Mastering Time Management:

Setting Boundaries for Success

In my experience, approximately 80% of my clients have confessed their ongoing struggle with time management. Even for accomplished executives who have attended one or more formal time management courses, the challenge persists.

During my coaching sessions (distinct from traditional training sessions), I’ve observed a common pitfall among many coachees. They often overemphasize the control of time itself, advocating the use of blank agendas to schedule tasks for the upcoming week or month, and adding personal commitments as well. Unfortunately, this approach creates an organized yet rigid time-tracking tool.

The issue with this tool lies in its lack of flexibility, practicality, and realism. Life is unpredictable, and external demands frequently encroach on our schedules. As compassionate individuals, we may find ourselves yielding to the agendas set by others. The consequence? Overloaded schedules and a perpetual game of calendar chess. This can lead to feelings of frustration, disillusionment, and even resentment, stemming from an absence of established boundaries.

True mastery of time management, I’ve found, lies in setting clear boundaries and being willing to say no. Only then can you construct an agenda that serves you, rather than the other way around.

Boundaries, by definition, demarcate borders and establish limits, acting as a safeguard against encroachment. When we neglect these boundaries in favor of accommodating external demands, our own objectives suffer. The message conveyed is clear: “Feel free to claim my time, it’s open for the taking.”

Here are three essential steps to regain control over your time and accomplishments:

  1. Set Clear Boundaries and Articulate Why:
  • Understand your limits and communicate them effectively.
  • Reflect on the message you wish to convey to your children, employees, and clients.
  • Clearly define the boundaries you’ve established for your time and elucidate the reasons behind them.
  • Leverage boundaries to structure and retain command over your time and tasks.
  • Assist others in setting their own boundaries while respecting yours.
  1. Embrace the Power of ‘No’:
  • Prioritize saying no and be versed in the reasons that drive this decision.
  • Approach refusals with kindness and fairness.
  • Articulate the rationale behind your decisions to foster understanding.
  • Honor others’ refusals. Remember, you teach people how you expect to be treated through your own actions.
  1. Strategize Your Schedule:
  • Initiate your planning with a focus on your goals for the upcoming week, day, or month, using them as your guiding stars.
  • Give priority to fixed commitments such as picking up children, medical appointments, and weekly meetings.
  • Extend kindness to yourself by factoring in time for unforeseen tasks – allocate these as empty blocks in your agenda.
  • Cultivate positive habits, like designating specific times for email correspondence throughout the day.
  • Manage both your own and others’ expectations by being clear and realistic. For instance, planning a 10-hour to-do list when you only have 3 hours to spare sets you up for disappointment.

For managers, CEOs, and executive assistants, consider the efficacy of shorter agendas. Craft agendas lasting 45 minutes, reserving the remaining 15 minutes for finalizing scheduled tasks, tying up loose ends, and generating points for your next agenda. This practice not only streamlines meeting times but also enhances focus and productivity.

Additionally, implement a designated “focus working time” for the entire office. During this interval, everyone devotes their attention exclusively to individual tasks – no distractions, no reaching out to others. This boundary provides an opportunity for undisturbed concentration, eliminating any associated guilt and facilitating task completion.

Above all, grant yourself permission to uphold the boundaries you’ve set, without feeling guilty about safeguarding them from others, and perhaps most importantly, from yourself.

Remember these three key principles:

  • You are the ultimate guardian of your boundaries.
  • You impart to others how you expect to be treated, so lead by example.
  • Recognize the malleability of time and plan for unforeseen events. Schedule these unanticipated tasks in advance to position yourself for success.