Scott Hanselman

Self-care matters: Pay yourself first

July 14, 2016 Comment on this post [40] Posted in Musings
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My sonI was meeting with a mentee today and she was commenting how stressed out she was. Overwhelmed with work, email, home, life, dinners, the news, know. LIFE. I am too. You likely are as well.

We spent about on the phone talking about how to make it better and it all came down to self-care. Sometimes we all need to be reminded that we matter. It's OK to take a moment and be selfish. You are the center of your universe and it's important to take time for yourself - to appreciate your value.

Depending on your personality type, you may give so much of yourself to your family, your work, your family and friends that you forget what's at the core! You! If you don't take care of yourself then how will you take care of everyone else?

This may seem obvious to you. If it does, that's cool. Click away. But sometimes obvious things need to be said and for my mentee and I, today, we needed to hear this and we needed a plan.

Here's some of our ideas.

  • Cancel a meeting.
    • Maybe cancel two. If you look at your day with absolute dread, is there a ball that you can drop safely? Perhaps ask a coworker if they can handle it for you?
  • Pay yourself first
    • Finances are a stressor for everyone. My wife and I used to argue about little $5 debit card things because they not only added up but they filled up the register, were hard to track, and generally distracted us from important stuff like the rent. Now we get an allowance. I don't use a credit card, I have a certain amount of cash each week (we get the same amount). I can buy Amazon Gift Cards or iTunes cards, I can eat at Chipotle whenever, or buy an Xbox game. Now when an Xbox game shows up she is interested in hearing about the game, not sweating how it was purchased. Pay yourself first.
  • Setup Formal Me-Time
    • Once a week my wife and I have a day off. From each other, from the family, I leave at 5pm and come back late. She does the same. Sometimes I see a movie, sometimes I walk around the mall, sometimes I code or play Xbox. The point is that it's MY TIME and it's formal. It's boxed and it's mine. And her time is hers. You shouldn't have to steal an hour when you're super stressed. PAY yourself an hour, up front.
    • We also do a weekly date night. Always. Gotta prioritize. I hate hearing "we haven't seen a movie or had a dinner in know, kids." Nonsense. Get a sitter from the local uni and pay yourself first with TIME.
  • Self-care
    • Schedule a massage. Have your nails done (everyone should do their nails at least once). Get a haircut. Dance. Clean your office. Sleep. Do whatever it is that feeds your spirit.
  • Say no
    • Sometimes "No. I just can't right now." is enough to stop an email thread or a something when you feel you just can't. Drop the ball. Life is somewhat fault tolerant. Use your judgment of course, but truly, unless your software is saving babies, maybe take a break. Even an hour or a "mental health day" helps me no burn out.

Do you pay yourself first? Do you need to be reminded that you deserve health and happiness? Let me know in the comments.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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July 14, 2016 12:57
I remember precisely when i came to this insight myself. It was twelve years ago when i was working for UNDP/UNV in Timor-Leste. We were eating at this (relatively speaking) posh restaurant with my expat peers. When we stepped out, the outsides at the gated restaurant was packed with locals waiting for the place to turn into a night club later in the evening. I was struck by the chasm between the haves and the have-nots. It was terrible. But at the same time, i grokked that if i don't take care of myself, i don't have the capacity to help the people i'm there to help. So i allowed myself to enjoy the dinner with my peers, without guilt or regret, 'cos tomorrow i'd be recharged and better prepared to face the day.

I also stayed for the disco bit and though it was not my kind of fun, it was great to see the place stuffed with locals and externals. In the end though, i ended up in the run-down watering hole with lower key entertainment and less flashy lights. The A.A.J, i do believe. I hope it's still there, and i hope the locals and us foreigners still mingle there in the wee hours over cheap beer and a barely functioning karaoke machine.
July 14, 2016 13:08
Nice point mentioned in this post.
I am facing health issue and on full time leave from office.
I worked hard the reason behind my ditching health.
Recovering fast and surely now follow these tips when again I join.
It's going to be an eye opener post for me.
Thank you, Sir
July 14, 2016 13:25
Thank you. I totally agree with the idea. I heard about the "Pay yourself first". However mostly about the financial paid. The "Set up formal Me-Time" is brilliant.
Another note is that to make that happens, people should discuss with their partner. Currently, I practice gym in the afternoon and Yoga in the morning. So I would consider it as "Pay me time first".
July 14, 2016 13:37
One thing that for me is really important is to travel, if your job allows it take a couple of days + a weekend and travel somewhere (really just 2 or 3 days can make a real difference).

And if you are in the middle of an important sprint or whatever and you are not a remote worker (if you are it's a no brainer but it's really uncommon that both you and your wife are remote workers), try to set up remote work for a couple of days as well and work in totally different place. When I think my batteries need a little boost I just change the scene, here in Europe you can be in a different country in less than an hour and there is nothing like finishing work and have the rest of the day to know a new city.
July 14, 2016 13:45
Excellent subject, which is kind of relevant for me at the moment, so greatly appreciated.

