Setup Boundaries and Buffers (Day 7 of 30 Days of Getting Results)


Day 7 - Setup Boundaries and Buffers

“Simply pushing harder within the old boundaries will not do.” — Karl Weick quotes

Your Outcome: Create space in your life to renew and recharge.  By setting boundaries and buffers, you set yourself up for sustainable results and you take a significant step toward mastering your work-life balance.

Welcome to day 7 of 30 Days of Getting Results.  In day 6, we learned how to use Friday Reflection to skillfully take a look at what’s going well and what to improve.  Today, I had to ask myself, what’s the most useful nugget I can share with you at this stage?  I think the answer is — setting boundaries and buffers.  This is how you create space in your life and make time for what’s important.  It’s at the heart of finding your peaceful calm and finding your flow.

A Quick Recap of What We Learned So Far …
Before we start though, let’s take a moment to recap some things we’ve learned so far:

  1. You can use The Rule of 3 to avoid getting overwhelmed.
  2. You’re the author of your life and you can write your story forward, one moment or one day at a time
  3. You can use three stories to drive your day and and light up your day by connecting to your values (Daily Outcomes).
  4. On Mondays, you can use three stories to drive your week (Monday Vision).
  5. On Fridays, you can use Friday Reflection to celebrate your wins and find your personal success patterns.
  6. You can map out what’s important in your life using Hot Spots to create a meaningful map.
  7. You can let things slough off with skill … no more straws breaking the camel’s back .

Agile Results is a system that can support you the rest of your life, no matter what you do.  I use it for shipping stuff at Microsoft, leading teams, writing books, learning, etc.  The beauty though, is not just that it’s simple, or that it’s proven …  it’s that each day you get a new chance at bat – a fresh start.  Each day you wake up is another chance to ask the question, “What are three things you want for today?” … and so you write your story forward.

Buffers and Boundaries are the Key to Work-Life Balance
Now then, on to setting up boundaries and buffers.  If you can master this, it’s THE key to work-life balance, and it’s how you can get more done, in less time, with more energy, and it’s how you can find your flow.  If you feel overwhelmed by too much to do, and not enough time, buffers and boundaries will set you free. At the end of the day, it’s about knowing what you ultimately want and balancing your competing wants and needs against that.

Keep this in mind — you have to Protect yourself – and boundaries and buffers are your friend.  Nobody will set effective boundaries for you, and you know the most about yourself better than anyone.  This is the ultimate care and feeding of yourself, which sets the stage for everything you do.

Mental Model for Boundaries and Buffers
Here is a simple mental model for thinking about buffers and boundaries:

Note that you have to set your own boundaries that work for you.  This is just an example of how some people have found a way to perform well at work, spend more quality time with those they love, invest in their body, and find a way to spend time on their passions again … and remember that one person’s minimum is another person’s maximum.

3 Steps to Setting Up Boundaries and Buffers
Here are three simple steps for setting up your boundaries and buffers:

  • Step 1. Set up time boundaries for your week.   Keep this at the high level.  Decide the maximum time to spend on work.  Decide the minimum amount of time you should spend on your body.  For example, if you’re not getting enough sleep, decide that you’ll get a minimum of 6 hours or 8 hours or whatever you need to perform your best.  If you want to get your best results and have a sustainable life style, don’t compromise on eating, sleeping, and working out.  Trade something else where you can.  The simplest rules I’ve heard for setting limits on work are “Dinner on the table at 5:30” and “weekends off.”
  • Step 2. Set time limits for your daily routines.   For the things that you do regularly, figure out how much time you should spend on it.  Don’t default to how much time you already spend on it.  Decide how much time is reasonable based on where you are at and what you want to accomplish.  Balance that against your other competing demands and set simple time limits.  For example, when I run, it’s 30 minutes, but periodically an hour.  When I blog, I give myself 20 minutes maximum on average, except for the occasional “heavy hitter post.”
  • Step 3. Build in space.   Create space in your life.  This is key – if you’re always feeling harried or under the gun, then you don’t have effective buffers or boundaries.  You need to build in some space.  For example, I need my alone time on Sundays and either early in the days during the week, or later at night.  it’s how I recharge.   When I drive to work, I give myself 30 minutes to get to there, though it usually takes  closer to 15.  I don’t want to race against the clock.  I eat breakfast slowly, I take the back way, and I plan my outcomes for the day, while enjoying the ride (and of course, playing my favorite tunes.)  I don’t blog on weekends, except for the occasional exception (I’m making exceptions while I work on 30 Days of Getting  Results.)  Copy machines and I don’t get along, so I print off stuff for my meetings well in advance.  One of my favorite rules here is “Tuesday night is date night” and everything has to fit around that.  Keep in mind there are always lots of reasons and lots of excuses why we can’t create space.  That’s no the challenge here.  The challenge on the table is — find a way to make space — “how can you create space in you life?”

