So you had a good summer. You started a new exercise program, you’re taking care of yourself, and you (finally) got caught up on sleep. Good for you. But with back-to-school season starting, life can easily get in the way of your wellness routine. Between classes, work, social commitments, and everything else, it may seem like your chaotic schedule is impacting your health in a not-so-good way.
With the right preparation and determination, you can keep your healthy habits on track and energy high this autumn. No Trapper Keeper required.
Set smarter goals
The first step to maintaining your wellness routine is setting well-defined goals. Just saying “I’m going to wake up early” isn’t going to cut it. What does “early” mean to you? Are you going to wake up “early” on weekends too? Fluffy, vague goals are seldom realized.
When setting goals, use the S.M.A.R.T. method. This acronym stands for specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound. The S.M.A.R.T. method is a great way to make sure your goals stick. Instead of just waking up early, your plan could be to get up at 6:00 am – from Monday to Friday – every week during the semester. Suddenly, you have something specific you can work toward and can evaluate success (or failure) accordingly.
Make sure you’re taking the time to recognize your progress.
One thing to note about goals: Make sure you reward yourself. For some, it’s easy to get caught up in goal after goal without acknowledging your successes. Make sure you’re taking the time to recognize your progress. Reward yourself each step of the way, whether that’s through a shopping trip, a special vacation with friends or even a Zeel Massage Membership to give your body a chance to unwind.
Wellness health check
When working toward goals, self-assess and recalibrate as needed on a regular basis. Actively give yourself a checkup during the week. Are you doing too much? Are you sleeping enough? Have you set aside enough time to relax and recoup? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then rejigger your plan to prioritize your body and mind’s needs. Simply being aware of your body’s signals and warning signs can be a great way to keep yourself on pace.
Make sure you reach out to your doctor for an annual checkup as well. You shouldn’t just visit a doctor when you’re sick. Preventative care allows you to be aware of your overall health, including your blood pressure, heart rate, weight, etc. Not only will this keep your body healthy, but a doctor can give suggestions and advice to help you reach your wellness goals.
Top priority: self-care
With the excitement of the new semester, there are plenty of opportunities to become overwhelmed. But if you’re so overworked that you burn out before midterms, you’re not doing yourself any good. And what’s more, when you do fall off the bandwagon, you’ll likely backtrack or lose any progress you’ve previously made.
You’ve got to take the time to treat yourself. For some, this is second nature, but for others, they have to pencil in their moments of relaxation. And that’s perfectly fine. Go for a morning jog. Start (and maintain) a journal. Better yet, pamper yourself with an in-home massage before the big test, which can have incredible benefits for your body and mind.
Whatever you do, make sure you take the time to focus on what’s important. Don’t be afraid to treat yourself. You’ve earned it.
Optimize your time
When planning out your day, make a point to optimize your time and efforts. A good way to get started is by making a list on a notecard of everything you have to do. This does two things for you: First, it makes a busy day less menacing when it’s confined within the borders of an index card (don’t underestimate the power of this). And second, you can start chopping off the unimportant bits.
As an exercise, pretend that you only have four hours to complete the work on this list. If your day was cut in half, what would you do first and what would you sacrifice? This allows you to consider the most essential to-dos on your list. Think about what’s most important for you to reach your goals.
From there, you can begin cutting out distractions. Is studying while half-watching Netflix actually making you more efficient? According to Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience, probably not. “It ruins productivity, causes mistakes, and impedes creative thought,” says Miller. “As humans, we have a very limited capacity for simultaneous thought.”
And while you may think that watching a little television while working actually helps you memorize facts and figures, this may be your brain lying to you. You think you’re focusing on both things simultaneously, but in reality, your brain is making a series of quick shifts from one thing to the other. And each shift hurts your productivity. As Miller explains, “your brain has to expend valuable mental energy refocusing on the task, backtracking and fixing errors. Not only does this waste time, it decreases your ability to be creative.”
Give yourself defined time for work, as well as opportunities to play.
That said, there have been some recorded benefits of multitasking, specifically regarding listening to music. If done the correct way, certain music can help you relax and even become more productive.
For the most part, though, distractions will get in the way of your efficiency. There’s nothing wrong with taking a breather, but don’t try to do it while you’re working. Give yourself defined time for work, as well as opportunities to play.
One of the best ways to maintain your wellness plan is to have someone keep you accountable. Reach out to friends or coworkers with like-minded goals. This is an important role in your life, and it should be treated as such. If your goal is to run a half marathon this year, but your roommate avoids exercise like the plague, they might not be a great fit for your accountabili-buddy.
If your friends aren’t up for the job, you can reach out to strangers. Join a gym, hire a personal trainer, start a Facebook group – just find people with similar health and wellness goals. Their successes will give you the courage to keep on going and give you a sense of community through the toughest times.
Start saying no
It’s so easy to say yes. And saying yes to the important stuff is great. But when you get in the habit of saying yes without consulting your goals or your body, you can begin to drown in the stresses of the yesses. It’s okay to say no.
When someone asks you to do something, make a habit of slowing down your response. Is this really the best night to go to a party? What about training for that 5k Turkey Trot you promised yourself you’d run in November? Saying no gives you the freedom to make more time for personal space and self-improvement. Fair warning – if you’ve fallen into the routine of saying yes perpetually, this could be a challenge. (Start your people-pleasing with yourself.)
One easy alternative is to say you’ll need to check your schedule first. This gives you a few minutes to A: actually, check your schedule and B: see if this new commitment is realistic alongside your goals. You can only juggle so many plates at a time. Make sure you’ve chosen the right plates.
Put your plan into play
As you take the first steps into the new semester, prepare yourself with these simple but effective tips. The busyness of school can be overwhelming without the proper preparation. Give yourself the time you deserve to maintain and achieve your wellness goals.
Read: 15 Ways to Make the Most of Your Massage Membership this Fall
Patrick Chism is a Blog Manager at Quiicken Loans, where he contributes to Quicken's Zing Blog, writing about in personal finance. See Patrick on LinkedIn.