techniques will assist in effective stress management in the workplace. Creating a to-do list and prioritising tasks is number one, but then breaking down tasks into manageable chunks can reduce feelings of overwhelm and stress.

Setting boundaries

While maintaining a healthy balance between work and personal life is essential, there is more to setting boundaries. In addition to setting clear boundaries between work and personal life, intra-business boundaries are also crucial. Learn to be assertive by respectfully communicating your needs and boundaries to reduce workplace stressors and say no when necessary to avoid over-commitment.

Reflection and goal-setting

Regular self-reflection and personal goal-setting help us stay focused on long-term objectives and ensure we are aligned with our values and priorities. The opposite of this is being swept up by the business of each day, which quickly leads to feelings of being out of control of your life and work. Being able to measure your performance against the goals you set will not only identify gaps, which will help you focus but also create a sense of achievement when goals are met. Both these aspects will greatly support your self-care drive.

“Remember that self-care is not a one-size-fits-all. High-agency, successful people tailor their self-care routines to their unique needs and circumstances. The key is to consistently prioritise self-care practices that enhance physical, mental, and emotional well-being, which contributes to success and effectiveness at work, and wellbeing and fulfilment outside of it.”