Stepping back, I can tell you that the most important pattern I’ve seen across people that get more of what they want from life, is that they fix time for eating, sleeping, and working out – and everything else fits around that.  They never rob themselves here – it’s their foundation and platform for all results in their life.

Example of Setting Boundaries in Hot Spots
Try using “Hot Spots” (Mind, Body, Emotions, Career, Financial, Relationships, and Fun) and setting boundaries like this.  Set a max on career and a min on relationships, body, and fun.  For example

  • Mind
  • Body – minimum of 3 hrs
  • Career – maximum of 50 hrs
  • Financial
  • Relationships – minimum of 3 hrs
  • Fun – minimum of 3 hrs

You can only spread your life force over so much.  The categories support each other.

Key Insights

  1. When you set a minimum in the right categories, you avoid getting unbalanced and improving other categories.  When you set a maximum in the right categories, you learn how to become more effective.  For example, if you only have 8 hours to throw at your day, you’ll use them wisely.
  2. The worst mistake it to throw more time at problems.
  3. The key is to reduce time spent, while increasing value and improving effectiveness/efficiency.

So step one is deciding to spend no more than 50 hours each week at work.  Now it forces you to bite off only what you can chew.  This is how you start improving plate management and pushing back effectively.

Why Use Time to Set Boundaries
It’s the simplest way to avoid spending $20 on $5 problems.

One of my most important lessons is that the best way to set boundaries is to use time.  Treat time as a first class citizen.  It’s pretty reliable too – each day you get 24 hours.  Each week you get 7 days or 168 hours.  And the cycle repeats itself, each day, each week.  So if you can master your day, you can master your week – and looking at your time from a weekly standpoint helps you establish a schedule that works for you.

I used to be very “scope-driven.”  I wanted to change the world.  The problem is that when you drive from scope, you often run out of time, then you have to cut corners you don’t want to cut.  Worse, you often push past your boundaries (“I’ll eat lunch later”, or “I’ll stay up later to finish this one last thing”, or “I can’t take a break now,” etc.  Worse, when you don’t respect time, not only do you throw time at problems and re-enforce bad habits … you miss windows of opportunity.  I’ve found that a stitch in time actually saves way more than nine … and that it’s the key to effective results.

This is a key shift from it’s done when it’s done or it takes as long as it takes, to how much time do you have for it and how much time is worth spending on that and how much is too much time to spend on that?

One way to think about this is that time is a budget, just like your money.  You only have so much.  You can spend it wisely, or you can let it rule you, or you can waste it.  Time is a unique resource that you don’t get back and choosing how you spend your discretionary time is what ultimately changes your life.  If you want to spend more time in something, then make more time for something.  The way to do so is to set smart limits on the things you know you need to do.  Trade your time by design vs. by default.

Today’s Assignment

  1. Choose an area in your life that’s not working for you and try setting a new limit.  This might mean setting a maximum amount of time in something, or a minimum amount of time in something else.
  2. Find one simple way to add space in your life and take it for a test drive next week.

My Related Posts

Photo by Pixel Addict.


  1. @ Michelle – Thank you. While I try to find a way to blend in fun to whatever I do, I try to additionally make separate time where fun is the only focus. It’s a way to recharge.

