When I teach time management, there is one lesson that always gets my audience leaning in - how to create boundaries to protect your time and be more productive.
Like a lot of lessons about productivity (see my article on creating a Stop Doing List), this one is also counter-intuitive - doing only one thing will make you more productive.
What Is a Boundary?
A boundary is a recurring block of time when you are strategically unavailable. Think of it as a daily window of productivity. As author Anese Cavanaugh writes in Inc.com, “If you hear yourself being victim to busy, listen up--where do you need to take a stand and set more boundaries?”
My first boundary is at 5:00 AM - that’s when I do all my writing. Before you start groaning about getting up before the sun - I admit that time of day isn’t for everyone. I write at 5:00 AM for three reasons:
- Nobody needs me at 5:00 AM, so I know I can commit to that time every day.
- I’m clear-headed and write better in the morning.
- Sticking to my morning ritual of writing gets my day off to a great start.
My next boundary is the first 90 minutes when I get to my office. That’s when I do most of the heavy-lifting of the day. Important phone calls, big decisions, sending proposals and planning meetings.
I also have boundaries in the afternoon for work zones and clean-up. Let’s look at other examples of boundaries.
Examples of Boundaries
Since I started including boundaries in my teachings, students have shared lots of their examples of boundaries. Here are some of them:
- Cleaning their desk before going home.
- Planning for the week.
- Exercise time in the morning.
- Reading and meditation time.
- Team meetings.
- Administrative, paperwork time.
- Cooking time.
Whatever block of time you need, a boundary should be production time - even if it’s just to play your guitar or walk your dog.
How to Create a Boundary
The first obvious step is to look at where you struggle getting a specific task completed. Is it completing proposals, planning, client work, clean up, creative time or time for staff?
Once you know where you need to dedicate more time, create a boundary that best suits your time availability and your energy. Most people I’ve tested have better energy first thing in the morning and right after lunch. Schedule your heavy lifting boundaries for high-energy zones and clean-up and administrative boundaries for lower energy zones.
Next, you need to communicate your needs to your team. I have a small office, so asking my single employee to respect my morning boundary was easy. You might need to communicate your needs to a larger group.
And finally, you need to stick to your boundaries. As Senior Director of Marketing Communications at SAP, Craig Cincotta advises: “You need to personally respect your boundaries. If you don’t, then you can't expect others to respect them.”
It might take a bit of experimentation to get your boundaries working exactly how you need them, but once you do you’ll never look back.