P.S. I read that first line as 'I was meeting with a manatee, today...' - definitely need to spend more time away from my desk ;)
July 14, 2016 14:03
Anyone else got the Baz Luhrmann Sun Screen song in their head reading this?


"Accept certian inalienable truths
Prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too, will get old
And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young
Prices were reasonable, politicians were noble
And children respected their elders"
July 14, 2016 14:23
These align well with the one of Heinlein's aphorisms (in the "Notebooks of Lazarus Long") that has stuck with me -- "Budget the luxuries first." Gratification may need to be delayed a while, but you need to plan something in for yourself.
July 14, 2016 16:15
I particularly liked the idea about date night: we've made a go of it before, but it's time for a rekindling... Especially as I know how important this is. The concept (of spending quality time) is echoed in a book I'm currently reading called Manhood by Steve Bidulph, which I highly recommend - for men and women!

The time thing - This seems to be a common theme today: Mr Money Mustache is generally focused on saving and limiting expenditure, but that also comes with tips on how to reclaim some of your time back:

July 14, 2016 16:40
Saying no helps reduce dependencies.

My wife is a brilliant RN. She can't transfer photos to a USB drive.

My fault for not saying no.

I'm going to get a hat that says "Not now" on it.
July 14, 2016 17:15
Love the article and have used many of your ideas for years.

I do need to make sure my wife gets an allowance, she takes care of the finances (but I don't think she has a formal allowance). I get money every paycheck deposited to my play account.

We do the date night thing and also plan a yearly trip together. This yearly trip was a marriage saver when our children were little. We normally try for two weekends (or weeks) a year, one on our anniversary and one on my birthday, since they are about 6 months apart.

July 14, 2016 17:17
Thanks Scott!

(The your software is saving babies part could have been a nice link!)
July 14, 2016 17:55
Thank you for the nice reminder. Massage: That is what I'm going to schedule today.
July 14, 2016 17:58
Three decades ago a peer told me this story.

His manager took him to a cemetery where they walked around for a while.

The manager asked him to think about the gravestones.

The gravestones had epitaphs like "in memory of our beloved parents", "our loving sister", and so on.

His manager then asked him whether he had noticed any gravestones that were inscribed "in memory of our employee".
July 14, 2016 18:02
My wife and I also give ourselves a weekly allowance. We have money transferred to our accounts automatically.
July 14, 2016 18:03
This is something I constantly have to remind myself of. For a couple of years I had a board game night with friends, every Monday. For a while it was a lot of fun, then it kind of turned into something 'I have to do' every Monday, along with other things I had going on and I started feeling pinched. Finally I realized, you know, I don't have to make it a duty to go. And while I love playing games and hanging with the guys, right now it's more relaxing to have the extra day open with no agenda, or just sitting on the couch with a book and the beagle.
July 14, 2016 18:26
Bill: "I'm going to get a hat that says "Not now" on it."

You do that, and your wife is going to get underwear that says the same.
July 14, 2016 18:39
My wife and I have been following a variation on this theme for a time.

I have found one has to be constantly assessing how these principles are being followed. With work and two small children (one special needs), the self-care/me-time gets trimmed without thinking. Or worse the guilt rises when you do take the me-time.

July 14, 2016 19:28
Good advice. I'm not a parent (yet), but I was a squad leader and sergeant in the Army, and I can personally attest to the importance of taking care of yourself. At one point when I was so focused on meeting my soldiers' needs, I neglected my own care and ended up in a serious situation that affected my physical and mental health.
July 14, 2016 19:35
Get a motorbike. Do not install Bluetooth in your helmet - make sure you're not contactable. Pick a direction and just drive that way for an hour.
If you like, bring the wife. Its time together. You don't need to talk, just enjoy each others company.
July 14, 2016 19:48
Do you mean "pay yourself" or do you mean "pay your future self"? Surprisingly, they are different. One is about taking care of yourself for now. The other is bettering securing your future financially at a loss to the present.
July 14, 2016 19:55
I'm not sure you'll see this but I just wanted to take a second and thank you for your work at Microsoft and in the community. My life has been truly blessed and changed due to your actions and your efforts. I talk about you so much that even my wife (non techie) knows who you and your family are. You inspire me, you motivate me, you are real. I just want to be sure that you know you are appreciated and truly due make a difference in this world. Please keep up the great work and if there is every anything (nothing is to small) that I could ever do to help you then just hit me up. I hope you have a wonderful day.
July 14, 2016 21:21
I wonder if the mentee knows how cool it is to have Scott Hanselman as her mentor.
July 14, 2016 23:12
I agree a lot of what you said and many of the comments. It's taken me until my early 40s to really appreciate the benefits and to ensure I allow myself Me Time. I would encourage people to do regular physical activity of some kind, it comes with so many benefits. In the last couple of years I have really got back into reading, history & philosophy. It provides valuable insights into life. Look up Montaigne - writing back in the 1500s, but it could be today, he talks about the need for Me Time. Philosophy leads to an appreciation of how lucky you are & to make the most of the short time we have.
July 15, 2016 1:57
Brings to mind the recent podcast on Punishment Driven Development.

