During my 50 years as a professional speaker and workshop facilitator, I have always had a set of “personal policies” that I would write in the front of my planner each year to remind me to adhere to my own boundaries. It is tempting to work almost anytime for almost anyone just to get the business. A sure way to put your personal life in shambles! Personal policies can protect you from yourself. My policies included statements such as “I will never accept an engagement on Sunday”, “I will accept only one Saturday booking per month,” and “I will only accept one dinner meeting booking a week.” That last boundary was meant to keep me off what we called the “Rubber Chicken Circuit” – the after-dinner speeches as opposed to daytime talks and workshops.

If you are an entrepreneur, you must decide in advance what lifestyle you want to lead. Otherwise, you might as well work for a large organization and conform to their boundaries.  Boundaries not only protect your time, but they allow you to serve your clients and customers better.  They help you to effectively communicate and meet client expectations. What is good for your company is generally good for your clients and customers as well.

Corporate policies such as “The customer is always right,” or “We will not be undersold,” or “Satisfaction guaranteed or money refunded,” have been around for centuries. They help employees make tough decisions, provide consistency, and express the organization’s philosophy. They also save time. It is similarly effective for individuals to develop a set of personal policies or value statements to help guide them in their business and personal lives. Policies help people make decisions regarding their personal use of time and prevent them from getting involved in activities inconsistent with their goals and beliefs.

Companies and personal lives evolve, and boundaries are not carved in stone.  Review your personal policies at least annually to make sure that they are still relevant to the current situation.  One of my personal policies stated, “Any business decision affecting my family will be first discussed with my family.”  After my wife died, and my “kids” had long ago moved out and started raising their own families, this boundary was no longer relevant.

To establish personal policies, you must first determine the values you want to protect and the image you want to project. Once you are clear on your priorities and how you want to use your time, put your statements in writing and post them where they’ll be a constant reminder. This might be at the front of your planner or in your smartphone or other electronic device.

Be sure to discuss your policies with family members or others who will be affected by them. You could end up modifying them but be sure that you end up with a set of guidelines that reflect your beliefs, needs and desires, not those of others. If you don’t have a personal mission statement, you might develop one first, before you establish your policies. Policies will help you be true to yourself, but a mission statement determines your direction.

Here are some examples of boundaries to get you thinking. But we are all unique and have different backgrounds, beliefs, and preferences, as well as different jobs, and work in different environments, so develop policies that meet your specific needs. Be honest with yourself. Choose personal policies that you are committed to keep. They are for your eyes only, so do not worry about how they sound if they make sense to you.

  • At no time will I allow other people’s lack of planning to become my crisis.
  • I will not respond to e-mail or text messages after 6 p.m.
  • I will access e-mail no more than 4 times during any workday.
  • I will not work on Saturday afternoons or on Sundays.
  • Any business decisions affecting my family will be discussed in advance with my family.
  • I will not accept any client whose values conflict with my own.
  • At no time will I take on projects that conflict with my personal values.
  • I will have as much respect for my time as I have for other people’s time.
  • I will not become an activity pack rat; for every new activity I take on, one of equal time value will be subtracted.
  • I will not attempt to do two things at the same time or be all things to all people.
  • When I leave work, my mind will leave with me.

And so on.

A policy is a predetermined course of action that guides and determines present and future decisions. Personal policies will save us time and frustration by speeding up the decision-making process.  Personal policies could also include such statements as “I will always get up at 6 a.m.,” or “I will not work on weekends,” or “I will save 10 percent of my pay.”

Personal policies help us develop self-discipline in areas where we tend to be weak.  A policy of never eating between meals, for example, once we adhere to it for a few weeks, becomes a habit.  Eventually, it will take little willpower to say no to an afternoon snack since we say it automatically.

Personal policies also help us to achieve goals, since they are standing plans that lead us in a specific direction, such as towards financial independence, cardiovascular fitness, weight loss, etc. They provide stability in our lives and accountability for us.

Once you are clear on your priorities and how you want to use your time, put your statements in writing and post them where they’ll be a constant reminder. This might be at the front of your planner, either paper or electronic.  Be sure to discuss your policies with family members or others who will be affected by them. You could end up modifying them but be sure that you end up with a set of guidelines that reflect your beliefs, not those of others.

With your personal policies in place, you will be able to say no at the appropriate times and use your discretionary time wisely. For example, if someone asks you to serve on a volunteer committee, your policy prompts you to say no unless you can free up time for it by releasing a current activity. You won’t have to waste time deliberating or taking it under consideration or giving the person false hope with a maybe. Or if you were asked to do something unethical, you would quickly refuse. Policies speed up the decision-making process and prevent you from straying from your life mission.

Policies are guidelines, not rules. They are flexible depending on the situation. For instance, you may decide not to refuse to work overtime if your job depended on it. However, if you were consistently confronted with overtime at the threat of losing your job, you would either start looking for another job or change your policy. You cannot continue to live in opposition to your personal values. To do so would increase stress, diminish your self-esteem, and take much of the fun out of life.

Your policies can be modified as time passes. Your priorities may change as your situation changes. As people grow older, for instance, they may have a greater respect for free time and less respect for money. Single people may have different priorities if they marry and have children. The important thing is that we maintain control of our lives by deciding our priorities and how we spend our time. Policies help us to live by design, not by default.