Posts Tagged ‘boundaries’

Start Off On The Right Foot

You may not realize it now, but you have complete control over how you spend your time during this festive season — I swear! Well, let me restate that — you have complete control over how you spend your time during this festive season, as long as you're willing to call the shots. When you find yourself spending time on holiday activities that you don't enjoy, you have to be the one to draw the line. And if you feel that you don't have enough time for the fun stuff, only you can carve out a little extra space in your schedule — no one else can do it for you. But of course, that's all easier said than done!

First, you have to be clear about what you actually want (and don't want) from this holiday. When was the time you took a second to evaluate your seasonal responsibilities, to question whether or not you're getting any value out of each activity? Most of us go along on auto-pilot, participating in traditions out of habit (“because that's what we've always done.”) Well so what if you've always done it that way? Who says you have to keep on? That's the kind of mindset that would have denied women the vote and kept slavery intact! When the past ain't working, you let it go and move on, and that's what needs to happen here.

You might also be stuck with some less-than satisfying holiday experiences because of presumptions you make about other people's expectations (“the family will be so disappointed.”) How do you know they'll be disappointed? Have you asked them? It could be that your kids are humoring you with the annual carol-sing or cookie-baking ritual because they thought it was important to you. How stupid would you feel if you're all tolerating a tradition that no one enjoys just because you're all too polite to speak up?! The best way to cure this problem is to find out each person's priorities.

Take An Inventory

Perhaps for the first time in your life, I'm going to ask you to be really honest with yourself about your holiday expectations. Start by making a list of activities that you absolutely don't want to miss this holiday season. Then make another list of those that you hate, despise, and dread. No cheating or couching the truth! If you loathe baking, don't try to convince yourself that this year you will turn into Donna Reed with a batch of homemade gingerbread — ain't gonna happen!

And you can get very specific if you need to. You might love visiting with your parents, but can't stand seeing your critical Aunt Louise. That's fine — add visiting your parents to your “do” list and seeing Aunt Louise to your “don't” list. It might be a good idea to have everyone in your family make their own lists — everyone has different ideas about what activities are joyous and which ones are miserable.

Now take a look at your two lists. It's all a trade-off from here — your goal is to remove the “don'ts” and make time to fit in the “do's.” Notice I didn't say “find” time — the best way to assure that you will never get around to doing something is to say, “I'll do it when I find a few free minutes.” Somehow, they never seem to appear until you MAKE it happen! If you want to include an activity in your holiday season, actually schedule it into your calendar. If walking around your neighborhood with your family singing carols and looking at holiday lights is a priority, sit down together and pick an evening and have everyone block it off. It's as simple as that! At the start of the season, decide ahead of time which activities on everyone's lists are the most important.  Of course, you'll have to be realistic about what you have time for — you may only have enough room in your schedule for each person to pick three priorities instead of eight. And you may need to do a little trading with your loved ones — “I'll go to Christmas Eve services with you, and in return I'd like for you to go for a nature walk on Saturday with me.” Creating harmony in any situation is about compromising — just don't allow yourself to bend so far that you give up all of your priorities for someone else's. Everyone should feel that his or her needs are being met.

Finding A Sense Of Balance

Now you have to make your dreams and your reality mesh. The big question is “how do I fit in all of these priorities when I've got chores to do?” It's hard to make time for the good stuff when you have other obligations — those “have to's” will kill you! But why do you “have to”? There's no law requiring you to put up a tree or send out cards. You're not being graded on what you accomplish during the holidays! If you don't want to do it, a simple “no” should suffice — especially when you find an activity that everyone has on their “don't” lists.

You might be worried that others will judge you if you take a break from some of the season's craziness — but the truth is, they will probably envy your ability to take charge of your schedule (and hopefully follow your lead!) Just because you think that you “have” to, that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone else feels the same way. Most people are overwhelmed by the holidays and would like for them to be easier — but no one seems willing to make the first move. Be honest with folks about what you want and don't want this year, and you may find your to-do list dwindling all on its own. And your family is guaranteed to thank you when you have a calmer, saner, and more peaceful time together this year.

