If you want to have a significant impact in the world, you need to be ultra clear with boundaries around your time. It’s mission critical to untangle the  relationship between your beliefs and your boundaries so you can sustain the energy and clarity you need to fulfill your vision.

Otherwise, you’ll find yourself looking back wistfully at all those good ideas that never went anywhere. This is particularly true in this time of never-ending distractions that pull on your attention. What arises for you when you think about time boundaries?

Do you believe “I shouldn’t set boundaries with those I care about” yet you struggle to find time to focus on your mission? Or, do you believe that “Trying to schedule my thought process will stifle my creativity” while you are bubbling with too many ideas and too few completed projects?

Boundaries protect uninterrupted time with your ideas so that they can take shape and solidify into form. When there are too many options in front of you, boundaries keep you focused. Boundaries are an artificial mental structure, but as the industrial statistician George Box once said, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

You may have heard it said that “Time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening all at once.”  A modern addition to that quote is “Lately it hasn’t been working.”  Does that strike a familiar chord with you?

Managing your time boundaries will indeed keep you from trying to do everything at once, but you may have noticed that this practice is not as easy as it sounds. Our brains are wired to focus on whatever shows up in front of us — it made sense from an evolutionary standpoint, when our survival was constantly at risk.  Every situation that arose in our environment had to be evaluated immediately as a possible threat.

However, if you follow this ancient strategy now, what happens is that everyone else manages your time, not you. You are demand-driven rather than purpose-directed.  Priorities go out the window.

The art of setting and managing time boundaries does not come naturally to most people, but the steps required are very simple:

  1. First, make a list of every time-consuming activity that you do, and organize them in order of priority. Reflect on your list. What do you need to either delegate, delay or delete in order to make time for what matters most? It can be helpful to make notes for each item on the list about why that particular activity matters to you, such as income, professional development, community connection, and sheer joy.
  2. Then, with your list of top priorities, block out regular timeslots in your calendar for each one.  You may want to set alerts to remind you. During those protected times, turn off your email and message alerts.
  3. If the issue is not solved by scheduling, then you’ll need to explore the beliefs that are interfering with your focus.  Use that “priority meeting with yourself” time to catch the moment of your decision to not follow through with your intention. What seems to be more important in that exact moment, and why? Write your reasons down in a log, and at the end of the week you will have some very illuminating information.
  4. You might notice that, in the moment, organizing your desk or checking your email one more time seems so much more important than writing the next chapter of your book or the outline for your upcoming presentation!

One client felt passionate about numerous causes, spending long hours working for a local nonprofit organization.  When she felt overloaded and needed to give more time to her own business, she was afraid that she would damage her relationships by cutting back. She kept jumping into problem-solving for the nonprofit all day long rather than separating business and volunteer hours.  The result was that she wasn’t serving any of her commitments well.

However, when with some encouragement she was able to set some limits on her volunteer hours, the results demonstrated the opposite of her belief that she’d lose credibility and trust.

Her fellow volunteers had been feeling her stress and distraction, and were afraid she would drop out soon. They were thrilled to see her energy, enthusiasm and commitment return and were quite willing to accept her more limited availability.

What beliefs keep you from setting the boundaries you need to pursue your vision in a sustainable way?