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The Importance of Boundaries in Leadership (and Life)

The Importance of Boundaries in Leadership

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.

How to Actually Achieve Your Goals this Year

It’s a new year—a fresh start, a new page, a time for renewal and new commitments. It’s an exciting time to improve oneself and set high hopes for the brand-new year. Or is it? Do you find yourself feeling more melancholy than excited in the beginning of January?

At the beginning of last year, I noticed that instead of feeling motivated and excited for the fresh start, I felt…blah. Not so inspired. Not so motivated. I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t swept up in the new year rush of positivity.

Upon reflection, I realized that below the surface I felt pressure and anxiety. It was only day three of the new year and I already felt like I was behind; that I wasn’t seizing each day to its fullest to get a jump start on the year. I also felt pressure to make this year better than the last. All of these feelings impacted my normal positive outlook and sent me into a three-week funk.

Instead of feeling hopeful for the year, I felt pressure to make it better than the last. Not exactly a great way to start the year.

Looking back a year later, I had my best year ever in 2017. Even though I didn’t feel enthusiastic at the beginning of the year, my habits eventually overtook my fears and helped me to make progress over the year before.

If you feel a bit of dread this time of year, you are not alone. Starting the year feeling less than enthusiastic doesn’t have to negatively impact your year. You can have a fantastic 2018 and make it your best year yet.

Success speaker Tony Robbins says that most of us overestimate what we can accomplish in one year and underestimate what we can accomplish in ten years.

Below are six strategies for actually achieving your goals this year:

Goals, not resolutions.

The traditional new year “resolutions” are rarely successful. It’s been reported that only 8% of people actually stick to their resolutions. The definition of resolution is “a firm decision to do or not to do something”. It takes an enormous amount of discipline to completely stop doing something or to commit to always do something.

A better approach is to set goals. The best goals are specific, measurable, and future focused. By keeping the language future focused, it keeps you in a positive mindset and empowers you to work toward the goal.

Bad goal: I want to lose 10 pounds

Great goal: I will weigh 135 pounds by June 30, 2018

I’ve learned over the years that fewer goals empower me to actually stick to them. When I have a list of 10 goals, I end up focusing on what I’m not accomplishing than the progress I’m making. I try to keep my list to four to five goals. If I accomplish even half of them, I have made progress over last year.

Slow down to speed up.

The most common cause of overwhelm is a lack of clarity. If you come into the office on Monday and don’t have clarity around the most important things you want to accomplish, then you will probably start by checking your email, and an hour later find yourself on YouTube watching a cat video.

When we don’t have clarity, we procrastinate and whittle our time away doing insignificant things that don’t contribute to our goals. The same is true for annual goals. If you don’t have clarity, you will spend a lot more energy multitasking (which doesn’t work) and not get very far.

You will start the year off busy—running from meeting to meeting, putting out daily fires, trying to keep your inbox below 500 emails—and six months later find yourself wondering where the first half of the year went.

To gain clarity, slow down to speed up. Meaning, slow down to clarify your goals, and once you have clarity, you will be able to accomplish your goals faster and easier. Clarity allows you to not expend unnecessary energy overwhelmed by your to do list of over 30 things, and instead allows you to focus intently on important tasks that will lead you toward more success.

Ease in.

One of the top resolutions people make each year is to get in better shape. Most people approach this by resolving to exercise regularly and eat healthier. These are lofty goals (they are on my list almost every year), yet the challenge can come when we set our expectations too high.

Most experts would say that you should commit to an ideal workout schedule from day one. In my experience, this becomes overwhelming and does not feel sustainable. If you haven’t worked out consistently over the past year and then create a goal for working out four times a week, you can quickly become demotivated.

It may be against conventional wisdom, but ease into your goals. Create a goal that is realistic for you, yet will also motivate you to continue.

For example, perhaps the first two weeks you set a goal to work out twice a week and then increase it to three times in week three or four. Easing in allows you to adjust to your new way of living so it doesn’t feel so abrupt.

If you are someone who can create a lofty goal, jump right in, and never look back, then do it! Do what works for you. For the rest of us (the 92%), easing in is much more sustainable.

Reverse Plan.

This one strategy can be a game changer for achieving your goals this year. I started using this strategy about four years ago when I ended the year feeling totally exhausted and depleted.

I had a really busy year in my business, and had failed to plan a vacation. I remember opening my calendar mid-year looking for a week I could schedule some time off, and there wasn’t one week without appointments or commitments for the rest of the year. I pushed through that year with very little time off and promised myself I would never have a year like that again.

At the beginning of the next year, I sat down one day and planned the most important things in my life and scheduled them in my calendar—the doctor appointments, vacations, blog writing days, conferences, school activities, and dates with my husband.

I call this reverse planning because it’s the reverse of what most people do. Most of us go about our normal work and then try to fit in the important things later. That rarely works.

Planning ahead and being deliberate with your time will ensure the most important things are scheduled. Two important things for leaders to reverse plan are coaching sessions with your employees and strategy days (days you devote completely to strategic goals). Now is the time to schedule these important events before your calendar fills up.

Measure backwards.

One of my business mentors, Dan Sullivan, says one mistake most of us make in measuring our goals is that we measure forward instead of backward.

Let’s say at the beginning of the year you weigh 150 pounds, and you set a goal to weigh 135 pounds by June 30th. On June 30th, if you weigh 140 pounds, you technically did not achieve your goal. Most of us will focus on what we didn’t achieve rather than what we did achieve.

So, you didn’t achieve 135 pounds, but you still lost 10 pounds! Dan Sullivan calls this focusing on “the gap”. Instead of focusing on the progress, we focus on the gap between what we did and what we wanted to do. Progress is an evolution. Nothing happens overnight.

Forgive yourself.

Being human means you will likely hit some bumps throughout the year and fall off the wagon. Maybe you had a weak moment and somehow found yourself eating Nutella straight from the jar (I confess), you miss your workouts for weeks in a row, or you haven’t had coaching sessions with your employees for months.

You can spend your energy ruminating on your failures, or you can forgive yourself, get back up, and do better tomorrow. After years of ruminating, I have found forgiveness to be much more pleasant.

There are two books I recommend to inspire you to achieve your goals this year: The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy, and The Slight Edge by Jeff Olsen. Small steps throughout the year lead to big results. Every choice we make either leads us toward what we want or away from what we want. Don’t underestimate the power in the small daily choices.