A boundary setting experiment: Honouring my and others time to support innovation and inspiration


A boundary setting experiment

Honouring my and others time to support innovation and inspiration

Part 1: A boundary setting experiment

I have been exploring how I use my time over the last few months. I’m usually very good but I noticed a need to become more aware of what it was I was spending my time on  as I was noticing I was spending a lot of time in meetings that were not really valuable use of time (things like no agendas, sabotaging patterns from participants, lack of chairing, not valuing of the time to make decisions, and often beginning late and running over time with little consideration of the overall diary for all involved). My observations, and feelings of uneasiness (and well at times frustration) were then very much connected to the other work I need to do and how time was being taken away from these. As a consequence, my work days were becoming bigger, and it was at the point of noticing several weeks of 15-hour days that I knew I needed to boundary set.

So, I have embarked on an experiment to see how I can look at how I use my time and reduce my work hours but also honour the best parts of the day that work for me for creative and think time.

My intention is to: Honour my and others time to support innovation and inspiration.

If dig down deeper my boundary is closely connected to:

  • Smart use of time
  • Efficient use of time
  • Honour time - mine and others
  • Have more time that allows for creative work that is connected to innovation and inspiration
  • Work less hours that are not productive
  • Model good practice
  • Be grateful for the chance to learn
  • Don’t be too hard on myself

In keeping my intention in check and not allowing it to blow out too big (small attempts work best) I’ve set myself three specific goals connected to my boundary:

1. Record my activities (I’m using the Timing app for Mac in partnership with my digital diary) - all the records I need are in one place (on my laptop) and the Timer app begins to learn my patterns (hello machine learning) while I code my activities. This reveals to me the hours, productivity associated, but also how much time is being spent on what activities. 

2. Flip my days so I enact a pattern of morning me time and then creative time, while creating a culture of meetings in the afternoon.

3. Seriously consider what meetings I attend and how valuable they are (and this one has a sub-goal in that, If I am chairing a meeting then model good practice (i.e.: agenda, minutes, decisions made, begin and end on time, respect all perspectives, and be mindful of why the meeting is required in the first place) to support a cultural change and hopefully domino effect of changing practices).

So, in part two of this post, I’m going to reveal my findings….

Part 2: The results

Week 1

The first week of setting my boundary has been messy. As I code my activities I can begin to see patterns of how my diary is working, and to be honest I am not liking it. I can see my intention to have morning creative time is not happening as regularly as I want it (every week day). Rather I’m having requests for 7:30am meetings. I need to flip this. How do I do this? I need to share my intentions and to guide meetings requests to the afternoon while I educate those I work with to know I wish to ideally work. It is going to take time though.

A girlfriend texts me about what I have noticed in my first week. She’s keen and eager to see what might be possible to shift practices. I text Megan, 'the timing app is really interesting. Revealing a few thing…I shouldn’t have email open otherwise I get distracted (I knew this but it skips in every now and then), I use social media on my phone (so don’t come up on the hours count via my computer) but I’m using it less than before the app, and I write one thing across multiple documents and apps (Evernote, Microsoft Word, and Google Docs)’.

Lessons learnt this week:

  • Need to mindfully educate those around me how my diary works and how I use the morning for creative work. 
  • Honour my calm inbox approach (checking AM and PM) by turning off the email notifications that flash across the computer screen. This is distracting me and enticing me to respond outside of the boundary I have set myself.
  • My time is not being used wisely for what I would like to achieve.  

Week 2

This week has been a total blow out. Back to back meetings beginning early in the morning. I’m walking in the morning and one day a week I’m going to yoga, but I feel like the laptop is open to take notes from a meeting rather than for writing.

Email is coming in like no tomorrow as well, so I am finding I’m multitasking to keep on top of this (meeting time sometimes becomes a time to email as I question why I’m in the meeting in the first time). This is not sustainable.

I’m keeping energised with my meetings that are for fun projects or working with clients. This is keeping me going. It is clear my boundary setting focus is so in need, now just to get this flowing a bit better. Some negotiations required.

The timing app for the week reveals I am moving between so many projects in a day and over a long period of time. I’m not feeling like this is productive or mindful. I’m looking forward to exploring this and see how I can interrupt this pattern of working.

Lessons learnt this week:

  • If I multitask in a meeting between the agenda and email I am not being present. Need to revise what meetings I do and don’t go to (with apology) and look at the value of my time. 
  • I’m continually energised by those who are inspiring. Need to make sure I have more moments like these in my diary. 
  • I’m moving between loads of projects. This is required at the moment but not a pattern that is sustainable.

Week 3

My diary is out of control. Every sense of being stretched is happening. I’m exhausted. The 15 + hour days are emerging in. I’m getting frustrated with myself. I know this is okay. It’s helping me reconnect to my boundary. I’m also being very aware of the repeated abusers of my time (cancel at last minute, or just not turn up). So next challenge is to apply my awareness to the diary and valuing of time.