Know Thyself, Know The Season

Do you spend every holiday grumbling about all the work that you have to do? Complaining about the cooking, shopping, decorating, and entertaining? I hate to seem unsympathetic to your plight, but I don't understand ruining the joy of the season with a lot of bitching! If you dislike an activity so much that all you can do is whine about it, why do it? If your answer is, “Because it's a holiday tradition,” my response will be, “So what?!”

The first key to creating a peaceful holiday season is identifying those holiday rituals that you enjoy and those that you don't. When you spend your precious time and energy on activities that you don't find rewarding, you are destined to become frustrated and cranky — and probably make those around you unhappy, as well. So go ahead and be honest with yourself about your likes and dislikes before the season even starts. Make a list of every possible holiday “obligation” that you can think of. Your list might contain (but not be limited to) the following:

  • send greeting cards
  • bake holiday goodies
  • decorate the house
  • shop for gifts
  • wrap gifts
  • make the holiday meal
  • attend church services
  • go caroling
  • volunteer
  • visit extended family
  • visit friends
  • spend time with spouse
  • plan family get-together
  • spend time with kids
  • decorate the tree
  • clean house
  • shop for food
  • attend a concert/play
  • watch holiday TV
  • visit Santa
  • look at lights
  • host a party
  • attend a party
  • take a walk in nature 

 

Now, here's the fun part — circle those items that you enjoy doing and absolutely don't want to miss this holiday season. Then cross out those that you hate, despise, and dread. Be honest here! If you loathe baking, don't try to convince yourself that this year you will turn into Donna Reed with a batch of homemade gingerbread — ain't gonna happen! And you can get very specific if you need to. You might love visiting with your parents, but can't stand seeing your critical Aunt Louise. That's fine — make visiting your parents one activity and seeing Aunt Louise another. It might be a good idea to have everyone in your family make their own lists — everyone has different ideas about what activities are joyous and which ones are miserable.
 

Fitting In The Joy

Which items did you circle? Did you feel so strongly about some activities that you double-circled them or put a star by the side? Those are your true priorities — no matter what else happens this season, you need to make time to fit them in. Notice I didn't say “find” time — you have to MAKE it happen, actually scheduling that activity into your calendar! If walking around your neighborhood with your family singing carols and looking at holiday lights is a priority, sit down together and pick an evening and have everyone block it off. It's as simple as that.

At the start of the season, decide which activities are the most important.  Of course, you'll have to be realistic about what you have time for — you might need to limit each person to three priorities instead of eight. And you may have to do a little trading with your loved ones — “I'll go to Christmas Eve services with you, and in return I'd like for you to go for a nature walk on Saturday with me.” Creating harmony in any situation is about compromising — just don't allow yourself to bend so far that you give up all of your priorities for someone else's. Each person should feel that his or her needs are being met.

Let Go Of The “Have-To's”

The big question now is “how do I fit in my priorities when I've got chores to do?” It can seem hard to make time for the good stuff when you have so many other obligations. Those “have to's” will absolutely kill you! But why do you “have to”? Are you being graded on how much you accomplish during the holidays? Will you be judged if you skip out on the cards or parties or baking this year? (and why do you care what others say about you in the first place?!) A simple “no” should suffice — especially if you run across an activity that everyone in your household has crossed off of their lists. Remember, the only things that you “have to” do are pay taxes and die — putting up a Christmas tree isn't required!

Let me share a story to illustrate. A while back, my husband and I had a really rough year and decided to skip out on the traditional family Christmas get-together for the first time in our lives. We chose to go on a trip by ourselves — cross-country skiing in the middle of nowhere in Colorado — instead of spending the holidays with relatives. And since we were going out of town so early in December, we only put up minimal decorations and didn't send any greeting cards. We worried and worried that we were going to offend someone with our crass insensitivity — but do you know what happened? Everyone we talked to (family included) said, “Boy, I wish I had the courage to do that!” It turned out that 90% of the people we knew had considered doing the same thing at one point in time, but had never been able to walk away from the pressure of the “have to's.” Well, we had a marvelous time (one of our best Christmases ever), everyone loved hearing about our trip, and we now take a holiday vacation every other year.

