If you are like most driven women entrepreneurs I know, you're likely mildly obsessed with time management strategies.
From upleveling your morning routine and experimenting with different daily planners, to downloading the latest productivity-boosting app, you have probably tried dozens of different techniques to squeeze the most juice possible out of every waking minute.
But if your time management strategies are missing this one foundational ingredient, they are destined to render you nothing more a highly efficient producer of meaningless results.
So what's the secret sauce that will catapult your productivity?
Your boundaries, otherwise known as those internally generated laws that govern what will work for you, and what won't. Boundaries are the single most important and overlooked aspect of setting a priority and putting in the effort required to make it happen.
Think of your boundaries as bodyguards for your time and mental bandwidth. Without boundaries, your time is open for the pillaging by people who "just want to pick your brain," by volunteer work that's no longer meaningful, by needy clients or stakeholders who would benefit from a lesson in respecting the time of others.
And while many people struggle to set boundaries, the problem is particularly acute for women entrepreneurs, many of whom are juggling not only the needs of their growing businesses, but also the necessities of supporting aging parents, growing kids, personal relationships, health, and so on.
In other words if there's anyone who needs to set powerful boundaries in order to protect their time so they can focus on their most important and meaningful priorities, it's women entrepreneurs like you.
The challenge? Protecting your boundaries can involve conflict, because it will often mean you say no to someone else's agenda in order to say yes to yours. This type of conflict can present problems for women, many of whom are socialized from a young age to create harmony and avoid conflict at all costs.
Here are some practical strategies to help you identify, set and respect your boundaries, so you can protect your time and mental bandwidth.
Create a "Tolerance List"
If you know you're overwhelmed but you're struggling to know where to even start setting stronger boundaries, one powerful exercise is to create a list of all the circumstances in your life you are tolerating.
Are their sub-par team members who aren't performing to standard, but you've allowed to stay on? Are you tolerating overly low energy levels because of poor sleep or nutrition? Take a week to build you list, and identify every single thing you can think of that you're currently tolerating.
Then, work your way down the list, addressing each of your "tolerances." Maybe you decide to replace an underperforming staff member. Perhaps you set a boundary around a 3-hour period on Sunday afternoons where you prepare nutritious food for the week ahead. The goal is to identify what's stealing your energy and focus, and make a plan to correct it.
Repeat after me: That won't work for me.
Sometimes, the reason we don't set and respect boundaries is because we don't have the right language to express those boundaries. The phrase "that won't work for me" is a great, straight-forward and clear way of expressing a boundary to someone else...no further explanation needed.
They'll just have to feel that way.
Another challenge in setting boundaries is that you might upset someone else. For instance, if you decide you will not meet someone for coffee so they can "pick your brain" it's possible they may feel miffed or overlooked. A boundary-challenged person might have coffee anyway in order to not create the conflict. Champion boundary setters, however, understand that you never win when you attempt to take control of the feelings of others. A great way to coach yourself through the conflict is to repeat these words to yourself, "they'll just have to feel that way."
The irony is that, while boundaries exist to protect your time, when you've mastered the art of setting boundaries, you rely less and less on complex time management strategies, because you've protected adequate time for your greatest priorities. No fancy daily planner needed.