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Time Boundaries

If you're just tuning into this series, you might want to check out my previous posts on Physical Boundaries, Conversational Boundaries, and Material Boundaries, each of which covers the things you put in place to protect your body, your ears (and triggers), and your stuff.

In this post, we'll be looking at one of the most important boundaries that exist for both work and life, time boundaries.

Time Boundaries – To protect the use and misuse of your time

Time boundaries tend to be an area people struggle with quite a bit. These are about how you manage your time, how you allow others to use your time, and how you spend your free time.

To have healthy time boundaries, you have to set aside enough time for all the different facets of your life, not just work and sleep. This means carving out time for all the things you say you want to do but aren't doing because work is hogging up the whole day. And night. And weekend. This means time for exercise. Time for family. Time for relaxing. Time for reading. Time for nature. Time for friends. Time for relationships (just maybe not at work, please?)

Another way to see time boundaries is as setting time apart for doing just one thing.

Time boundaries are violated when someone or something demands too much of your time or you choose/allow yourself to be roped into activities that you know you don’t have time for. And they're tricky because others can violate your time boundaries, but you can also violate your own time boundaries.

Violations can look like:

  • Asking someone to stay late at work at the last minute or for no additional pay (or agreeing to do that yourself)

  • Expecting someone to drop everything to help you (or dropping everything to help someone)

  • Calling or texting late at night when the other person is asleep (or taking that call)

  • Asking others to do things for free (or doing things for free)

  • Overcommitting

  • Having long, draining conversations

  • Doing favors for people who don’t reciprocate

  • Expecting work emails to be answered overnight (or answering them yourself)

  • Disrespecting agreed-on time limits

  • Asking someone to join another council at work when they barely have time to finish their own tasks (or joining that council)

  • Interrupting a coworker, partner, roommate, or boss at any and all times of day (or allowing yourself to be interrupted)

  • Frittering away your free time on social media or other mindless pursuits

The result of a time boundary violation is almost always stress. More on your already overloaded plate. And an unrealistic set of expectations that you can actually do more than 24 hours' worth of stuff in a day.

One powerful way to help enforce your own time boundaries is to remember that for everything you say "yes" to, you are also, by default, saying "no" to something else. Saying yes to working late? Then you're saying no to going to the gym. Saying yes to that call late at night? Then you're saying no to your good night's sleep. Saying yes to listening to Diane from down the hall drone on and on and on about god only knows what? Then you're saying no to finishing your proposal before the end of the day and possibly also saying no to being present at dinner because the proposal is weighing on you. It goes on and on.

So when you're tempted to take on something else, ask yourself what you're willing to give up to make it happen.

When the violator is someone other than yourself, you might say something like:

  • “My evenings are for my family; I’ll respond to all work emails in the morning.”

  • “I can stay for 30 minutes, but then I have to go.”

  • “You have my undivided attention for 20 minutes; after that, I have to work on something else.”

  • "How about we book time to go through your questions so I can give them the attention they deserve?"

  • "I really want to be on the DEI council, but I'm not sure how I can manage it and get the rest of my own work done. Can we talk about it?"

  • "I want to hear all about what you did at school today, but I need ten more minutes to finish this email and then I'm all yours."

It's worth asking yourself who violates your time boundaries the most. Is it your boss? Your direct report? Your kids? You? What do you need to do to enforce your time boundaries with others? And what would help you enforce them with yourself?

(Hint: I know a coach who can help!)

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