Posts Tagged ‘boundaries’

Why Didn't I Think Of That Sooner?

This guy is always late getting her his financial records, his books are a mess, and he blames her for mistakes he makes. He's apparently a generally unpleasant person to be around — never a good word, always whining about something, and he makes her life a living hell. She dreads going to see him because she knows he's going to put her into a foul mood and send her whole day into a tailspin.

As we were talking, she said, “God, I wish I just didn't have to work with him anymore.” I said, “Well, that's the nice thing about being self-employed isn't it — you can choose who to work with. Fire him if he makes you that unhappy.” She said, “Oh, I couldn't do that!”

I asked why not. She said, “Well, I live off of referrals — and if I dump him, he wouldn't refer any of his friends to me.” I asked if he had referred any clients to her before — she said no. I suggested that anyone who could tolerate this guy was probably just like him — negative, annoying, and hard to deal with — and did she really want a whole gaggle of clients like that? She said no. I asked if she had any other CPA friends she could refer him off to — just tell him she was trimming down her client load and give him a few names of other people he could work with. She said yes. Then she just sat there for a few minutes, letting the idea sink in — she didn't have to work with this client any more.

Sometimes It's Easier To Stay Stuck

You see, most of us put up with a lot of annoyances in life — things that drain our energy, make us angry, or frustrate us. But the real irony is that, in many instances, we actually have the power to choose whether or not we continue to tolerate that situation. We have more control than we imagine. Life isn't just some cosmic pinball game (although God sure plays a mean pinball), where we get bounced around with no say over where we go. To continue with a really dorky metaphor, we put in the quarters, we're in charge of the flipper buttons — and if we get tired of playing the same old game with someone, we can just let the damned ball go in the hole and walk away!

The reason we get caught in the trap of tolerations is that we never stop to question our situation and what can be done about it — we just assume that this is the way things are and we have no choice. But I've got news for you. You can change absolutely anything about your life if you don't like it. This transition might not be pleasant, and you may have to go through a lot of pain to get to the other side — but it is SO worth it in the long run.

Unfortunately, though, change is scary — and most people just want to be comfortable (even if it means being not very happy most of the time). It's often easier to put up with a “known evil” it is than to break out and do something new and challenging to change your life for the better. You can spot “tolerators” from a mile away. They may be listless, angry, bitter, whiny, sick all the time, or seemingly rude and insensitive to others — but it's just a manifestation of how unhappy they are with their own lives.

If you haven't seen the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” go rent it. The film looks at how hard it can be to step outside of the life you were programmed to live, in search of something more fulfilling (as well as the fact that blood relatives are determined to embarrass you from the day you're born!) Initially, you may have to fight with your family, buck the cultural expectations you've grown up with, and force people to see you with a different set of eyes. Growing pains are never easy. But in the end, everyone benefits when you are happier, more satisfied, and a hell of a lot more pleasant to be around!

Take A Look At Your Own Life

What do you need to do differently in your life?  What would you like to stop tolerating? Whatever it is, you can have it — you just have to be willing to make a change. My clients' most common complaints are usually work-related. Don't like your job anymore? You can go back to school, get a different degree, and switch to a brand new career. Or start your own company and go into business for yourself. It's never too late — but you'll need to work hard, you may have to go into debt for a period of time, and you aren't guaranteed success. Just ask yourself how unhappy you are in your current situation and whether years of continuing down that path would be any worse than jumping the track.

I also hear a lot of grumbling about unsatisfying relationships. Maybe you're fed up with a friend, spouse, or family member. You've tried everything to fix the problem, but it's clear that this is a toxic relationship. So leave. You're not bound to anyone in perpetuity — especially if you don't get anything positive from your interactions. Telling someone that you won't allow them to treat you badly anymore is not easy. There will be hurt feelings. You'll have to find new people with whom to spend your time. But isn't it worth it in the end to remove that thorn from your side?

I'm not suggesting that you run away whenever you have a problem in life — but you should know when to call it quits if something isn't working for you. Only an idiot complains about how unhappy he is, keeps doing the same things over and over again, and then wonders why his life isn't getting any better. You have to take action. You have to draw the line. You have to say, “No, I'm just not going to put up with this anymore.” No one else is going to do that for you.