The lesson here? Just because you think that you “have” to, that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone else feels the same way. Most people are overwhelmed by the holidays and would like for them to be easier — but no one seems willing to make the first move. Be honest with folks about what you want and don't want this year, and you may find your to-do list dwindling all on its own!

Asking The Big Questions

In everything that you do throughout the next 24 hours, take a second to ask yourself “why.” For example, as I was organizing one of my clients on Monday, I caught her folding up each piece of mail she had opened and putting it back in the ripped envelope, before then placing the envelope in her action files. Not only was her to-do stack was twice as thick as it needed to be, but she had added three steps to her process — re-stuffing the envelope, having to empty it again when it was time to tackle the to-do, and throwing the envelope away. When I asked “why?” my client stared at me with a blank look. The response was, “I don't really know.” I pointed out that she could save time and effort if she tossed the envelope immediately, and kept only the important part. I watched the lightbulb go on over her head as she said, “You know, you're right!” My client is not stupid, she had just gotten into a habit, doing things the same old way every time, without questioning whether or not that way made sense.

We have so much to accomplish and stay on top of these days that weoften run on autopilot, engaging in behaviors without recognizing the purpose behind them. But the key to REALLY simplifying your life is awareness. You have make conscious decisions about what you will do (and not do) — otherwise, you're sure to get off track and find yourself wasting precious energy on activities don't actually do anything to improve your quality of life. Do you find yourself flipping channels, completely zoned out, not even paying attention to what's on TV, when you could be engaged in a more rewarding pursuit? Shuffling the same pile of magazines around your office  month after month without ever actually reading them? Stashing more and more boxes of junk in an expensive storage unit, rather than cleaning out the stuff you don't use? Running out at the last minute for a missing dinner ingredient because you didn't planahead? Picking up after your kids when you could put that energy into teaching them to be responsible for themselves? Why?

What Benefit Do You Get?

If you can't identify a specific benefit you get from that behavior, it's quite possible it isn't serving any purpose in your life. For example, if I ask why you brush your teeth every morning, you will respond by saying, “so I don't get cavities” — good! But if I ask why you clip coupons that you never remember to take with you when you go shopping (that subsequently expire and have to be thrown away 2 months later) — and you tell me, “I might use them someday,” that just doesn't cut it. You're not getting any value from the time and energy invested NOW, so you have two choices — either stop that activity and put your resources into something more meaningful, or change your habits so that you DO get some form of payoff. It's really that simple.

So in this example, you could set up an expandable wallet with individual sections for the different types of coupons you collect (groceries, household items, personal items, eating out, car care, whatever). After clipping, you could file them in this wallet and stick it in your purse or car so you always have it with you. When you plan your weekly shopping day, you could go through the wallet as you write up your list, pulling out those coupons that you know you will use. Then each week, you could also toss out those coupons you ended up not needing. In an ideal world, you would never forget to use a coupon again, and you would save at least a little money at the store. But it sounds like a lot of work to me. Is all that effort really worth the $5.86 you will save? Perhaps, after looking at the time investment versus the payoff, you'll might determine (like I have) that coupons simply encourage you to buy a lot of stuff you don't need (just to get the discount) and give up on the whole activity altogether. Or you may find that you pocket an extra $150 every week and systematizing your clippage is the best decision you ever made. The point is, it will be a conscious choice, based on your values and goals.

Is There An Easier Way?

Finally, ask yourself if there isn't an easier way to accomplish the task that you're performing. Do you really need to spend a half an hour in the morning arranging 27 decorative pillows on your bed, or would simply smoothing the comforter be good enough for the room to feel “tidy?” Then let 'em go! Does it take you 12 tries to get out the front door, because you always forget your keys? Then hang a hook by the door so your keys have a home from the moment you walk in — and they are always right where you expect them to be. Why run a different errand every day (dry cleaning, returns, the library, getting that picture framed) when piling all of your to-do's into a “going out the door” basket and making one trip a week (an organized, geographically-planned trip, complete with directions and confirmation of the store hours) would be much less time-consuming? And why do you keep throwing away the same solicitations and catalogs over and over again, when one phone call would get you off of their mailing list?

