How to Prioritize Yourself AND Be More Effective in Your Life

By , SparkPeople Blogger
By Melissa McCreery, PhD, ACC

Learning to prioritize yourself and to claim time for your goals is critical for long term success with health and weight loss. Staying on track, finding the time, and maintaining motivation can be major challenges when you are trying to develop new habits. It’s all-too-easy for healthy eating, exercise, and self-care activities to slide off the to-do list. You’ve probably been there—you get worn out and lose your motivation or you just can’t figure out how to fit it all in your already busy schedule.

When life gets busy, personal priorities, self-care, or “me-time” may start to feel expendable and to drift off your radar. Many smart, busy people get stuck in the mindset trap of believing that self-care is selfish or a luxury—something you can get to later.

Not true.

Are you putting yourself at the bottom of your priority list?

The way you care for yourself counts and it counts big. The way you prioritize yourself affects your health and fitness goals as well as the time that you can devote to them. It affects your eating. Emotional eating, including stress eating, sky rockets when you aren’t getting what you need in other areas of your life. When you are at the bottom of your priority list, it affects how you show up in your relationships. If you struggle with the (incorrect) belief that making yourself a priority is “selfish,” know that prioritizing your wellbeing sets a powerful example for others in your life.

Taking care of YOU is not a luxury. Like getting regular oil changes for your car, prioritizing your self-care is what allows you to run smoothly and to bring your best to your other priorities and challenges.

The cost of not making and taking time for yourself:

The truth is, when your wellbeing isn’t a priority, just about everything goes downhill. When you don’t devote time and energy to your needs and your health:
  • You have less energy and motivation to follow through on your goals

  • You are more easily distracted and less focused

  • Many people tend to turn to “vices” to fill in the gaps that aren’t being filled with in quality ways. Stress eating and other kinds of emotional eating, smoking, drinking too much, wasting time surfing the internet—these are a few things that tend to show up, waste more of your time and energy, distract you, and contribute to a vicious cycle of decreased happiness and less effectiveness.

  • Stress levels are higher

  • Sleep is often impaired (or sacrificed)

  • It’s common to feel deprived, irritable, more easily frustrated, or impatient

  • Creativity suffers and life usually includes less play and fun

  • Health is negatively affected
When you’re not a priority, you simply don’t function at your best and your ability to contribute to the world is compromised. If you are trying to lose weight or maintain a fitness routine, without really claiming the necessary time and energy for it, you are sabotaging yourself before you even start.

How to start prioritizing your own needs even if it feels like you are too busy
  1. Start claiming 10-15 minutes a day for yourself. It won’t take away from your productivity, it will increase it. Really. Use this time to connect with yourself and to pay attention to how you feel and what you need. Journal, walk, meditate, soak in the tub. Try not to save this for the end of the day when you are too tired to move and your brain has stopped working. Pay yourself first or, if necessary, take a break during your day.

  2. Adopt the following mantras: “I’m doing my best,” and “I can’t do it all.” They are true. Put them where you can see them and remind yourself of them frequently.

  3. Create effectiveness in do-able steps. Each evening, identify your top three personal action items for the next day and decide when you will accomplish them. Think do-able. If these daily goals seem overwhelming, make them smaller. A fifteen minute walk that you take is better than the 45 minute one you couldn’t fit in. If possible, knock out your personal priorities early in the day.

  4. Plan for food that fuels you—especially when time is tight. Don’t skip breakfast, have a plan for lunch, and don’t starve yourself before dinner. Make sure you have the groceries that you need. Choose foods that are appealing. No starvation diets.

  5. Cut the multitasking. It stresses us out and makes us less effective. Practice focusing on doing one thing at a time. You won’t get it perfect, but that’s okay, remember step number two.

  6. Take emotional eating seriously. It’s often a signal that life is out of balance and your personal priorities need more attention. Emotional eating happens when our spirit or our life isn’t getting fed the non-food things we need or crave. We have to pay attention and develop other ways of caring for ourselves instead of turning to food, huge changes are possible. This can be complicated but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. If you feel stuck, consider an emotional eating program or coach. There is so much more to life than this vicious cycle.

  7. Don’t skip #1 (you’ll probably be tempted).
Learning to prioritize your own needs is a process, but you don’t have to get it perfect to see big, far-reaching benefits. Try out these tips and keep me posted on your progress.

Please share: what helps you keep your priorities front and center?

Dr. Melissa McCreery is a Psychologist, Coach, and the founder of where she helps busy women get to the root cause of their emotional eating, overeating, and stress so that they can create more effectiveness and joy in their health and their lives. Dr. McCreery is the author of the Emotional Eating Toolbox 28 Day Program and the Success Soundtrack: How to Create More Ease, Flow, and Me-time in 10 minutes a day. A busy woman herself, Melissa lives with her husband and two teenage sons in the beautiful Pacific Northwest where she enjoys running on the incredible trails, island views, and of course, great coffee.

