Three Boundaries To Get More Accomplished In Less Time

AdVance Leadership » Three Boundaries To Get More Accomplished In Less Time

Welcome to Friday 411, issue #074. In 4 minutes, with 1 insight and 1 action, you will get more done in less time with three boundaries.

1 Insight

Boundaries help you accomplish more by allocating less time to be productive.


Imagine that you are in the stands at a football game. The quarterback takes the snap. A wide receiver runs five yards down and then turns right. He runs past the sidelines, through the coaches, and into the stands. He disappears into the tunnel, only to emerge on the second level. The receiver then throws his hands up in the air and screams, “I’m open! I’m open!”

You would think, that wide receiver is crazy. He may be open, but he’s not in the field of play. He is out of bounds. Even if he catches the ball, the play doesn’t count.

Boundaries determine the field of play. They guide players to know what they can and can’t do. Without boundaries, football — every sport, in fact — would be confusing and chaotic.

In the same way, life without boundaries leads to chaos:
  • You make more mistakes because of your mental fatigue.
  • You take out frustrations on your team and family.
  • You work longer but your productivity decreases.
  • You sleep less and suffer with fatigue.
  • You stay in a state of exhaustion.
  • Your creativity suffers.

As you experience all of these personal effects, your team suffers as well. They follow your lead. If you don’t set healthy boundaries, it’s unlikely that your team will. They will experience the same effects listed above.

The Counter-Intuitive Approach to Accomplishing More

One of the worst habits of busy leaders is the refusal to accept limitations. You have limits to what you can accomplish. You can’t do everything you want to do.

You cannot create more time, but you can increase your Capacity: your ability to get things done with the time, energy, and attention you have. (Capacity is one of the seven traits that leaders develop that solve 95% of their challenges.)

One of the keys to increasing your Capacity is counter-intuitive: you accomplish more by decreasing the amount of time you have to accomplish something. This counter-intuitive approach is based on Parkinson’s Law: “work expands to fill the time allotted.” In other words, the longer you give yourself to work on something, the longer it will take.

By building strong boundaries, your responsibilities take less time because you give yourself less time to do them.

In our research on how leaders increase capacity, we’ve found three types of boundaries that will help you accomplish more in less time.

Boundary #1: Workday Boundaries

The first kind of boundary focuses on when your job ends every day. Several years ago, I (Garland) worked with a client named Oliver. He felt overwhelmed all the time. I asked when he would go home at night.

“It depends on what I’m working on.” Sometimes it’s 6:00, but it’s usually an hour or two later.”

I asked him, “When you get home, do you do any work?”

He admitted he usually checks and responds to his email.

I encouraged him to build a Workday Boundary, to pick a time his job finished each day. No more work. No more email.

He picked 6:00 pm. He set an alarm for 5:45 pm to let him know he needed to walk out the door in fifteen minutes. He would wrap up his last responsibilities and be out of his office by 6:00 pm.

It took him a couple of weeks to get used to the idea of being finished by that time, but he found he was achieving the same amount of work as before. Why? Because of Parkinson’s Law. He prioritized and focused because he had a deadline for when work was done.

When is your Workday Boundary?

Boundary #2: End-of-Day Boundaries

The End-of-Day Boundary is a line that you draw that says, at this time, all work stops. Not just your job, but all work. Yard work. Taking out the trash. Picking up around the house. Personal emails.

Our household aims to finish all work by 8:30 pm each night. Sometimes the kitchen is still messy. Sometimes we have house projects that haven’t been completed yet. But we know that the two of us are working toward meeting up on our bedroom sofa for a 9:00 pm date each night. We look forward to this time together to touch base, celebrate and close the day, and settle down for a good night’s rest.

We’ve talked to many leaders — especially women — who exhaust themselves taking care of their teams, clients, and families — all in the same day. We recently spoke to one female leader, Cynthia, who described her life as “constant and relentless.”

This is the unfortunate reality of life today: there will always be more to do than there is time to do it. Your tendency will be to make yourself do more. But you can only do so much. You have limits on your time and energy. An End-of-Day Boundary not only limits the time — using Parkinson’s Law — but it also helps you prioritize what is most important to you.

Cynthia told us that she cannot settle until the kitchen has been picked up from dinner. She wanted her End-of-Day Boundary to be 8:00 pm. If both of these desires were to be accomplished, it would require her family’s help. Her family agreed to start working on the kitchen no later than 7:30 in order for her End-of-Day boundary to be accomplished. From there, Cynthia built the day’s schedule backward to achieve her 8:00 pm End-of-Day Boundary.

Without boundaries, you allot infinite time for all your responsibilities. When you build an End-of-Day Boundary, you limit the amount of time you work. By adding restrictions, you’ll discover that you accomplish more in less time. You’ll also realize, when you don’t complete the work by the end of the day, it’s not the end of the world.

When is your End-of-Day Boundary? 

Boundary #3: Task Boundaries

There are some tasks you hate to do. They suck the life out of you. It could be filling out your expense reports at work or cleaning your bathroom at home. For me (Garland), I hate working on anything budget-related. Numbers suck the life out of me. I (Dorothy) avoid checking email as long as I can.

When you face a task you hate, it often takes longer to accomplish because it drains your energy. Task Boundaries can help you complete these disliked responsibilities quickly.

Here’s how: Give yourself a realistic but challenging amount of time to complete a job. You may even want to write it in your calendar and schedule something before and after to strengthen your boundaries.

We both hate grocery shopping. Each time we pass through those automatic sliding doors, we feel as if we are characters in a sci-fi movie, trapped on a planet where time passes more quickly than on Earth. Before we know it, we are caught in a black hole of unexpected specials, nutrition label comparisons, and new product evaluations. The sun was up when we entered, but we are shocked when we step out into darkness, asking one another, “How long were we in there?”

Our solution has been to use Walmart+ to do our grocery shopping. (The best way to handle a task you hate is to delegate it.) If that’s not possible, though, we set up a Task Boundary. If we drop off a kid for an hour-long activity, we hit the grocery store. We know that we have less than sixty minutes to be back for pick-up, and we cannot allow ourselves to get sucked into the time warp.

By restricting the amount of time you allocate for a task, you’ll get it done more quickly.

What tasks do you hate doing? How long do you need to do them? 


1 Action 

Establish your three boundaries, and put them in your calendar.





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