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Know you need to build better boundaries? Here’s how.

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Time for a truth bomb: You won’t get what you want. You get what you tolerate. Harsh, I know, but it’s so true.  

 Standards that aren’t aligned to your expectations of how you should be treated are a surefire way to limit your leadership potential and leave you working far too hard and in a way that depletes and drains you.  

 It’s an easy fix, relatively speaking. It’s time to put up boundaries. Not wishy-washy, ‘here if you need’ tentative boundaries, but firm, don’t mess with me boundaries.  

I like to call them barbed wire boundaries!  

(There’s that farm girl coming out again!)  

 There’s a fundamental practice and perception shift when we move from an implementer role (the DOER) to one of leadership. We no longer have the dopamine hit from the to-do list and so we need to replace it with leadership practices that give that hit, but not in a way that holds us back and keeps us stuck in the busy. What better way to protect our greatest asset, our time, than by metaphorically encircling it with barbed wire? 

 Boundaries create structure and protect us from scope creep and overwhelm. They allow us to focus on what matters most, and in leadership it’s that deep focus time and space.  

 I have many strategies that bring to life my barbed wire boundaries concept to enable women to move into the visionary, change-making work that signifies their leadership. 

 Here are a few strategies for building and maintaining Barbed Wire Boundaries. 

 First up: my world famous (in my IGNITE circle anyway!) 90 minute white space strategy.  

 This is 2 x 90 minute blocks of time within a weekly schedule that are untouchable. These are for deep thinking and high level work. Nothing, nothing can encroach on this time. There is no excuse big enough to remove it from the schedule, pending fire, flood or locusts. (Or perhaps a specific urgent request from the CEO!) 

During these protected 90-minute periods of deep thinking time, it is a really good idea to have the phone on do not disturb because every notification ping equals a loss of focus. My clients have achieved some incredible work from my 90 minute white space strategy, including:  

  • Mapping out a team strategy day 
  • Overhauling a customer experience process that was actually causing a poor customer experience 
  • Completing their annual performance review – focusing in on how they would position themselves for a pay rise.  

 We teach people how to treat us and what we tolerate.  

 This can happen by default or accident, or we can mindfully and intentionally craft this. If we’re always available and ‘on’ then we’re always available. My 90 minute white space strategy only works when it’s untouchable. That means it’s not OK for people to waltz into your space to ask you about something during those 90 minutes.  

 Obviously, when you’ve been the go-to girl, there’s some bad habits to break. People will expect you to be accessible, but you know what? They’ll get over it. I asked some of my Ignite Ladies how they enforce barbed wire boundaries around their 90 minute white space blocks as well as their broader work.  

 This answer cracked me up:  

 ‘Noise cancelling headphones. Not those tiny little AirPods that are invisible until someone’s up close, but the big, over the ears, ‘back off’ ones.’ 

 Another likes to …  ‘Head to my local café.  I grab a coffee or two and immerse in thinking, planning and problem solving.’ 

 Beyond my white space strategy, boundaries are important across all facets of our leadership.  

 As we know, there’s no ‘I’ in team, so stop putting your hand up to people’s requests for help.  

 One of my clients has a strategy where she’s asked her team to present issues in a way that’s not simply hand balling them to her to fix. Instead, when sharing an issue, it’s in the structure of 1 problem/issue, 2-3 solutions and 1 recommendation. Boom! 

 When it’s time off, it’s time off.  

 I encourage women to take time away from work, and this means really stepping away. The phone must be off, emails unchecked. On this – I’ve had clients take the step of removing their email from their phone, initially as an attempt to have a holiday, and then leave emails permanently off as a strategy to protect their boundaries. I like it!  

 Another woman who had previously been known as the go-to girl … for just about everything from creating beautiful Powerpoint slides, solving pesky tech issues to facilitating the most difficult, high level global consultation processes, made it clear that she was 100% UNAVAILABLE when she took an entire month off at Christmas.  Issues came up but she didn’t rush in to fix them.  The team handled it all and nothing broke in her absence.  

 If you do need to be contacted, communicate your preference as to how! If you hate after hours phone calls and would prefer an email, communicate that clearly with your team. More importantly, don’t answer the phone! Your email signature is also a good place to set boundaries. I’ve seen signatures with messages that detail clearly when people can expect a response, beautifully setting expectations and role modelling barbed wire boundaries.  

 How are your boundaries?  

 Are they flimsy and susceptible to falling over? Or are they impenetrable, protecting your time, headspace and your wellbeing? If you’d like some help with creating barbed wire boundaries, please reach out. 

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