In just about every good article or book you read on time management and productivity, the author will mention the importance of protecting your time and energy.
This is a sure-fire strategy to feel more in control, get more accomplished, and reduce the amount of stress in your life.
With so many benefits it begs the question, “Why is it so hard to protect your time?”
In order to protect your time you need to set and enforce new boundaries – which can mean being less available to others.
And this can make people uncomfortable/reluctant/guilty/anxious/etc. on both sides of the equation.
It makes sense. People have gotten used to your “open door policy” or your willingness to drop everything to help them out. You like being their for others and hate having to say “No” to people who are counting on you.
Setting new boundaries is a tricky business.
Here are some real-world examples of what it looks like when you start protecting your time.
How To Protect Your Time In Real Life
- When you used to say, “Yes” to your boss’s unrealistic deadline you now say, “No” or “Not now but next week”.
- When you used to instantly respond to chat/email/text/phone you now wait until the timing is right for you to respond.
- When you used to drop what you were doing to hear the latest drama from your lovesick co-worker, you now hold her off until lunch…or never.
- When you used to stay late you now delegate more so you can get to your favorite exercise class.
- When you used to let the office blowhard derail yet another meeting you now interrupt him and get everyone back on track (even if the blowhard is your boss).
- When you used to leave your office door open inviting a free-for-all of interruptions you now protect your heavy thinking time by shutting your door – even if people don’t normally do this.
How did you feel reading through this list?
Uncomfortable? Empowered? Guilty? Intrigued?
All of the above?
It makes sense that implementing these kinds of changes can be challenging.
Because at your core you want to be there for people. You are a doer. A helper. A pleaser. A figure-it-outer.
And if you were to truly design your life to support your highest priorities you couldn’t be there for everyone all the time.
But here’s the nut of it:
You can’t be there for everyone all the time anyway.
You are just pretending that you can.
You are also pretending that showing up for others at the detriment of your own needs is just as helpful. Let’s be clear: it’s not.
Your self-deception is keeping you locked inside the I-can-do-it-all prison and your cellmates are resentment, anger, martyrdom, and guilt.
So how do you set boundaries without feeling guilty?
- Let go of trying to make others happy. Your best shot at taking care of others is to take care of yourself first. Respect your own needs and stop taking responsibility for how others feel. People will ultimately follow your lead and begin to respect your time and their own time more.
- Get clear on why you are protecting your time. Conceptually we understand that this strategy will help us do more by working less. Still, reminders of this are helpful. Design a way to remind yourself of this critical insight as often as necessary.
- Communicate to those necessary. Depending on the situation it can make sense to inform others of your new time boundaries. Reminding people throughout the transition phase is also helpful.
- Encourage others to follow your lead. Share your time protection strategies with others (though allow them to come up with their own system). Remember that you are now a powerful example whom others will look up to.
- Get support. Let those close to you know what you are taking on and how they can help you through this process.
Owning your time, your priorities, and your focus is a powerful position to operate from. When you step up, you are giving permission for others to do the same.
Instead of guilt, this is definitely a skill you can feel proud of.
Now it’s your turn. I want to hear from you.
What strategies have you learned to protect your time? How do you handle others’ reactions to your boundaries? Be sure to share your comments below.