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KHALIA2 10/5/2019
Thanks! Report
HEDSTS58 8/24/2019
I just went through a very stressful time in caring for my Mom in her final days and it was hard to workout. But I felt better Report
KOALA_BEAR 8/15/2019
I am no longer having to deal w/ this now that I'm retired. Article doesn't address jobs where stress is rampant, time management doesn't exist. I came home at night mentally exhausted & yes put myself on hold as I came home & parked in front of mindless TV. Did do some things like a quick walk thru the bldg at times, packing lunch & snacks hoping I'd get to those, & taking mental breaks when I could. I liked what I did but couldn't wait to get out of that pressure cooker place that burned ppl out. Today many ppl are working for the insurance or just need $$ w/ few options for jobs they love. The concepts are right just not realistic for all. Report
trying hard to do this Report
Thanks. Report
Ty. Much need advice and information. I'm a work in progress.:) Merry Christmas!!! Report
I know this is an old article, but I'm very happy I read it. Thank you for writing it. Report
Excellent advice! I consider my workouts and writing in my journal as "Me Time." Having absolute silence for 15 - 30 minutes and/or reading are other ways I claim time for myself. I don't do this every day and I still have a little trouble saying "No" to other people, but I'm working on it! Report
Great article, don't you think that being honest with oneself and being responsible for the resistance that we have to "putting ourselves first" is worth mentioning. We can find so many activities that make us feel good but they will never sustain us as long as we have interpretations of ourselves or life that don't support our highest good. Report
Still a work in progress with it comes to this topic, really enjoyed this refreshing's ok to be selfish sometimes, the only one that can take the best care of you IS you! Report
Thanks for the perspective! Report
This is one area many of us could use a little more practice, especially if we were taught to think of taking time for ourselves as being selfish.
It is not selfish to eat healthy
It is not selfish to be fit
As a matter of fact if you do take time for yourself you are being a great role model. Taking time for you doesn't mean that it has to be alone time, I take my sons to the pool with me. I have a son with Down syndrome, he learns by watching. He is learning to care for himself by following the example.
I start my day with SparkPeople and answer 5 questions on the message boards daily.
* I will...
* Something I am grateful for today
* What should I be doing?
and the 5th one is for fun...
* Quick! What's the first word that comes to mind?

