On a recent Wednesday night, I was attending a parent association meeting at my children’s school to talk about upcoming events. These meetings have historically run long; sometimes going until 9:30 p.m. or later. I go to bed at 9:30 on weeknights, so the day after these meetings, I always wake up feeling tired and sluggish. Before long, these meetings were negatively impacting my week. I realized I have a choice in this situation—I could continue staying until the meeting ends and feel tired and frustrated each time, or I could come up with a better solution that worked for me. So instead of feeling obligated to stay until the end of the meeting, I created a boundary: for weeknight meetings, I would leave by 8:30 p.m. No exceptions. I let the president of the parent association know ahead of time, and at the next meeting, I collected my things at 8:30, said goodbye, and headed home.
Boundaries are an essential part of leadership. Without boundaries, our days become a haze of activities without any focus. We end up feeling busy all day without accomplishing anything of value.
Are there any boundaries you need to create in your life?
I like to think of it this way:
Boundaries create structure
Structure creates freedom
Boundaries allow you to focus and work at your peak. The purpose of boundaries is to protect your time and energy so you can work at your best. So you can be your best.
Below are some examples of leadership boundaries that can help protect your time and energy:
- Closing your door to work on an important project
- Telling your employees you are not available for the next two hours so you can work on a project
- Taking a lunch break every day to give your brain a rest
- Not accepting a meeting request without an agenda
- Protecting the first half hour of your workday to get focused and review your priorities for the day
- Leaving the office no later than 6:00 each day
- Not checking email on weekends
- Not working at all on vacation (this is a boundary I am implementing in a couple weeks!)
When you don’t have boundaries, everyone else’s emergencies become your emergencies. You find yourself reacting to everyone else instead of focusing on what is important to you and your success.
Below are some of the personal and work boundaries I’ve put into place to protect my time and energy:
- Prioritize my to do list and focus on two high priority activities a day
- Schedule productivity sprints (blocks of time in my calendar) to focus on one thing at time (typically these sprints are between one and two hours each)
- Close my email and put my phone out of sight when I am doing a productivity sprint
- Go to bed by 9:30 p.m. on weeknights
- No weeknight meetings after 8:30
- No alcohol on weeknights
- No work after 6:00 p.m.
- Phone stays in the kitchen at night (not in the bedroom)
- Maximum of one alcoholic beverage at a dinner or event (unless it’s a really long event like a wedding, where I allow myself two glasses)
You may be thinking; does she have any fun? Yes, I do. What these boundaries do is ensure that my energy is at its peak. I facilitate leadership programs and speak in front of people at least three times a week, and feeling rested, energized, and at the top of my game is vitally important for my business and the results my clients get. Having a glass of wine on a Tuesday night may not seem like a big deal, but it results in me not sleeping as well that night and feeling groggy in the morning, which undermines my performance. That boundary is a structure I use to keep myself at my peak.
Having structures also cuts down on the decisions you have to make, which frees up mental space and energy. As humans, we make thousands of decisions every day—everything from what to wear to who to hire. Having boundaries and structures in place keeps you from having to make simple decisions that drain your energy. Some CEOs create structures to simplify their lives as much as possible. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, and Don Tyson, former CEO of Tyson Foods, wear the same outfit every day, as did the late Steve Jobs. This is one less choice they need to make each day.
An important part of leadership is being able to keep yourself—and your team—focused. In today’s world, it’s challenging to keep your mind focused on what’s important. Without boundaries, you end up wasting your hours and ultimately your days. Developing boundaries creates the structures you need to keep your leadership—and your life—on track.