How to Set Healthy Boundaries When You Have a Busy Schedule

Our schedules can build quickly without our notice. That’s often because we care a lot about the people we work with, the company we work for, or want to make the people around us happy.

But when we commit to too many things, we’re giving each of those things less time, and therefore can’t do our best work. As a Harvard Business Review article put it, you can actually accomplish more when you commit to less.

Saying no, or at least giving yourself space to consider what you do or do not have time for, will be helpful to yourself, your family, and your business. It of course requires practice, especially if you fear disappointing people.

Here are some ways to practice setting those healthy boundaries so you can do your best work. Hopefully, it will inspire the people around you to follow your example!

Understand your schedule

Take inventory of the projects you’re already working on. Perhaps there are so many commitments you haven’t bothered to write all of them down, whether it’s coaching your kid’s soccer team, bringing birthday treats to the office, taking the lead on a big presentation at work, or helping a friend move apartments.

Not only should you write it all down, but map it out onto a calendar so you can see how long it will take you to do a good job with each of those tasks. Now, you’ll be able to see if and where they all fit, and whether you have room to take on more things or if you’re in need of eliminating an activity to have some breathing room.

Taking time for yourself is just as important as taking time for others. Remember the old airplane adage: you must put your own oxygen mask on before you can help someone else put theirs on.

Say no (and practice ahead of time!)

If you’ve overcommitted to something it’s ok to reevaluate and say that you can no longer finish the project. Recognize the work you have put in, explain that you can’t make it work with your schedule anymore, and perhaps offer to help with a transition to someone new who can lead the work.

If you’re being asked to take on a responsibility, such as a project at work, consider how it will fit into your schedule. You can also determine how much time you’ll have for it, and whether you’ll be given support or assistance from other coworkers on it.

If not, calmly and politely share with your supervisor the work you’re already doing, and the amount of time left over to give the project. This will show your supervisor you’re well organized with your time, and perhaps they will even pass some of your current projects on to someone else if this new one is more important for you. Sometimes, a good way to frame it is to ask for them to help you. Say: “I currently have x, y, and z projects I’m working on. Can you help me prioritize deadlines so I can fit in this new project?”

There’s nothing wrong with saying, “You know what, it sounds like a really important project that should be given a lot of time, but unfortunately my schedule is completely filled up.” Standing up for yourself gives others the inspiration to do that for themselves, too!


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