The start of a new year represents a new beginning, so what better time to assess how nice you are (or aren’t) being to a very special person — you?

If you’re like most people, you spend most of your energy focusing on what needs to be done for everyone else — your significant other, your kids, your family, your friends, your workplace, various organizations you support, etc. And what often gets left out of the mix is time to focus on yourself.

You see, we’re all like bags of chocolate chip cookies. If your bag is full and brimming over with cookies, you’ve got lots to give to everyone. But if you’re down to just a few lousy crumbs in the bottom of your bag, you’re stressed out, cranky and more likely to succumb to stress-related illnesses.

So the trick is to keep your bag full. But how?

Set boundaries

You can’t be everything to everyone. And you can’t be available all the time. Set up some simple ground rules that will keep you sane. For example, no phone calls during dinner (and that means cell phones as well). No calls after a certain time at night (let the answering machine do the work for you and refuse to call back unless it is a true emergency).

Perhaps you set aside 30 minutes to an hour every evening just to connect with your spouse. If you have young children, this time would be after their bedtime; with older youngsters, they can learn that this is “Mom and Dad’s time” and entertain themselves, do homework or talk on the phone with their friends. CAMaybe you set aside 30 minutes just for yourself, retreating to your bedroom or a favorite spot to read, watch the news, phone a friend or take a nap, letting the other adult in the house deal with the kids during that time.

Get used to saying “no”

Quit saying “yes” to everything you’re asked to do. If you have this tendency, vow to give yourself 24 hours before committing yourself. For example, “I need to sleep on that to make my decision, so I’ll let you know my answer tomorrow.”

Or learn a technique to say “no” by saying “yes”: When someone asks you to do something, say, “Let me tell you what I can do”— and then proceed to agree to something that is much less than what the person requested. For example, let’s say it’s 7 in the evening and your child’s teacher calls. She tells you that the class is having a bake sale the next day and they’re short on items — and you make such wonderful Italian cream cakes. Could you just whip one up and bring it in the morning? You respond with something like, “Let me tell you what I can do. I have some frozen lemon bars in the fridge, and I’d be happy to send those in the morning.”

Practice declining gracefully until it feels natural and your voice sounds matter-of-fact but confident: “You know, I’d love to help you out, but I just have too much on my plate right now. I’m going to have to say “no.'” Or simply, “I’m sorry, but I’m just not able to do that.” Period. You don’t need to explain yourself and give reasons. If the other person continues to press by asking why you can’t comply, say something like, “It’s just not in the cards this week” or “I promised myself I wouldn’t accept one more commitment this week/month.” Then stick to your guns. Remember, “no” is actually a complete sentence!

Trim the extracurricular activities

Maybe in the interest of business networking, you’ve joined numerous organizations that are now sapping your time and energy. If you find yourself preparing to go to one of these meetings and thinking, “Gee, I wish I didn’t have to go to this,” it may be time to get out. If an organization doesn’t bring you business or touch your soul, it’s time to leave. If you hold an office in such an organization, make a promise to yourself to leave after your obligation is fulfilled. Trim the deadwood and devote your energy, time and attention to those activities that really matter to you. Take time for yourself

What are the activities that you enjoy doing “just because”? They could be reading, taking a bubble bath, fiddling in your garden, a craft project, playing with your pet, going for a walk, sipping a glass of wine on the patio and watching the sunset, exercising, a spiritual practice — the list of possibilities is endless. Whatever they are, arrange the time to do one of them every day. Taking 10 to 30 minutes for these activities will recharge your physical and emotional batteries.

In addition to these daily “recharges,” think of some rejuvenating activities that take a couple of hours, and plan to do those on a weekly basis. Go to a movie, have lunch with a friend, take a class, visit a museum, get a pedicure — again, the list is endless.

And while you’re at it, plan your next vacation now (if you haven’t done so already). Put it on your calendar and work your schedule around it rather than waiting for “the perfect time” that always gets postponed. Mini-vacations — a long weekend, an overnight somewhere — also happen more often if they’re scheduled in advance!

Judi Craig, Ph.D., MCC, is an executive coach in San Antonio. She is president of COACH SQUARED, Inc. (www.coachsquared.com) and a senior practice advisor with Atticus, Inc.

Author: Judi Craig