Your Homework

So back to my friend and her client. Needless to say, she rushed off Monday AM and called the client to end their business relationship. The good news is that she is free of him — the better news is that it ended quite amicably. Because she followed her heart and did what she had to do to be happy —  while treating him with respect and giving him another option to get his needs met — he was very receptive. He told her he had enjoyed working with her, and even said he would refer others to her in the future (a mixed blessing, at best!) I know my friend will be a lot more inclined to draw a healthy boundary sooner in the future (especially when this guy's friends start calling to hire her!)

What are you tolerating in your life? For each annoyance, think about what you could do differently to make that frustration go away (or at least keep it from bothering you so badly). It could be as small a change as leaving the house 30 minutes earlier for work so you miss rush hour — to moving across the country because you hate the weather where you live — to selling everything you own and hitting the road in an Airstream (like we've done!) Just remember, you may not have control over the world around you, but you do have control over how you react to it. And you have control over the kinds of situations you allow yourself to be put in. You just have to figure out where your line is and start drawing it.

Learn How To Say “No”

Have you ever been asked to do something you really didn't want to do for your job — work late, take on a new project when your plate was already full, or attend a completely pointless meeting? You probably felt it would be disrespectful to say no — so you agreed, even though doing so caused you tremendous stress. Why are we so afraid of the word “no”?

“No” means that you understand and accept your own limits, and don't want to do a shoddy job by taking on too much. It's an indication that you recognize where your talents lie and want to put them to the best use. “No” is actually a good word! The trick is to say “no” without feeling guilty or making the other person think that you are unwilling to help out. Instead of seeing a situation in which you are being forced to disappoint another person, turn this into an opportunity to be of service. The best way to tactfully dodge a request while still making a contribution is to offer an alternative solution:

  • offer to help later — “I'm sorry, I don't have time right now. But I'll be free Friday afternoon, if you still need me.”
  • offer another resource — “I'm busy, but I have a colleague who has been wanting to get involved. Let me call her for you.”
  • offer to take on a different task — “That's not my strong suit. But I would be happy to help out with (drawing posters, setting up the meeting room, working out a budget, etc.)”

Stop Carrying The World On Your Shoulders

So much work-related stress is caused by the thought, “If I don't do it, it won't get done.” Yes it will, if it's really important. Somehow, somewhere, the company will find someone to take care of it. I promise that, no matter how fabulous you are at your job, you're not completely indispensable!

Ask yourself, “If I got hit in the head with a tree tomorrow, how would this job get done?” When the answer is, “So-and-so would help out,” you can  feel more comfortable asking “so-and-so” to help out now (before you end up in the hospital!) If the answer is, “It wouldn't get done — it's not that important,” then ask yourself if that task is worth your time in the first place. A life and death situation (imagined or real) sure gives you a sense of perspective! You just have to keep in mind that there are different degree degrees of “no,” and you should be able to find one that lets you maintain control over your time while still assisting the other person.

It's going to be hard for you to set these kinds of boundaries in your work life — especially if you've been accustomed to letting other people dictate how you use your time. As you reclaim your schedule, you will hear comments like, “You never had a problem working weekends before.” Your answer is simply, “My situation has changed. Sorry, but I can't do it this time.”

Two Kinds Of Policies

At this establishment, no one has decided what business hours will be, so customers are never sure when the shop is open — it could be 10-2 one day and 6-6 another day. No one has determined what the store should sell, so customers don't know if they will get flowers or salami when they walk in the front door. And the owner has never bothered to set a policy about the type of payment the store accepts, so a customer who used a credit card on Monday might be told “cash only” on Tuesday. People have to guess how this shop is going to function from day to day, and no one ever knows what to expect. It won't take long for both employees and customers to get pretty frustrated and irritated at the situation.

It's the same way with your personal life — if you don't tell people how you operate, they won't be able to interact with you in a way that you both find mutually satisfying. Too often, we expect other people to read our minds, to automatically know how we need them to behave during every minute of the day. And when they act differently than what we had hoped, we get angry — when what we really should do is communicate our needs a little better. Unfortunately, we don't always exactly know what we need — we just know what we don't like, don't want, and are fed up with. But that's a great start!

What Are You Tired Of Tolerating?

Think about all of the times in your life when you've interacted with another person and felt invaded, violated, or disrespected by the experience. Maybe you thought that you were being insulted or taken advantage of. Perhaps you wished that you had stood up for yourself a bit more aggressively — demanded respect from someone who seemed to be belittling you. Or the other person might have unknowingly offended you, and you simply regretted not bringing it to their attention at the time.