I'll end with another favorite quote of mine from “The Mosquito Coast” — “For Father there were no burdens that couldn't be fitted with a set of wheels or runners or a system of pulleys.” That's sort of how I feel about simplifying your life. There is no challenge so overwhelming, no time-waster so ominous, no frustration so severe that you can't find a solution. Of course, the solution may involve setting up a simple system, or it may require you to rewire your brain and rethink your lifestyle — but it's always worth it in the long run!

An Epidemic Of Assumptions

People simply assuming that you are free to help with a project or attend a meeting, without asking first. Folks dropping by your home or office to “chat” during work hours, not giving a thought to the fact that you might be busy. Your kids expecting to be chauffeured around all weekend, never once imagining that you might have other plans. And technology has made it even worse — quick, drop everything and deal with each request as it comes in, lest you make the other person wait even 30 seconds for a response! But what about your time? Isn't it just as important?

There is one hard truth out there that most people don't want to face — you are responsible for the fact that other people either respect or don't respect your time. There is no one else to blame but yourself. You have to be the one to set some boundaries about what is acceptable and what is not. The only reason that folks take advantage of you, expect too much from you, or don't allow you the room for personal free time is that you have let them behave that way in the past — and they've gotten used to it. But if you draw a different line in the sand — develop some “time management ground rules” and stick to them — you will be amazed at the change not only in yourself, but in the people around you.

Set Aside Time For You

When we talk about “me time,” most people think of lounging in the bathtub, a lazy Saturday with a good book, or a week-long retreat in which you re-discover your inner child. But “me time” is any time spent doing the things that keep you sane. That might mean exercise or meditation, a hobby or lunch with a neighbor. You could choose to organize your closet, paint the kitchen, or finish up an important professional project. The only rule is that “me” time should move you closer to feeling balanced, caught-up, calm, and in control of your life. For my own personal sanity, I need to have one day a week in which I take care of “administrative work.” I might return phone calls, answer e-mails, pay bills, buy groceries, or clean house. Or I could choose to get my hair cut, attend a yoga class, have a massage, work on an art project, or call a long-distance friend I haven't talked to in weeks. I use my “admin time” to get caught up in all the different areas of my life.

The point is, whatever you enjoy doing with your “me time,” treat it like it is sacred. Once you commit to an admin day, mark it on your calendar and guard that time with your life! If you use a paper planner, physically draw a line through the entire day with the word “Occupied” written across the top — leaving no room for you to accidentally stick in any other appointments. On an electronic calendar, set an appointment called “Occupied” that fills the whole day — and assign it a pretty font or background color as a reminder that you're taking care of yourself during that time. Nothing short of a medical emergency (or a vacation!) should get you to give up your “me” time. I often have a client ask me if I can get together on a day I have planned for admin activities.  My answer is always, “No, I'm sorry but I'm not available that day.” I can't tell you how long it took for me to become comfortable saying that! How dare I turn down an appointment with another person when I don't have anything else in my schedule that day?! Ah, but I do. I have an appointment with myself. And that's the most important appointment of all! Approve

Balance Your Free, Focus, And Buffer Days

A number of years ago, I was introduced to a way of viewing time (developed by personal coach Dan Sullivan) that really resonated with me. It offers a very simple system for using your time in the most efficient way possible. He suggests that you break your schedule into three distinct segments:

1) “focus days” — days in which you do nothing but focus on your job, on those activities that bring home the bacon (seeing clients, making sales calls, writing, painting, crunching numbers, whatever earns you a living)

2) “free days” — you do no work at all (you take that entire day to simply rest, relax, have fun, and recharge the old batteries)

3) “buffer days” — for all of those little chores that have to be done, but don't really make you any money (administrative work, personal errands, dentist appointments, trips to the library, etc.)

A number of things attracted me to this philosophy. First of all, it becomes incredibly easy to draw clear boundaries around your time. You are simply going to focus on one type of activity all day long — no confusion and no waffling about what to do. If someone asks you to do work on a “free day” or do some mindless chore on a “focus day” — the answer is “no,” plain and simple. Second, it creates an automatic sense of balance between the many activities in your life, requiring you to spend some of your time at work and some at play. Third, you really do use your hours more efficiently when you settle into one mindset for the entire day. It's the mental (and physical) switching of gears that slows us down, eats up so much of our time, and distracts us from really enjoying what we are doing at that moment.