  2. The biggest gain for me in the process so far has been learning about and implementing boundaries. I’m finding this highly transforming. Thanks!

  3. Hi JD .. it’s great the way you set things out for us & use your own examples .. the dinner on the table at 5.30 & weekends off ..

    Really helpful suggestions and time frames .. thanks – Hilary

  4. Hi JD,

    I couldn’t agree more about never compromising on sleeping, eating and working out – if we aren’t looking after ourselves, we will never perform at our best and everything will suffer.
    I make a conscious effort to plan time to do things by myself, often a long, long walk on a Sunday so I get some exercise in too!

  5. @ Sandra — I’m glad to hear that. A little transformation goes a long way 😉

    @ Hilary — Thank you. I have a lot of friends in pain with lots of life changes, so I’m going to be breaking out the black belt patterns and practices in the near future and really crank it up. I want folks to have the full power of getting the system on their side and firing on all cylinders.

    @ Kate — I used to be amazingly bad about sleep … like 3 hours a night. I didn’t even know it was bad until I tried 8, and instantly fell in love.

  6. Hi JD .. as you say lots of pain around & more to come – so I’m certain anyone who will read and find your blog will learn so much .. I know I do ..

    Thanks – black belt seems a good ‘name’ for the type of patterns we’ll need .. Hilary

  7. I like the boundaries idea. Some things we can spend an infinite ammount of time on if we allow ourselves to. In my work, I almost always finish by 5pm. I try to never go over that. Others where I work will spend lots of time on weekends and working late. I think it keeps them from creatively figuring out how to use their time better.

    I also like the idea of minimum times for certain areas of my life. I’m finding that I need to set minimums in the friendship arena and I’ve now decided to devote at least one day a week to this.

    Thanks for your help JD.

  8. @ Rodney — Boundaries help keep us strong. The trick is to use them to help you invest in the right places, avoid over-investment, and at the same time, recognize under-investment.

  9. I agree. I think I failed to invest time in certain areas because I was afraid they’d take up too much time. I never considered that I could decide how much time to spend. I thought “things just take as much time as they take.” Now I realize that I’m in charge of how much time I’ll spend.

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  12. I used to go through any day with a toss-all-my-energy-in-there approach without boundaries and buffer. It was exhausting… After 30 days of experimenting with time limits, each day has become more mindful and purposeful. I am still far from “the most efficient I can be,” but I know I am getting closer to it. I now have more enjoy and time to do other things. Another quantifiable visible progress, a win!

    The power of “a little think time” and “focus on little changes” is truly amazing. I used to consider cleaning or any house chore as a case of friction that interrupt my productivity. But I realized that it was a pleasure for me to keep my environment clean. Now I “allow myself” to clean and organize as a fun activity. While it might be a torture for some people, I need to set minimum time for it because I could keep going…

    I do look forward to Friday Reflection as well. Accomplishing 3 goals/day is becoming a natural flow of a week.Friday Reflection is a day of celebration (my mini goals/accomplishments!) and contemplation (what to do next, what to be happy about next?). I think Friday Reflection brings the excitement like the New Year’s Eve…

    I am glad you liked the quote I shared yesterday. Here is my quote of the day for today: “Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.” Marcus Aurelius

    • > I now have more enjoyment and time to do other things.
      Yes, that is truly a powerful win, and absolutely makes it worth it.

      Your are truly making the connections and building a firm foundation that will help you the rest of your life.

      One thing to keep in mind is how setting boundaries is also one of the best ways to help you find ways to do things better, faster, or easier. No matter how routine something may be, you can keep it fresh by experimenting with ways to make it better, faster, and easier.

      The beauty of focusing on what’s next is that it creates possibility. It reminds us that we are the director of our life, and we can call the shots. More precisely, we control our attitude and effort. And, when we are the author of our actions, we bring to bear our better attitude and better efforts.

      Beautiful quote. It’s happenstance, but today the following words echoed in my mind:

      “the strength within.”

      I kept thinking how it’s the strength of our inner-world that helps us make the most of our outer-world.

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