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Author: Sam Downie, Managing Director

Wednesday 24 July is International Self-Care Day. What does self-care mean to you? Time with others, time alone? Being outside playing a sport, or sitting in front of the telly watching a favourite series? Maybe a day of self-care would incorporate all of these, and more… However, it’s likely that you aren’t going to spend the whole of Wednesday 24 July doing things just for you, so what are you fitting into life on a daily and weekly basis that creates a balance between the energy you expend working and supporting others, and doing activities that give you energy and build up your emotional reserves?

30 years ago I read a book that included a prompt to note the details of what made you happy, one activity that I consistently enjoy is walking in a green space, feeling relaxed, hearing birds, and noticing my surroundings. Around the same time I was introduced to Susan Jeffers’ Grid of Life [1], it looks like this:

My biggest take away from the Grid of Life is that each element has just one box, however important, that life is made up of many parts and that whilst we may choose to focus much of our energy and attention on some areas, it is important to not ignore others. If this approach appeals to you then it’s easy to create your own grid, you can even draw it by hand. Use the nine areas above as prompts to think about your own life and if there are areas where you don’t currently have anything to add, use that as a prompt to think about what might appeal to you. Are there activities that you’ve enjoyed in the past, or things that you would like to try? Feel free to add in areas or to amend it to capture what’s important to you. The benefit is in having a daily reminder of the things that are important to us and make us feel good; the daily habits and interactions that leave us feeling content with how we’ve lived that day, and over time build into having greater resilience to the inevitable challenges that life includes.

In my office I have my grid pinned to the wall, it has become bigger over time as I’ve added boxes for each of my children, partner, and pets. I also have separate boxes for close friends, acquaintances, close family, and extended family. Evidence indicates that relationships are important, not just for me, but for all of us. One of the key features in the Blue Zones, the places across the world where people consistently live longer and experience higher quality of life, was the quality of relationships that people experienced over time. However, relationships aren’t always easy, and learning how to relate to those we care about can be an investment that pays dividends, not just in our lifetime but for the generations that come after us.

Personally, I have found psychotherapy to be immensely helpful, the opportunity to have professional support on a regular basis that is focused on your own emotional health and development can be lifesaving and certainly life changing, and is something I would encourage anyone struggling, or simply curious about learning more about themselves, to consider accessing. If you are interested in learning more about yourself and how you relate to others but prefer social media, there are lots of good accounts. A couple I recommend if you are interested in working on your relationship s is Julie Menanno’s account on Instagram, as it shares some great content on how partners relate to one another and is a good place to start, or you might want to try James Hawes on LinkedIn for content on Men’s mental health.

Another consistent theme from the Blue Zones was the habit of healthy choices, routinely eating well, sleeping, and exercising whilst limiting or avoiding alcohol. My view is that the evidence for the impact of good quality sleep on performance is pretty compelling. If we can create a routine that allows us to maintain similar sleep and wake times, natural light soon after waking and about eight hours a night with limited light disturbance before or during sleep, it will allow us a foundation for good mental health. This is why I prioritise sleep the majority of the time. If this is difficult due to working shifts or travelling for work, there are strategies to make the sleep you do get as good as it can be, you may want to look at this Australian website for some ideas.

Linking new habits that you want to develop to things you already do can be a helpful way of making changes stick. I link spending time outdoors with getting daylight early and being physically active by walking my dogs in the morning, and find that whilst I’m swimming, I’m able to reflect on my week, what has gone well and what actions I’m going to take over the coming days. I also like to learn something new each year, so have a regular opportunity to be creative and develop skills, whether that is in a hobby that I haven’t tried before or in having lessons to become better at something I am already familiar with. Learning alongside my children has allowed us to share experiences and connect in different ways as we are both learning together.

