When you’re busy, it’s self-care that gets cut first. Instead of trying to multitask, divide your to-dos into 20-minute chunks.
Doing so “tends to decrease overwhelm and facilitate a can-do attitude,” explains Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D. clinical psychologist and author of Joy from Fear.
Feeling less stressed about all the things you want to do “translates into actually enjoying the tasks at hand — and even completing more than anticipated,” she says.
You can do all of the activities below in just 20 minutes to move your health and fitness journey forward. Tackle one of them today!
1. Walk Around Your Neighborhood
Whether it’s a loop or 10 minutes out and 10 minutes back, a quick walk can benefit your mind and body.
Studies show that short walks are “sufficient to foster positive emotional states, so a 20-minute walk is a sure-fire way to boost your mental health,” says Manly.
She adds that “a short walk several times a week has the power to increase physical health” by benefitting your heart, blood pressure, and even weight.
2. Make a Gratitude List
Tatyana Mestechkina, Ph.D., Founder, and Clinical Director of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Better Living, suggests making a gratitude list.
That’s precisely what it sounds like: a list of things, big or small, that you’re thankful for at the moment when you write it.
It may not even take 20 minutes, but doing this simple act “has been shown to increase well-being,” explains Mestechkina.
Gratitude lists may also be a good gateway for journaling.
3. Keep a Journal
If writing down your thoughts and feelings doesn’t feel comfortable, you could try a food journal instead.
Writing down what you eat makes it easier to see where you’re stress-eating or overdoing it, and identifying those patterns is the first step toward creating the calorie deficit you need for weight loss.
4. Write Out a Grocery List
Grocery lists can be a way to invest in your own mental and physical health.
One study showed that using a grocery list may be associated with healthier diets and lower body mass index (among very high-risk adults).
It also helps with impulse buys and serves as a meal planning aid.
But they can also help your well-being in ways beyond your diet. You’ll save time at the store by using a grocery list, and you can spend that saved time on self-care activities or family time.
Grocery lists also make it easier to stick to a budget, which surveys have found make people feel more confident in their spending and less stressed about finances.
5. Try a Job 1 Workout
You clear everything else to show up for your work meetings; Super Trainer Jennifer Jacobs believes your wellness should be the same way.
Use a 20-minute chunk to tackle one of the Job 1 workouts and set the stage for more.
Jennifer’s program asks you to complete five 20-minute workouts a week, and the time acts as a good break from your computer.
“Meditating — even for short periods of time — gives the body, mind, and spirit a chance to take a timeout,” says Manly.
Sometimes that’s what your mind needs to get back to work with intention and focus. If you have difficulty sitting in one place, Manly suggests trying moving meditations like tai chi.
Even if you’re moving, bringing mindfulness to what you’re doing can “decrease the likelihood of us experiencing anxiety or sadness,” explains Mestechkina, because it interrupts stressful thinking patterns.
7. Take an Epsom Salt Bath
Recovery is an essential part of training and exercise, but it’s forgotten or ignored all too often.
Researchers are torn about whether we absorb muscle-relaxing magnesium through our skin, but even the act of drawing yourself a bath has benefits.
“When we take small 20-minute breaks to reset and refocus, we are far more likely to feel more positive, refreshed, and attentive,” Manly explains.
8. Meal Prep
Use 20 minutes to set yourself up to enjoy a healthy, nourishing diet. Try doing something that helps you in an area in which you struggle.
If it’s hard for you to get in enough veggies, prep chopped vegetables for salads or roasted vegetables for sides.
If you forget to eat because you’re busy, prepare a week’s worth of healthy snacks.
(You can also find most veggies pre-prepped in bags at the grocery store, or frozen in bulk for total convenience.)
Remember that by doing these things, you’re taking care of future you.
“When we embrace the idea that meal prepping can be an act of self-care (rather than a bothersome must-do), we tend to enjoy the process of preparing the food that nurtures our bodies,” says Manly.
9. Log a Power Nap
We don’t have time to go into all the reasons you need to be getting enough sleep but suffice it to say that it’s vital for your long-term health.
If you’re not getting adequate sleep at night, naps temporarily can help you close this gap between your sleep needs and reality.
10. Stretch or Foam Roll
Foam rolling is your tight muscles’ best friend. It can help relieve soreness and get you back into your workouts faster.
Stretching can also help reduce the risk of injuries. Lingering stiffness can cause muscle imbalances that affect you in and out of the gym.
Stretching or foam rolling are also gentle ways to pause from work and reconnect with your body if you’re someone who sits most of the day.
11. Eat With No Distractions
Instead of eating at your computer, take 20 minutes to sit and enjoy your meal, distraction-free.
That means no endless scrolling through emails or Instagram, either!
“Bringing our full awareness to what we are doing in the present moment” is valuable, reminds Mestechkina.
Your body requires attention to notice satiety cues and doing a task that takes some of your attention away from what you’re eating impairs your ability to feel full.
12. Vacuum or Sweep the Floors
Sometimes checking something off your to-do list is a form of self-care.
“If tending to a few straggling tasks will reduce your overall stress, don’t hesitate to use a spare 20 minutes to mindfully sweep the floors,” says Manly.
And using sweeping or vacuuming as a break from office work (if you’re working from home) can help ease physical tension caused by sitting too long.
13. Play With Your Pet
Having a furry friend is beneficial for your social, physical, and mental health, but you need to spend time with them.
Staring into your dog’s eyes increases levels of oxytocin, the love hormone, which makes your bond even closer.
14. Read a Chapter
You may not be able to get through your entire to-read list in 20-minute chunks, but you could tackle some of it.
Pick up fiction for a break from your workday or self-help or non-fiction to learn about or strengthen a skill you’ve always wanted to develop.
“Think about this as ‘refueling time,'” says Mestechkina. She says we need to “figure out ways to ‘put gas’ into ourselves” regularly, just as we do with our cars.