Those incidents were uncomfortable and frustrating because you allowed someone to cross a very important line with you. Each of us has developed a set of unconscious rules about how we want to be treated — how we want our time, space, belongings, and personal qualities to be respected by others. And when you fail to defend your boundaries, your psyche lets you know — with feelings of guilt, anger, or sadness.

The problem is that on a conscious level, we are unwilling to assert these demands. And this happens for many reasons — we don't want to cause an imposition for someone else, we've convinced ourselves that we are wrong, we've fallen into a habit of disregarding our feelings, or we think that this is just how life is supposed to work. So we continue to tolerate unacceptable behavior — usually because it just seems like too much work to try and change things. Take a few minutes to make a list of all the situations and circumstances that you are tired of tolerating. The following are some examples from my clients' lists. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • I'm tired of my kids leaving their stuff all over the house, expecting me to pick it up.
  • I'm tired of my boss throwing an “urgent” project on my desk at 5 PM on Friday.
  • I'm tired of my mother always criticizing the way that I keep my house.
  • I'm tired of feeling like I'll lose my clients if I'm not at their beck and call 24 hours a day.
  • I'm tired of spending all day Saturday running errands for everyone else in my family.
  • I'm tired of never seeing my kids because I have to work all weekend.
  • I'm tired of husband scheduling a social engagement for us and not telling me until the last minute.
  • I'm tired of my co-workers interrupting me while I'm trying to get some work done.
  • I'm tired of staying at the office late every night while everyone else goes home on time.

It All Starts With You

If you will look closely at each of these complaints, they all have to do with the way that one person allows another person to treat him or her. Notice that I didn't say “it has to do with how other people treat you.” It's your responsibility to let people know exactly what you expect from them — what is considered acceptable behavior and what is not. When someone crosses a line the first time, it's their fault. When it happens again, it's your fault. And while you can't change other people's behavior, you absolutely can change what you are willing to put up with!

A quick warning before you start laying down ground rules — you have to back them up with action. If you decide not to work past 5 PM anymore and the big cheese insists that you stay late, can you stand up to your boss and be true to your convictions? If it becomes a chronic problem, are you willing to look for another job? If your hubby doesn't put his clothes in the laundry basket like you agreed upon, will you let him walk around in dirty underwear? How committed are you to your own needs and desires? This is not an exercise for the faint-hearted!

Laying Down The Ground Rules

Once you decide that you are really ready to dig in, the first step is to think about the kinds of rules you would need to set up to keep each of those “tolerations” from ever happening to you again. Go ahead and write them down — they will seem more concrete and easier to implement if they are on paper. Your list can also serve as a daily reminder of your boundaries (lest you forget where you drew that line!)

For example, if you are tired of having to put your own plans aside at the last minute because someone in your family neglected to tell you that they had a ballgame or a party or a field trip, you might decide to lay down the following rules:

  • We will have a family meeting once a week on Sunday evenings.
  • During that meeting, each family member will discuss any upcoming plans they have for the week.
  • We will write each member's activities on a centralized family calendar.
  • If you need a ride, supplies, or anything else for an activity, bring it up at the meeting.
  • If you don't mention it and then need something at the last minute, it's your responsibility.

This might sound harsh and rigid and fascist, but if you look at the chaotic way that some people operate, a little fascism might be in order! You don't have to be incredibly hard-nosed with your rules, but it's important for people to know what you are willing to do and what you are not willing to do — up front.  That way, when little Johnny decides that he needs cupcakes for the school party at 10:00 the night before, you can explain to him why you aren't going to make them. And the next time, he'll be motivated to plan ahead a little better. You are actually helping the people around you to learn valuable time management skills — while you create a touch more sanity in your own life.

My Own Story

When I first started my Professional Organizing business, I most assuredly did not practice what I preached! I felt like I had to give every spare minute of my time to my clients, or I wouldn't be successful. So I worked weekends and evenings — I essentially allowed my clients to dictate my schedule. I finally decided that if I wanted to have a healthy life and a healthy business, I needed to set some policies and procedures around how I used my time. I thought about what I wanted and what I didn't want. I didn't want to work more than 8 hours a day — including travel time to and from clients. So I decided that divided my day into two blocks — a three-hour organizing session in the morning and another in the afternoon. I would no longer schedule appointments for evenings and weekends — but I lined up a number of other organizers who could take those clients that I wasn't able to service (for a small referral fee, of course!) I would be happy to run extra errands for clients (shop for supplies, take their discards for donation, etc.) but I increased my hourly rate to cover the extra time I would spend. And I would leave one day free EVERY week for administrative work.

