Boundaries are a key component of a successful day – they can simply make or break your day, as these three cases illustrate:
Lynn (not her real name) was a successful web designer, but she was working solid 60 hour days, had no time for her family, her boyfriend, or exercise, and was starting to feel the strain of it all: her family was inviting her to fewer family events, because they knew she wouldn’t be able to attend; she felt her boyfriend was slowly becoming more distant; and she had back problems because of her lack of exercise. This simply had to change, but she was worried about what would happen to her work as a result.
The largest source of her long hours was one single client. This retainer client was asking for urgent jobs at all times of day or night, with no thought to the fact that they were paying her for only 20 hours a week and that she had other clients to take care of. I asked her to put boundaries around this client, so that the time devoted to them would be clearly defined for both. It was the first time that she had spoken up, so she was very fearful of the client’s reaction, but, as I expected, the client was very amenable to change and she was able to negotiate an agreement where she would still be working the contractual number of hours, but solely during certain hours of the day; if a request came at another time, she would hold it until the next day. That one simple step reduced her work hours from 60 to 50, and a few other time management steps led her down to 40 hours a week – with no loss of income.
Another client, let’s call her Kathryn, had another issue: her clients were wonderful, but she kept being interrupted by family and friends who didn’t understand that her working from home still meant working. They assumed that she always had time for personal items, so almost daily she had someone calling to share a piece of gossip or vent, or stop by and ask for help or a favor. She would listen to the friend, help the family member, and get to the end of the day having worked less than 4 hours. I taught her to put strict boundaries around her work time, and she learned to tell her friends and family that she would be happy to listen and help… after work hours. Within two months, she had doubled the number of her clients, who were happier than ever – without any impact on her relationship with friends and family.
Sometimes, the boundaries that need to be set up are physical. When I started Daily Mastery, I was living in an apartment. There was no separate room for my office, and the only room big enough to host an office area was the living-room. So I set up my desk there, and lived a daily nightmare: I could see the living-room and everything that wasn’t in order; I could see the TV, who sometimes was irresistibly attractive, even turned off; and since I was in the living-room and he could see me, my then-4-year-old son felt that he could interrupt me whenever he wanted to. So I created an office space by strategically placing bookcases, and immediately saw a marked difference: I was no longer compelled to get up from my desk to straighten out; the TV, being out of sight, lost its power of attraction; and my son, since he didn’t see me every time he lifted his head from his games or books, wasn’t as inclined to interrupt me. In a few days, my productivity had doubled.
Boundaries can indeed make or break our days, depending on whether we have them, and how firmly we protect them. So take a look at the boundaries that you have with family, friends, co-workers, work and home, space, etc.
Are they meeting your needs? Are they allowing you to be fully productive at work, and fully engaged at home, or do you feel strain in some area? What can you do to create firmer boundaries where you need to?
Write down some ideas, practice what you will say from now on to gently but firmly enforce your boundaries, and see how you suddenly have more time, and enjoy your life better. And if those questions leave you stymied, anxious or with more questions, reach out for help. It is often easier to do this work with someone who can support you, offer you additional ideas on how to protect your boundaries or how to teach others a new way to interact with you, and hold you accountable and remind you why you are doing this work during those first times when it often feels uncomfortable to affirm your boundaries.
Do you want to learn how to truly master your day so that you can have the life you want and enjoy it? Visit www.DailyMastery.com to download your three gifts, The 5-Minute Time Management Solution, Daily Mastery’s 10 Top Time Management Mistakes and The Best-Kept Secret for Peak Productivity.
Karin Stewart, Ph.D., is a specialist in time, stress and energy management and work-life balance, and shows service professionals, solopreneurs and working moms how to get more done, in less time, and without the stress every day, so they can fully enjoy their lives. Working both in person and by phone, Karin’s clientele spans the country and the globe and includes individuals as well as organizations.