I’ve decided to write a multi-part blog on a topic that is so important, it warrants a little extra attention.  I was talking about how to set boundaries yesterday with a client, a freelancer who is working on growing her business, and struggles to optimize her time effectively.  I think many of us fall into this bucket.  I mean, who really does have perfect time management skills? 

But all the fancy apps and time management tricks mean nothing if we don’t challenge the limited beliefs that are guiding the everyday choices we make.

Our beliefs about availability drive our behaviors

I’ll give you an example.  My IT guy, James (who is awesome by the way) has a way of working with clients, which he communicates clearly.  I know in an emergency I am to call him immediately.  A real emergency, not a fake Shelley kind of emergency like “could we change the color of the banner on my website – it looks too blue?”  James knows me all too well…

So far, I’ve only had to do this once, when my site domain got hijacked and my website got pulled down – a real thing by the way, and now I’ve learned all about the importance of 2-factor authentication.  But I digress…

Otherwise, if there is something non-emergency related I need I am to email him.  James checks his email twice a day, once in the morning and once in the late afternoon.  And aims to respond to client requests within 1-2 working days.  If something is going to take longer than that, he gets back to me with a time estimate of when he can most likely complete the task.  It’s a clearly communicated policy of how he deals with email and client requests.

It’s so simple, it’s so brilliant, it’s so effective, and yet, most of us do the complete opposite.  Why?  Because deep down there’s often a dark, hidden, limited belief lurking in the shadows that says something like – “You have to be available all the time.”  Or “If you’re not available, people won’t be able to trust you and rely on you.” Or “You have to be available 100% of the time for your clients or your business will fail.”  Sound familiar?

The people pleasing poison

These beliefs are rooted in what I call one of the three poisons – or reactive tendencies that end up creating a lot of problems in our life and leadership.  This particular poison is the one of the people pleaser – My self-worth is related to how much people like me.  And we human beings are super inept at sitting with the discomfort of feeling like we are not liked.  Notice I say “feeling” because often this is our perception, and perception does not equate to reality.  Healthy people respect and honor appropriate and properly communicated boundaries. 

And because we’re not conscious these fears are lurking in the background, then we do stupid things like have the email notification on our computer turned on, we hear the little ding and get mesmerized by its sweet little ping, which sounds amazingly like the ting of a slot machine.  Or we have slack or other apps open constantly, multitasking while we work, scanning the feeds lest we miss an uber important message or request that will change the trajectory of our entire lives!  And the important passion projects that we want to work on to continuously improve our business get pushed to the side because we’re too busy managing email and responding to things that could have waited or were not as important as we believed them to be.

The bottom line is we signal through our behavior how we want others to interact with us. 

You have an important request?  Great.  Please send it via email and not slack so I don’t miss it.  And here is how I respond to requests by the way. 

Or we make assumptions about the request assuming that every single one is super important and urgent and fail to ask or consider key questions like –

  • How urgent or time sensitive is this really? 
  • How does this relate to our company and department’s priorities?  Or my team’s priorities?
  • How will the information I give you be used? 
  • Who up the line is asking for this? 

Coaching questions for thought:

  • What messages are you inadvertently sending about your availability?
  • What do you want your email boundaries to look like?  How will you communicate these with your stakeholders?
  • What questions could you ask to challenge your assumptions about the importance and urgency of a request?

Shelley Pernot is a leadership coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their strengths and talents and step into their greatness.  Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!

  1. Deborah July 1, 2023 at 4:59 pm

    Shelley, this really resonates with me. I was recently taking a few days off work and had given mixed messages about my availability. Only when I reached the limits of my patience with what I considered non urgent requests did I clearly communicate my preferences but, of course, it came across as frustrated and irritable. I was listening to an excellent podcast today . The guest referred to what she calls “personal policies” as being more powerful than “boundaries” because they are aligned with our values and what’s most important to us rather than reacting to others’ intrusions. If I had clearly communicated my personal policy about responding to texts when I’m taking some time off, as you suggested, I probably would not have had to set a reactive boundary.

  2. Shelley Pernot July 6, 2023 at 1:06 pm

    Deborah, so glad you enjoyed this post! I like the term “personal policy” a lot and will think about how to utilize that going forward. And I’m sure you didn’t come across as irritable as you thought :). Compassion is helpful on this front – I sometimes over correct myself and then need to give myself a little grace. Drawing lines on this front is tricky and I think so many people struggle with this, especially given how fast paced and overloaded with information our society has become.