In my life it has been hard to put myself first or even claim a little time and space for myself. I find myself being resentful and angry at having to be responsible for the "whole world". I will definitely make a daily effort to reclaim some "me-time". Thank you for the nudge! Report
Great Advice :) Report
Sometimes it is hard to remember that your wellbeing effects other aspects of your life and vice versa. This blog is a great reminder that I must take care of myself first, so I can be healthy and productive enough to take care of other things in my life. Thanks again for the important reminder! Report
This is a GREAT article! This is exactly something that applies to me. For years, I have been gaining weight and continuously eliminating things I used to do just for me. Now I am to that point where I can no longer function as I did before. I forget things, eat unhealthy, and have became extremely unfocused... I am definitely going to give this plan a try! I will follow up too :) Thank you for writing this! Report
I have always put everyone else first, but since I have been with SP, I am learning to take some ME time. The few challenges I have participated in have encouraged that. (And it took me nearly 3 years to start some challenges, and now I encourage everyone to join one.) Report
AWESOME! Thank you so much! Report
Taking a few minutes a day to write down priorities should be taken the same way as shopping with a menu in mind. We all need to take that time to prioritize our days and menus. Those are the two things important me.
I have to learn to say "no" a little more. Report
Excellent read!!! I'm passing this on to my friends! Thank you. Report
Good blog Report
List, lists, list...."to do lists" work wonders for me....especially when I follow them! Report
If we don't take care of ourselves we won't be there to take care of anyone else. That's important to remember if we have spouses, kids or parents! Report
Great suggestions. I have always considered some morning time for me. I play a game or two on the computer that I enjoy (freecell, sudoku, jig-saw puzzle) and then recheck my list for the day. I have a weekly list of chores I want to get done and on what days. There is one day that is left open mid-week for projects or to catch up on something else that didn't get done during the week. I also write 3-5 things down the night before on a sticky note and cross them off as I do them. It makes me feel good to see that I have accomplished something. If I do something that isn't on the list, I write it down and then cross off so I can keep track of time spent. Report
Great blog! Sort of like a kick in the rear end to make sure you take care of number 1 so you can take care of everything else. Great advice too. Thanks! Report
Great blog. I love #3's suggestions. Thanks! Report
I definitely agree with this. I saw myself in the article. It is so easy to take on stuff and difficult to get it off, but I did and started doing things I enjoy. Report
I guess I've been lucky in that I'm one of those people that has found a balance for everything. My health and fitness, faith and family are priorities for me, because taking good care of myself and loved ones makes me a much happier person. Report
Thanks! Between keeping up with my 95 year old mother, 2 grown children and 2 grandchildren, I seem to be getting lost in the middle. I need to start putting me first at least some time every day. Report
Hi WENDYRS! I don't believe in hard and fast rules about me-time. It's different for everyone. Exercise can be a "should" or it can be part of what fuels your spirit. My favorite me-time is my daily run in the woods, but I know that for some people, fitting in fitness still feels like a chore and isn't that "me-time indulgence." Make sense? By the way, congrats on your WLS success! Report
Every day I wake up with a plan of when I'm going to get my exercise in. I take one hour each day to do whatever exercise I've planned, whether it's a hike, bike, run, or an hour of strength training at the gym. I've been told, though, that this hour that I consider Me Time should not be considered Me Time, b/c Me Time should be something that I do to pamper myself. I usually take the last 15 minutes of the day to read a little bit of a good book, which relaxes me before going to sleep. Does that count? Report
Reading about time management is one thing, putting it into play in your life is another. We get so "busy" and wrapped up in the daily grind of life it is hard to change. Definitely something that I am always working on - more time for me Report
Hi Everyone! I'm thrilled (but not surprised) to see that this topic hit a nerve. It's something I'm pretty passionate about and a major focus of my work and what I write about on my blog. So many of you stated the bottom line--having a plan to fit yourself in is ESSENTIAL. If you aren't used to it, it probably won't feel comfortable or "just right" at first, but taking care of YOU is a critical muscle or habit to strengthen. As you tweak your schedule AND your mindset, things really do start to shift. And for all of you who are busy (and who isn't?) these small steps really do make an impact.
Take good care! ~ Melissa Report
This is something I really need to work on. I need a plan. Building a plan to fit my life will now be a priority for me. I will work on that today! Report
Thanks for the great advice. Now if I could just get my brain to agree with it all and follow through. Report
Great advice! I just wish that 90 percent of the population would start listening Report
I read books by Pam Young and Peggy Jones "The Slob Sisters" on how to be organized and they helped me as did Denise Schofield's book "Confessions of an Organized Housewife." With five children, I had to have a plan. Report
Great advice Report
This couldn't have come at a better time. I've been trying to figure out where to begin to find time for myself. Thank you! Report
This is a keeper! Report
Saving this one! Report
Good stuff Report
Definitely something I need to work on! Adjacent to my food log notebook (prior to starting w/SP and ongoing), I have check boxes down the right side of the page for things I need to do for me. It includes amount of sleep, exercise, water, fruits/veggies, medication, time outside, etc. I have a space down toward the bottom for special "to-dos" for that day. I still have a bunch of unchecked boxes, but it is helping me identify areas that I really need to work on! Report
Great blog and oh, so true. I've learned these lessons the hard way after years of taking care of everything except myself. Thanks for summing it all up so well. We could all do to read this one from time to time. Report
i have me-time but i do give up me when i should give to myself. i don't do 15 min as mine first. i enjoy helping people but feel disappointed in my own accomplishments. lets just say this was a great article and i should explore this subject further. Report
Boy, this is definitely something I need. Since I moved in with my dad to help him out, I feel like I have completely lost myself. It is time I find me again. Report
I am so grateful that my life is "set up" so that I have lots of "me time"--almost all my time in fact. I am retired, so do not have the pressures and time commitments of a job; I did not have kids (by choice) and have two wonderful dogs (with a large fenced-in yard and dog doors), so basically they require feeding and petting, which is a joy!

Since I don't have the demands/stress of a job/kids, I can priortize away at my own life! I make a list of what I want to accomplish the following day, and leave it where I can consult it when I wake up. So, basically, I do whatever I want to do! This is very low stress, and very "self" oriented.

Life is good! I love my life! I wouldn't trade it for any other. I confess that I am lazy and very self-indulgent, but I eat very healthy [vegan] food, and have a treadmill in the house, so I don't even have to go to the gym! I wouldn't want to live any other way. Report
So true! I actually had these feelings today......started stressing about when I was going to walk/jog my C 2 5K workout today. Everyone was pulling me in a million directions, but when I just literally walked outside to get away from the pressures, I got into my stride and immediately started feeling better!!!! Just have to remember that feeling it gave me when the urge to "slide" by and not exercise for the day arises again!!!! Report
I just left a message on her webpage. I think that anyone who can help me figure out how to get a little off the plate (in more ways than one) is wonderful! Denice Report