Best of all, it's not a rigid system. You can label as many days in a week as “free” or “focus” or “buffer” as you need to, and you have the freedom to change a day's activities around at will. I've even broken it down further, counting my time before lunch as a “focus” period, and the time after lunch (when I'm sort of brain dead) as a “buffer” zone. Although you may not have total control over your schedule — especially when you work a 9 to 5 job — you can still apply these principles to your life, making weekdays “focus” days, setting aside one day a week for “buffer” activities, and saving at least one weekend day as “free.”

Healthy Boundaries

Most folks have no clue how to draw the line with people who ask too much of them — unfortunately, it's not something you really learn in school (why don't they offer a class called “Boundaries 101”?) In fact, parents and teachers often instill the exact opposite values in kids — expecting them to cram more and more and more into their schedules, teaching them to automatically say “yes” to any request under the guise of being ambitious and accommodating (and we wonder why they turn into overwhelmed adults!)

We're always so afraid of offending another person by saying “no” — even if acquiescing is going to stress us out or keep us from being able to take care of other more important tasks on our list. But you need to learn how to tactfully dodge a request if you ever want to regain control over your time. The best way to do this is to offer another alternative.

If you can't participate right now because you are too busy, but you would really like to help at a later time, say so. “I'm sorry, I can't do it just this minute — but I'll be free Friday afternoon, if you still need some help.” Or you might suggest another, more appropriate resource. “I'm too busy, but I have a friend who has been wanting to get involved. Let me give you her number.” And finally, if you are asked to do a job that really doesn't interest you or is outside your area of expertise, offer to assist with a different task. “That's really not my strong suit — but I would be happy to help out with ________.” You will assuage your guilt and feel as though you are still making a contribution, when you follow that “no” with a suggestion for getting the job done another way.

Healthy boundaries also mean letting go of the idea that you can (or even should) do it all yourself. We like to imagine ourselves as indispensable — falling prey to the “no-one-else-can-do-it-as-well-as-I-can” syndrome. We become unwilling to delegate jobs to other people, to ask for help, or to simply say, “I'm not going do that.” That leads to frustration and resentment — we blame other people for heaping too many responsibilities onto our plates, even though we're the ones who said, “pile 'em on!” Just understand one thing — as far as everyone else in the world is concerned, you are replaceable. I don't mean as a human being — of course you are a unique individual and we would all miss you if you were gone. Wink I'm talking about the tasks you complete, the responsibilities you take on, the favors you do for other people. It's amazing how often we think, “If I don't do it, it won't get done.” Not true — if you can't do it, they'll find someone else.

Stick To Your Guns

It's not going to be easy to change people's behavior, especially if they've grown accustomed to your being at their beck and call. But this battle is well worth fighting — if you want to survive in a crazy world with out-of-whack priorities about how we use our time. You'll hear comments like, “You were always available to babysit at the last minute before” — or, “You never had a problem working weekends in the past.” So what? You don't have to explain yourself or justify your decisions to anyone — it's your time, apportion it as you see fit! It's unfortunate, but most folks out there believe that feeling stressed, pressured, overloaded, and trapped is simply the status quo. You will have to convince them otherwise by your good example.

So if other people don't understand at first, they will when they begin to see the positive changes in your life. Suddenly, people will be asking, “How is it that you can have time for a hobby (or reading for pleasure or travel or spending a day at the park with your kids)? Can you tell me your secret?” And that's an amazing day — because you get to help one more person regain control over his or her life. You are spreading the gospel of “setting boundaries” — you touch one person and he or she touches one person and soon we have a society that's regained a sense of perspective about its priorities. Hallelujah!

Your Schedule

Take a look at your calendar and your “to-do” list — how much of what you have written down is critical to your survival on this planet? Very little, I'm sure. How many of your appointments involve something that you dearly love to do. A great deal, I hope — but if you're like most people, probably not. What eats up most of your time during the day?

