A Simple Formula to Set Boundaries

work formula

I had a client once who was 100% jazzed to make a major career change.

You could hear the energy in her voice, and when we would have our sessions, you could feel REAL ELECTRIFYING PROGRESS being made. And then…nothing. She’d reschedule sessions, not make deadlines we set for anything from interim steps to major milestones to be completed—you get the idea.

As we dug deeper, we uncovered she was just unable to set boundaries–at work, with friends and with herself. It was crippling.

I’ve been there. Years ago, when I was drowning under a pile of not-possible-to-be-accomplished-ever-in-this-lifetime tasks, I constantly made excuses. Excuses that devalued my time and my goals and gave too much value to items that really didn’t matter one bit.

How can you learn to set better boundaries? I used this formula, and my clients do as well. It is so easy you’ll wonder why you’ve never used it before:

Hours to Work = 24 – (Commuting Time)- (Outside of Work Commitments)- (Hours of Sleep) – (Personal Care)

(Outside-of-work Commitments are those that make you feel fulfilled- time with family, friends, dating, exercise and hobbies. Personal care is anything from getting ready to showering to eating.)

By the way, I think there’s something liberating in the fact that we only have 24 hours in a day. We can’t change that.

Once you’re able to see how many hours per day you ACTUALLY have to work, you can begin to examine your day to see which tasks are sucking you dry and which, if you had more time, would actually contribute to better outcomes for your job/role/company/business. For most people, the formula will be different on different days or times of year, so it is a good idea to revisit it every week or month or quarter, depending on how changeable your life can be.

So, an example: Let’s say you use the formula above and find out you have 10 hours to work—50 a week. Doesn’t simply knowing that take a weight off your shoulders?

Now, list all of the activities in your workday and categorizing them. I have four categories for my business “business development,” “ client time”, “strategy time” and “program development time.” Next set targets for the percentage of your total day you spend on each of these buckets. Let’s say that for me the breakdown is 40% clients/20% business development/20% program development/20% strategy. If I’m meeting clients in person, I need to factor in the commute time, if any, and the follow up. So two one-hour meetings for two clients could easily be four hours of my 10-hour day, which is 40% of my day- my original target. This means I’m limited to 2 clients per day, or 10 per week in this scenario.  Do the same for the rest of your buckets and be clear on what the tradeoffs are for engaging in any given task or bucket.

Once you are clear on your time, you have to make decisions about what stays and what goes. Some guidelines:

Readjust expectations: Meet with people in your immediate team as well as your matrix team to regroup, build rapport and explain exactly how you’re spending your time and why you might not be available at the drop of a hat. Invite others to do the same.

Take yourself out of non-essential meetings: We all have these- don’t tell me you don’t. Look through your calendar and ask yourself, “is my presence absolutely required?”

Turn off your email pop-ups!: This literally changed my life when I was on overload. I would then be able to schedule time to check email, rather than being at the mercy of every single incoming message.

Commit to Less- Yes, Less: Do yourself a favor and pick up Greg McKeown’s “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit Of Less.” He’ll show you why this concept of setting boundaries is of utmost importance and will advance your career to lengths you never thought possible. He includes case studies and scripts for how to approach situations where you might be asked to do something totally outside the scope of what you know how to do or outside of what you have time to do. I’m not saying don’t be a team player where appropriate but what I AM saying is to understand your role, how it relates to others’ roles and creating effective boundaries that allow you to fulfill your mandate AND your career goals.

Setting boundaries is a work in progress, but once you get started, it gets much easier.  Take the next week and pay attention to your time, and then start making changes. Let us know in the comments how you are doing.

About the Author

Jill Ozovek is a certified career coach in New York City. Her practice focuses on helping Millennial and mid-career women find and develop careers that align with their passions. For more info on your own career change and Jill’s Career Change Kitchen course, click here.