I put sticky notes on my desk to remind me of the rules I set for myself. I blocked off my admin days in my calendar, and I even highlighted the times of day that I had committed for client sessions (so that I wouldn't accidentally mis-schedule someone). I stopped asking clients, “When do you want to get together?” and started saying, “I'm free Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings — which of those is best for you?” I regained control over my schedule. My clients were happy to work within whatever framework I offered them, and I never got one complaint about these new policies. In fact, people respected my choice to have a life again, and asked me to help them do the same thing. Over time, these “policies” became second-nature to me. And all it took was making up my mind that I didn't want to live that way anymore. Imagine that! I can do it, you can too!”

Efficient Versus Effective

There's a lot of confusion out there about what it means to be “efficient” — some see this as the holy grail of time management. But there's more to using your day wisely than just how much you accomplish. Efficiency means getting a lot done in a short time — effectiveness happens when you also invest your energies in projects that matter to you.

Think back to a time (maybe yesterday) when chunk of your day was eaten up by a menial task, like checking email. You may have gotten through hundreds of messages, even emptied your in-box, yet still felt vaguely dissatisfied with your effort. It didn't seem as though you actually accomplished much — because it wasn't a task near and dear to your heart. As the old saying goes, you can run as fast as you want, but if you're going in the wrong direction, you still won't end up where you intended.

Good time management helps you find your way. I'm a caver, and I really enjoy crawling around in dark holes underground. I don't know if you've ever been in a real cave before, but it is PITCH black — you can't see a thing. And without my caving light, it wouldn't matter how fast I went — I still wouldn't have a clue where I was headed. I might be going in circles, I might be going backward. However, as soon as I turn on my light, I can see where I am, the passage ahead of me, and any obstacles I'll need to go over or around. And most importantly, I'll be able to recognize it when I'm nearing the end of my journey — getting close to accomplishing my goal. That's what good time management is all about.

Where Does Your Time Go?

How much of your life is spent on “time wasters” — activities that do nothing to enhance your quality of life, and actually prevent you from accomplishing more important goals? Facebook has become my major time-waster these days. While I get a tremendous amount of joy and satisfaction from staying connected to all the people in my life, if I get distracted into playing Mafia Wars or taking any of their stupid “what kind of tree would you be” quizzes, I'm in trouble!

Each person has his or her own “time traps” — but you know you've been seduced by a time waster when you find yourself:

  • watching TV shows you don't really care about
  • checking email over and over throughout the day
  • surfing the internet or cruising chat rooms with no purpose in mind
  • endlessly checking status updates on social networking sites
  • wandering around stores, just looking for bargains
  • spending a few hours every day running errands
  • shuffling the same papers back and forth on your desk

Drawing The Line

Some days it can feel as though, despite your best efforts, you haven't accomplished a dadgum thing. Quitting time rolls around and all you have to show for it is hours and hours down the drain, blown on activities that gave you little or no payoff — not to mention the fact that your to-do list is still sitting there staring at you, waiting to be tackled tomorrow!

It can be very hard to curtail these time-wasting behaviors (isn't it always hard to break a bad habit?) Sure, it's fun to goof off on the internet when you have a few minutes and your brain needs a break — but how good are you at drawing the line and saying, “Okay, time to get back to work?” Do you automatically turn on the television when you get up in the morning or come home in the afternoon? Maybe it's time to give your remote control a rest! The good news is, it's easy to change these mindless habits — all it takes is a conscious choice to spend your time differently, and a little planning:

  • when you come home, leave the TV off and find a more meaningful way to decompress (go for a walk, read a book, play with your kids) — review the TV schedule once a week, find those shows you really care about, and record them to watch later without commercials
  • get into a routine of checking email no more than 3 times a day (morning, noon, and end of the day) — turn off the “you've got mail” alarm and program your system to only download emails on command
  • if you lose track of the world while web-surfing, set a timer to go off in 15 or 20 minutes — then make yourself get up and turn off the computer when it dings
  • for 30 days, shop only from a list — only go to stores that carry the item you need, and if you don't actually need anything, don't go to the mall in the first place
  • set aside a single “errand day” each week and sit down with your family to plan your list — put everything you need in one basket by the door, and plot your route in advance to avoid backtracking — if someone forgets an errand, either insist that it wait until the next errand day, or let them do it themselves
  • take 5 minutes to sort through incoming papers every day — put “to-do” papers into a tickler/action file, and set aside time once a week to file and handle to-do's — set up a spot for papers you're currently working on, and take 5 minutes to clear your desk before you leave each day

Look around your life and see what other daily routines and chores eat up your day. You may even want to keep a log for a week or so, recording how you spent your time and what sort of value you received from each activity (just don't let keeping your log become a time-waster!) You'll discover your own personal time “issues” (spending 2 hours trying on outfits before deciding what to wear that day, taking forever to make up your mind about the brand of orange juice to buy at the store, whatever) and find ways of dealing with each.

