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How to Protect Your Time at Work and Set Better Boundaries

Our time is the most valuable resource, even more so than money.  Saying “yes to all” can very easily burn you down, thus making you stressed since you don’t have enough time for your own activities. You cannot get more time.  Don’t let others waste or steal it.

Read the following methods on how to set better boundaries and prevents others from taking your time?

Assign time limits to tasks

Part of creating your schedule should involve setting time limits on tasks instead of just working until they’re done. To-do lists are great and wonderful, but sometimes you might feel like you never check anything off.

If you’re looking to set a steady pace to your workflow, the Pomodoro Technique can help you check off your to-do list in 25-minute chunks, taking short breaks between each stint and a longer break after completing four. This technique balances a narrow focus with frequent breaks, reducing mental strain and maintaining motivation.

If you’d rather set your own pace, timeboxing allows you to block out varied amounts of time. Use your time log (step #1) to get an estimate for how long an activity will take you. Once you’ve spent the designated amount of time on that task, move on to the next important activity. You’ll find your productivity skyrocketing and your to-do list shrinking when you have these parameters in place.

Plan and Automate Focused Work Periods

For those times when you find emails, calls, meeting requests, and other distractions pull you away from your most meaningful work, you may need to automate the process of getting down to work and keeping distractions at bay.

One way is with RescueTime’s FocusTime feature, which lets you start a session of focused work and block distracting websites to keep yourself on track. With RescueTime’s Zapier integration, you can automate your FocusTime sessions, so you can do more meaningful work without relying on willpower to avoid distractions.:

You could automatically have a FocusTime session start when you begin your workday, or perhaps whenever you start a Pomodoro timer.

Put the big things into your calendar right away

Once you’ve identified what you’re optimizing for, it’s time to throw them into your calendar FIRST… before the stuff of life starts to creep in and take over.

If you’re filling up a large glass bowl, you can put in a bunch of tennis balls first, and then sand around it. But if you fill it up with sand first, there is no room for the tennis balls.

Identify the ‘tennis balls’ in your life that need to take up precious real estate in your life in order for you to be happy, and put those into your calendar first.

Prioritize wisely.

As you organize your to-do list, prioritization is key for successful time management at work. Start by eliminating tasks that you shouldn’t be performing in the first place. Then identify the three or four most important tasks and do those first that way, you make sure you finish the essentials.

Evaluate your to-do list and make sure you organized it based on the importance of a task rather than its urgency. Important responsibilities support the achievement of your goals, whereas urgent responsibilities require immediate attention and are associated with the achievement of someone else’s goals. We tend to let the urgent dominate when we should really focus on activities that support our business goals.

To avoid this pitfall, use one of the time management tips for work found in Stephen Covey’s book First Things First. He offers the following time management matrix, known as the Eisenhower matrix, as an organisational tool for prioritizing tasks based on these ideas of importance and urgency.

Turn meetings into gatherings

If your time is often taken up by 1:1 meetings, or you’re constantly turning these down due to time constraints, try this trick. Marketing strategist Dorie Clark suggests turning 1:1 requests into 1:many situations, so you can get more out of the time you spend helping others:

If you spend a lot of time answering questions via email or contact forms, try writing a blog post you can point people to in future. This way, you only spend the time needed to answer the question once, but many people can benefit. Tech writer Robert Scoble answers questions on Quora, rather than via email, so many people can benefit from the time he spends answering a question.

If it’s face-to-face meetings you’re struggling with, try setting up a group coffee meeting or dinner party for people with lots in common. Rather than only one person benefitting from your experience and ideas, you can facilitate a group of people to share with each other, so you spend the same amount of time but help many people at once.

Learn to say No the right way

We all know that an important part of mastering our own time is learning to say No. To graciously and mindfully turn down the things that are not on our own, personal, priority list.

This can be very difficult in a work environment. You’re balancing the needs of other people that you need to work with, to get along with, going forward.

But there is some research that indicates the best way to say No. A way that can make you feel empowered, and maintain healthy boundaries.

Vanessa M. Patrick and Henrik Hagtvedt performed a study that they published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Practice the “Right To Decline”

The “Right to Decline” is about more than saying “No.”  It is believing and living the fact that you have the right to allocate your own time.  You have the ability to say no to others.  No to meetings.  No to new obligations.  No to taking on the work of others.

Does you workplace allow you this right?

It may not.  Some workplaces expect you to lay down at a moment’s notice for whatever the “meeting of the minute” happens to be.  Other workplaces have stood up for the individual.  In a ROWE environment, all meetings are optional and people get to determine the best use of their time.

Switch tasks less times during the day

Some people are able to multi-task, but I am not one of them. The amount of cognitive load (i.e. working memory) it takes for me to switch from one task to the next to rev down and then rev back up is significant.

Working memory is a cognitive system with a limited capacity that is responsible for temporarily holding information available for processing. Working memory is important for reasoning and the guidance of decision-making and behavior.

Studies have shown that task switching depletes your working memory. Switching from one task to the next over and over makes it harder to focus and make good decisions as the day goes on.


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