Over the past three decades I have read, watched and listened to the world’s leading researchers explain what habits create a life that is fulfilling; whether the evidence comes from the areas in the world where people live the longest [2], or current research from Professor Willem Kuyken on what it means to live well [3], or the old proverb about all work and no play… The lessons are broadly the same:

  • Relationships: Prioritise developing and maintaining strong relationships, whether with friends, family, or your partner; the quality of your relationships is a key determinant in the quality of your life.
  • Lifestyle: Make healthy lifestyle choices routine so that the majority of the time you get enough sleep, eat well and exercise regularly, including spending time outdoors in daylight.
  • Hobbies: Have interests/hobbies that allow you to learn and be creative, learning is good for our brain health and gives us the opportunity to connect with others in a different way to our day-to-day adulting responsibilities.
  • Help others: Find ways to help others, whether that is through formal volunteering, supporting a team or club, sponsoring a charity, or mentoring an individual; contributing to the community in which we live and work is good for us as well as being good for those we help.
  • Reflect: Allow yourself time and space to reflect on what is going well, and what you want to change. Gratitude is a powerful intervention for happiness, but false positivity is unhelpful, so making a daily habit of noticing what has gone well, things you are grateful for, and anything you want to do differently going forward is a small change that can make a huge difference in how you experience your day to day.
  • Behaviours: Avoid using unhelpful behaviours to cope with difficult feelings. If you’re struggling with alcohol, other substances, gambling or porn there are services that understand how you’re struggling and know how to support you to make positive change to find better balance in your life.

So, what does this look like in an average working week?

  • Planning time so that you have a fairly consistent get-up and go to sleep time and can get an average of 7/8 hours a night.
  • Food shopping that makes it easy to eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of vegetables, protein and complex carbohydrates as well as treats, which for me means some chocolate or an ice cream in the afternoon.
  • I limit the amount of caffeine I drink to two coffees a day, because too much caffeine makes us feel more anxious, and I drink plenty of water or hydrating drinks that aren’t too sweet.
    I take the dog for a walk before I start work or go for a swim, because I find exercising before I start work energises me for the day. Do you know what suits you best? Can you plan exercise into your day, before work, or after work, or perhaps at lunchtime? Can you combine exercise with socialising by playing a team sport or going to the gym with a colleague?
  • Making sure I connect with family and friends regularly by organising to meet up with them as well as texting, or both joining the same game online to play together means that I prioritise those important relationships. Are you able to spend time each day connecting with the people most important to you, even if it’s just a video call to check in each evening and share what happened that day? Knowing that call is coming and can be relied upon is important to building and maintaining trust.
  • Within my working day I try to take breaks from my screen and walk around, because we know that sitting still is unhealthy. In another role it might be important to take a break from being on your feet and have a sit down. Is there somewhere you can go for a rest that is away from working, outdoors if you’ve been stuck inside? By changing location, we signal to ourselves that we’re taking a pause from the task we’ve been doing. Is there something you can do within that time that allows you to learn or be creative? Perhaps an App like Duolingo to build a link with co-workers who speak a different language, or pencil and paper to sketch your surroundings.
  • Small differences add up over a week, and over a lifetime they can allow you to build new skills and experiences; experiment with what works for you. Not everything will fit into your working day, or be a habit that you want to retain, but by trying new things you have the chance of finding something you enjoy.

It’s worth noting that work-life balance is good for business too, with UK workers having it as their top priority in 2024 [4] and companies that invest in their employees’ experience benefitting from 13% productivity gain [5].

So, if you need to start somewhere I suggest a grid, if you can’t fill all the boxes start with the ones you can and make time for yourself to work out how to fill the others… The science tells us that you can’t create happiness, but you can create opportunities where you’re likely to find it… So, if you see me at an open-air concert singing along to live music with friends and a good picnic, you’ll know what I’m doing, I’ll probably be smiling.

Where to find support 

If anyone in this blog has resonated with you, please remember, there is always someone who will listen, and the organisations below are a good place to start: 

You can also download free infographics and guides from the resources section of this website. We also offer a range of training courses that can help you build knowledge and understanding across your organisation. 

Next steps

The next blog in the series will be on Finance and will be published in August.  

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[1] The 9 box grid of life from Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway® (

[2] Dan Buettner: How to live to be 100+ | TED Talk


[4] Healthy work-life balance tops UK workers' list of priorities in 2024 | Employee Experience | HR Grapevine | News

[5] Creating a Happier Workplace Is Possible — and Worth It (

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