See if you can't trim some fat from your schedule — just a few simple changes will free up hours each week. But don't waste this bounty — be sure to put that bonus free time to good use. Block off room in your calendar for those important projects you've been neglecting — and don't allow anything to interrupt you. If someone asks for your time during that slot, let them know you can't because you already have another appointment (you do — with yourself!) And enjoy the satisfaction you get from spending your time effectively!

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

As this tenth-grader rattled off her list of daily activities, the problem was apparent. She rose at 5 AM for school and stayed 1-2 hours late each day for a different extracurricular club. She then had either soccer practice or dance class, and spent 2-3 hours a night on homework. She would fall exhausted into bed around 11 PM, get 6 hours of sleep, and start all over again the next day. By Friday night, she was so wiped out that she slept all weekend, just trying to recuperate.

Does this sound familiar? Are you inadvertently pushing your kids too hard, asking that they fit more than is humanly possible into a 24-hour day? I'm sure you don't mean to, but you can't help it. As adults, we aren't very good at recognizing our limits — and we're passing this disability on to our kids. We try to do too much, set unreasonable expectations for ourselves, and walk around feeling overwhelmed most of the time. Our children see us in action and mirror our behavior — they're just doing what they're taught.

What most kids are mirroring is overload. In simply raising our offspring, we're creating a newgeneration of stressed-out, overcommitted adults — but we have theability to change this by consciously adjusting our attitude toward time. Start by recognizing that you can't do everything, no matter how hard to try. Take a second to figure out your own priorities, then bring your behavior into alignment with those values. The key to teaching your children good time management skills is for you to learn them, first. “Do as I say do, not as I do” just doesn't cut it with kids. You have to show your children that you are in control of your schedule (not the other way around).

Re-Evaluating Your Child's Schedule

When you want your child to have every opportunity, it's easy to go overboard. But when their days are filled with structured “enrichment,” there's no time to explore, daydream, and just be a kid. I find it disturbing that children can't even knock on a friend's door and ask if so-and-so can come out — they have to schedule a “play date” in advance. I'm not sure when society collectively abandoned the idea of goofing off as part of growing up, but it's not a bad tradition to try and bring back. Leave some unscheduled time in your child's day, even if you have to limit the extracurricular side to do it — they'll thank you for it later when they grow up to be more balanced adults.
If you tell your kids that family is important but find yourself working 80 hours a week, they will get the message — just not the one you intended. Do you really want to live your life like a cheesy Harry Chapin song? Set aside at least one evening and one weekend day as “family time” – no one is allowed to schedule anything else so you can actually enjoy each other's company. Even you just order pizza and play board games, you will be teaching your kids  how to make room for life's true priorities.

Getting Organized As A Family

Have you ever had one of those frustrating days when no one in your family knows what anyone else is doing? At the last minute, Tommy asks for a ride to soccer practice, and Susie needs 3 dozen cupcakes for the class party tomorrow — but Mom has a meeting that she can't get out of and Dad has to work late tonight. Chaos! Sit down together as a family once a week and plot out each person's schedule for the next seven days. Hang a wall calendar in a high-traffic area like the kitchen, and record each person's activities in a different color pen (blue for Tommy, red for Susie, green for Mom, purple for Dad). You will immediately be able to see and correct scheduling conflicts, plan ahead for upcoming events, block off your “family time,” and even plan the week's meals. Just be firm about your policy. If it isn't on the calendar, there is no popping up at the last minute expecting everyone else to rearrange their schedules. When Tommy forgets to tell you that he has a ball game on Wednesday night and you've already planned to go to your book club, don't cancel on his behalf.

Remember that old saying, “Your failure to plan ahead does notconstitute my emergency.” It's his responsibility to arrange a ridewith a friend or he will just have to miss the game. And next time,he's more likely to put it on the calendar. I know it sounds mean, butit's time for a little tough love!