What happens to these "best laid plans" when your manager subtly, though not in words (or even in spite of words), expects you to be "on" 24-7 or 16-7?

What do you do when you are in a prolonged death march, and the managers of the project do not give a rip (in practice) about anyone's personal life, physical health, or mental state?

I think it is also true that once you do even one or two late-night projects, calls, or email responses, there is an unspoken expectation that this is normal and you should be ready to do this many more times in the future.

If you are at all insecure about your job, now you are really stuck in an all-consuming work environment.

July 15, 2016 3:27
Thank you. Surely this wakes me up.. Got the message at the right time. Need to workout a plan.
July 15, 2016 9:24
Dear Scott, thanks for this perfect post.
Some time ago I promised to myself that I will start giving positive feedback to those who deserve it and never heard it from me.

Bobby's comment perfectly matches my feelings. In last year or so, I have talked to my wife about you Scott (and your work) with the same degree of enthusiasm as she was talking to me about a new pair of shoes she's had ordered herself.

Think about it. To some of us, Scott, you are the 'Brain.NewShoesThoughtsEquivalent'.

Ahh.., if I ever grow up, I want to be just like Scott Hanselman.

Keep up. Your work matters and your off-time as well!
July 15, 2016 11:26
Thank you Scott for a perfect post.
July 15, 2016 15:01
Great post - it's very easy to forget about yourself in the current world.

We have a similar approach to 'private' money with my wife - works wonders. We started it when I had an RC models hobby and had to fix car or plane after crashes ;) It really helped!

What I could add to the tips here is to hire a cleaner for your house if you don't like to do it yourself. It's really worth the money for us.

I'll have to try other tips as well :)
July 15, 2016 16:54
Hi Scott,

Thank you for your great post, again you nailed it! There are some great ideas in here that I need to employ myself. This for me is something that I struggle with.
Pay yourself first

I need to start following this sound advice!
July 15, 2016 20:03
Someone close to me is working her butt off in Chicago, usually putting in 12+ hour days and working weekends. I talk to her on the phone when I can and I have been encouraging her to do these sorts of things, especially getting enough sleep, treating herself occasionally and learning to say no.

Of course I sometimes have issues following my own advice haha. This week I didn't get enough sleep and lack of sleep negatively impacts my life in other ways. Trying to do better about this. The self-care struck a cord with me too. I have been looking at replacing my 5 year old laptop for months, and I finally decided this morning that I would head over to the Microsoft store and buy a brand new surface pro 4. I work hard and I think I deserve a nice personal device to code and relax with.

Great post!
July 15, 2016 23:24
You simply nailed it!
July 16, 2016 1:49
Thank you for the reminder, Scott!
I am 6 weeks into my first software development job and 7 weeks away from my wedding, and just had the realization that wedding crafting is not the same as "me-time". When 5pm hits I am going to go disappear to a coffee shop for a couple hours, no work and no wedding. Have a great weekend!
July 16, 2016 12:27
Great post. Even when you **know** this, it's easy to forget and it's good to get a reminder.

As we speak I'm in Europe on a trip, and even while on 'vacation' I have to remind myself often that it's OK to just 'be here' without checking email, or trying to fix some issue related to work. I've long ago realized that without turning off on occasion it's inevitable that you burn out, which is much harder to recover from than taking the time to take care of yourself.

Thanks for posting this - it's a great reminder.
July 16, 2016 18:01
Thanks for this Scott,
It will help me also to make reminders.
July 18, 2016 10:21
Hey Scott,

I have recently come up with a similar plan and conclusions, but it's feels good to have your post to reinforce my belief.
Another thing I started doing is each time a sentence with "MUST do this" or "HAVE TO do this" comes up, I'll try to soften it a bit. I'm replacing those powerful words (MUST, HAVE TO) with words like "It would be nice to do this" (if it's appropriate ofc). It takes off the often unnecessary pressure.
July 18, 2016 22:16
With a stream of posted published on how to get more and more done every day it's refreshing to see one on pushing back and re-prioritizing for one's self. Thanks Scott.

In the self-care area I would add "Clean your mind." I found that my brain was swimming day and night with events that happened that day, items that I need to do or didn't get done, and even inventing potential future interactions or scenarios. I was constantly tired and functioning poorly both physically and cognitively.

My physician recommended me the following book and accompanying audio tracks. I was skeptical but willing to try. I'm happy to say that it's worked very well for me (and my family). Clean your mind and the rest will follow.

Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman
July 19, 2016 11:20
The Only thing I would add is: EXERCISE!
If you're not exercising then you're doing it wrong.
July 19, 2016 15:25
thank you! tripped over this blog post, and "sometimes "No. I just can't right now." " and subsequently sent an on-liner "Sorry, can not do this this week, thx." , just now. :)
July 20, 2016 23:10
I love this and we can't say it often enough because people still aren't always doing it. You can't serve from an empty cup.
July 21, 2016 8:28
The most valuable experience of mine at age 30 is investment on yourself and you will have the most "Return of investment".

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.