If you are serious about managing your time, you must first ensure that it is protected, not only from others, but also from any time-wasting habits of your own as well. You already have already established a boundary if you have established your normal working hours and set aside the weekend for your personal use. And only about a third of each of the remaining five days is available for work if you want to lead a balanced life. The other two-thirds are needed for sleep, family, friends, learning, recreation, renewal, worship, spiritual growth, and so on. Forty work hours, including breaks, may not seem like much, but you can be extremely productive during that time – especially if you adhere to the various boundaries that you set.
This means that your workday must not be allowed to spill over into your personal time, and your work time must be protected from needless interruptions from within and outside the organization.
Only when you set and adhere your boundaries, can you successfully apply the time management principles and strategies that will maximize both your efficiency and effectiveness. Most people, eager to get more done faster, jump right into the strategies suggested in time management books, videos, and workshops. They do help. But you will never maximize the use of time until you fully protect the amount of time that you have allocated to work. Otherwise, you will continually have to steal additional time from sleep and personal time. Doing so is counterproductive.
Some people see boundaries as barricades designed to keep others away. But they simply help others know how to reach you. People should not expect to show up unannounced and be welcomed with open arms. It is okay to have boundaries.
When your life is out of balance, you are never on top of your job. You are busy, stressed, and anxious, and the rest of your life suffers as a result. When you set boundaries, you are not attempting to tell others what they can or cannot do. You cannot control the behavior of others. Telling a business associate not to call you at night for instance, does not necessarily stop them from calling. They might just start the conversation with, “I know you don’t like being called at night, but … “
Servant leadership does not mean that you allow others to walk all over you. Servanthood is not about position; it is about attitude. If you ask people who served them most in their life, most will answer their mother, and yet they have a higher view of her because of it.
Setting boundaries always involves deciding what you will do under various circumstances, not what others will do. For example, in the case of clients or business associates calling you at night, you might communicate in advance a boundary that says, “Please feel free to call my cell phone (number provided), anytime after hours, and I will get back to you after 9:00 a.m. the following workday.” Of course, you must already have advised them that your workdays are Monday to Friday 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, except on holidays and when advised otherwise, or whatever hours you have established You could also have boundaries describing what type of clients you will accept and under what conditions, but this would be included in your personal policies, which will be discussed later.
Email could be a problem to address, since many people work weekends, and they feel that emails are not as intrusive as phone calls. It can be tempting to answer emails on weekends. So, it requires self discipline on your part. Initially it is difficult to resist, but eventually it will become a habit.
In effect, you are telling people how to treat you. If you answer the phone at dinnertime, people will keep calling you then. If you respond to emails on the weekend, they will keep emailing you then. You may find it is occasionally convenient to answer emails on the weekend, possibly because you are alone and bored. If so, at least use your email’s feature that allows it to be sent in the morning. Or just save it as a draft until then.
Once you have developed your boundaries, do not make exceptions. People may say something will never happen again, but it usually does. And the more exceptions you make, the closer you are to abandoning your boundaries. If there are areas that you are convinced are negotiable, make sure there is some cost to the customer for accepting this option. There must be a high price linked to giving up your personal time. Personally, I was inflexible when it came to working Sundays. Probably because my workaholic tendencies had contributed to the end of my first marriage.
Setting boundaries for clients or customers or others may seem rather impolite. After all, you want to give good service. But as Angela Watson claimed in her book, Fewer Things, Better, “you are a professional, and have no need to apologize for behaving like one.”
To protect you from yourself, and maintain consistence in your business practices, you should also develop a set of personal policies. We will discuss this next week.