This week is just like last week. I actually feel like my diary (well others booking things in) is controlling me. I’m interested to observe this from a space of curiosity. What’s going on? Well, an analysis reveals although I am a forward planner, not many others are. So, I am receiving last minute requests for meetings. These meetings are everything that I don’t enjoy (not well planned and no real clear purpose). My observations and feelings of uneasiness and frustration are dominating. I’m working overtime to connect to the breath and mediate of an evening. I’m also noticing that I may be physically in the room, but I am not present. I’m multi-tasking (reading emails, writing a to do list, or document filing). So, I’m not being effective at all with my time.

By Thursday I’m feeling overwhelmed. I reassess. Refocus, and clear the diary for the day. This day becomes about catching up, inbox zero, and completing some major project documents to final draft stage so with a fresh mind I can proof read, edit and complete.

I’ve hit the I’m being hard on myself frustration stage to step back and reassess. By the end of Thursday I’m feeling really good. I’ve caught up with looming deadlines, blocked in time for other tasks and have begun to reassess the value of meetings. My intention is to honour my and others time to support innovation and inspiration is beginning to shift beyond observing what’s not working to small steps improvement.

I end the week making sure I have time booked in to complete the work. That my meetings are now shifting to the afternoon, and that I have transition time between meetings to just make sure I can stay present and not rush from meeting to meeting.

Lessons learnt this week:

  • Total revaluation
  • Self-Care package required
  • Action now!

Week 4

I’m back to writing in the morning. Wow is feels great. This is when my mind is so fresh and my ideas flow. My boundary setting is allowing me to really connect to my week in a different way. I’m learning to say ‘no, I’m not available then’ to guard my creative time. I’m walking in the morning. And I’m saving the early morning meetings with those who energise me and who are inspiring. These meetings are also guided towards cafe, so I can arrive a little earlier and have some mindful me time over a green tea.

I’m beginning to evaluate meeting value - how does this committee or group usually operate - are they respectful of time, organised and value contributions by member? what is the agenda? what is being discussed? What is my role? Is the meeting about decisions or information sharing that could be dispersed in a more valuable way? What else do I have to do and where can my time be better utilised? Can I touch base with the chair beforehand to contribute or will the minutes be sufficient to keep me in the loop?

I’m also consciously condensing my hours. I have had a couple of wins here but still some work to be done.

Lessons learnt this week:

  • The diary is shifting, and my goals is beginning to show a consistent pattern aligned to my intention.
  • The evaluation of value of meetings is a new approach that seems to be working for me. I need a balance between meetings verses doing the work. 
  • My days are not so long with the work hours. Can I keep this going?

Week 5

This week I have been able to write every morning. So much so that I have been able to shift through a large to do list associated to a co-editing project connected to the book contract a colleague and I have with Springer. We are almost to full manuscript submission stage and working with 23 authors has been so much fun but also a logistical challenge. Deadlines always trigger the revealing of interesting work habits. I’ve also pulled together a solo book proposal with sample chapters that I’ve been reworking for a few weeks now. So excited to move these two projects to the next stage. And edits to a few other papers have been completed and sent back to publishers with love.

Afternoons have been kept for meetings and this has worked well. I have noticed that when I share my goal, to meet in the afternoon and save mornings for creative think time my brain is fresh, that the response is positive with many people noting that this is a good idea and they would like to do this as well and the meeting actually doesn’t need to happen, with information easily dispersed another way. So, kicking goals here with the mindful share.

My friend Jason, a productivity wiz, tells me about the 80/20 principle and I’m intrigued to investigate more. I have myself a copy of the book and look forward to reading it to see what can happen next.

Lessons learnt this week:

  • Productivity on the creative work has significantly raised with my boundary in place this week.
  • The universe has aligned to support this. Wondering if this can be sustained? 
  • Forward planning the diary is required to support the goal.

Week 6

Awareness around the diary and how I wish it to work for me is developing. One of the biggest learnings is that it takes time. And it will take time. When working with others there are multiple agendas at play. My openness to explore and be curious with this is helping my boundary to be set in place. Although I have had long days, I am making sure there is time in the day to have energised points - work with other like-minded people, writing time, and me time.  I’m also planning ahead for days that are quieter in regard to meetings or moving between multiple projects. So, there is a balance over days, but not always on one day. Making this more transparent will be something I want to explore as I move forward.

Lessons learnt this week:

  • Patterns emerging for how I can guard my creative and think time
  • I am honouring some busy days and quite days and managing the projects I work on during this
  • Forward planning is a must
  • Mindful to not be so hard on myself and that this boundary is a work in progress

Post experiment I’m still focusing on my intention to honour my and others time to support innovation and inspiration. I’m also realistic that I need to say no (or no, not right now but maybe in the future) and to also balance my time. There is a fine line between doing so much and feeling exhausted, verses being energized from various projects and working with different people. Key to my boundary intention is that I need to be aware of creative and think time, blocking out time to do, and also having self-care time. Forwarding planning has been a huge part of managing the dairy, as too letting others know how I’m wanting to work. And I’m ever present about working with those who energise me.

As I move forward I’m reminded of James Clear’s 3Rs of habits:

  1. Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behaviour)
  2. Routine (the behaviour itself; the action you take)
  3. Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behaviour)

Only I can manage my boundary and the rewards and routines are key to this.