Time management tips are great ideas that require action steps to be genuinely effective. And those action steps usually involve setting boundaries. Setting effective boundaries protects your productivity and gives you valuable “breathing room”. The more constructively you set and maintain boundaries, the happier and more effective you will be.
Chances are, you were not taught how to set boundaries in school. And you may not have seen it done well while growing up. But with practice, you can develop proficiency, and enjoy consistent success.
For a strong start, correct a common misconception about boundaries:
When you set a boundary, you’re not imposing something upon another person. You are describing a need. This is your assertive right!
Fundamentally, you set a new boundary to change what you do with your time. And that is precisely how you present your time boundary to others.
Here are three simple strategies to help you set a new boundary:
Own Your Role In Your Problem
Provide the context for your new time boundary by describing your current problem. Readily acknowledge any part you yourself have played in creating that problem. For example, “In the past, I have always taken phone calls, whether or not I could spare the time. Now I face a work backlog and an important deadline.”
By focusing on your choices, you communicate that you are not attempting to blame this person for your current problem. Once they hear this, they are encouraged to relax and become more receptive.
Describe How Your Behavior Will Change
Explain the change that you are going to make in your behavior to remedy the situation. Perhaps in this instance you might say, “Next week, I’m going to focus on my report, and won’t answer calls until after 3 PM.”
Notice that by stating this boundary as a change that you are making, you’re keeping all the power within your control. If, instead, you request that the other person not call, you are asking them to change their behavior, and forfeiting control over the outcome.
Negotiate, Don’t Capitulate
Request their understanding and cooperation, but be clear that you’ll be changing your end, no matter what. It is perfectly suitable, at this point, to negotiate how to support your colleagues while you are unavailable. In fact, this helps reinforce how serious you are about making this change, and encourages their taking responsibility to troubleshoot in advance.
By using “I” messages that focus on what you feel and what you will do, you clarify that you’re not setting this boundary to punish the other person, nor attempting to engage in a power play.
If you find that you can’t translate your boundary into changes that you will be making, examine whether the change you seek will require a shift on your end that you feel ambivalent about. If there are consequences to this boundary you are not comfortable with, revise the boundary so that you are fully prepared to follow through on your end.
You will experience an important side benefit if you follow this approach. More and more, you will think of your time challenges in terms of choices you make that you can change. By doing so, you reduce your resentment, and you increase your creativity, confidence, and optimism about how you can spend your time.
So, what is your next move in creating effective boundaries?