Unfortunately, most folks' schedules are filled with external obligations — things that you have promised other people. “I have to pick up my kids from soccer practice.” “I have to attend committee meeting.” “I have to clean the house.” “I have to, I have to, I have to.” Guess what — you don't have to! If you don't want to do it, say “no.”

I'm not suggesting that you turn completely selfish — compromise is an important part of maintaining civil relations with those around you! I'm merely suggesting that you be very judicious about what you put in your schedule. Get rid of that knee-jerk reaction of saying “yes” everytime someone asks you to volunteer. It's all a matter of training the people around you not to automatically expect you to participate.

Your Finances

Didn't realize you could have clutter in your finances, did you? Take a look at your spending patterns — do you see any money leaks? These are places where your hard-earned dollars simply slip away without you even realizing it. Your danger zones could be buying snacks at work — or late fees and interest charges that accumulate when you forget to pay your bills — or groceries that go bad before you get a chance to eat them. But you need to be especially aware of these types of “unconscious” spending (asking you to be aware of something unconscious — a bit of a contradiction, I know!)

Try keeping track of every penny you spend for the next month — that includes personal items, business expenses, magazines, coffee, whatever. This may sound hard, but it's not bad if you get into the habit of carrying a small notebook with you. Every time you pull out your wallet or credit card or checkbook, make a note (even if you're only paying a quarter for a stick of gum!) At the end of the month, take a look at your expenses — you'll be surprised to see where your money goes. Once you say, “My gosh, I had no idea I spent so much on ______!” you know how to curb your money leaks.

Your Relationships

People feel trapped in relationships that are “less than fulfilling” for many reasons — low self-esteem, fear of change, habit, obligation, or because it's easier than leaving. But most folks tolerate difficult people for one simple reason — because they never stopped to think that they had another choice. Of course this includes seriously dysfunctional relationships, but also that friend who does nothing but complain every time you're together, or the family member who borrows money and never pays you back. You're not getting a positive return out of the arrangement and something has to change.

Let's sort your relationships the way we would any other clutter. “Keep's” are those near and dear to you. “Get Rid Of's” might be a harder — but you need to learn when to call it quits. If you can't think of anything good about the relationship, ask yourself why you really need that person in your life. The “Not Sure's” are mixed — some things are good and some are bad. Your job is to present your concerns to the other person, set some rules (this certain thing has to happen more/less often for the relationship to work), and see if you can reach a mutually satisfying agreement. If not, toss 'em out!

Your Job

Employment has become an institutionalized form of slavery. How many folks do you know that feel trapped by their jobs? If you are  putting up with a crappy work situation because you're are afraid of losing that steady paycheck, it's time to regain control over your environment, responsibilities, and schedule! What would you like to do differently at your job? Cut down on unnecessary meetings? Go home on time each day and refuse to work evenings or weekends? Hand a few menial duties off to an administrative assistant? What would happen if you approached your employer with a list of ideas (in a pleasant and professional way, of course?) Would you get fired — or would he consider your needs? Honestly, if your boss would can you for making a suggestion, maybe you don't need that job! It's worth a try, anyway. And if you're self-employed, you have no excuse for not drawing some boundaries. Would you look at your job duties any differently if you worked for someone else? Why don't you treat yourself at least as well as you would treat an employee?

Your Own Head

We saved the most challenging area for last! How much “junk” do you have floating around in your head, littering your thoughts? People don't think about emotions as clutter, because they aren't tangible — but guilt, jealousy, anger, and unreasonable expectations of what we can accomplish in a day eat up as much of our time and energy.

Think about the last time you had something heavy on your mind — did you get much work done that day? I'll bet that every time you set out to accomplish a task, you were distracted by your thoughts. It's like a gang of incredibly annoying adolescents, making noise and causing a ruckus in your cerebellum. Too bad you can't just slap them! The only way to make these bad boys go away is to become conscious of them. Pay attention when your mind strays to some unproductive and negative emotion — and make a concerted effort to let it go. This will take some practice — awareness of your mental state doesn't happen in a day — but it will pay off in the end.