Setting Boundaries Keeps Superwomen Alive: How to Reclaim Your Time and Energy

by Melinda Condray

When was the last time you had a long, soothing soak in a hot tub? When was the last time you took a leisurely walk through the woods? When was the last time you read a book for pleasure? When was the last time you had 15 minutes to call your own?

The biggest complaint I hear from professional women is that they don’t have enough time and energy to meet all their obligations, much less have time for themselves. As the superwomen we’ve become, we generously give our time and energy to running our business, to nurturing our family, to supporting professional organizations and contributing to our community.

Not only do we have no time and energy left for ourselves, our time and energy is running out. Too many of us start our mornings shell-shocked, wondering how we can find enough time and gather enough energy to make it through another day.

One way to start reclaiming your time and rebuilding your energy reserves is to set boundaries. Setting boundaries is more than just learning how to say “No.” It is making a serious commitment to put yourself first.

Many of us struggle with putting ourselves first because we see it as being selfish and non-supportive. Think of the last time you flew on a plane. The stewardess instructed you to use the oxygen mask on yourself first and on your children second so you can be alert and prepared to deal with any adversities.

By the same token, you need to take care of yourself first in your daily life. Otherwise, at some point you will find yourself running on empty and unable to support anyone, including yourself.

It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves first; to be healthily selfish. That way, we can be prepared not only to deal with adversity, but to rekindle our joy in daily life.

Following are essential ingredients for setting effective boundaries. Setting boundaries will help you reclaim your time and energy. They will also pave the way for communication that is open and respectful, help prevent conflicts and bring people together by interacting in an effective way.

Decide how you want to use your time and energy for your best results.

Only you know how your time and energy is best used. The choice is yours, but you have to make that choice. Start paying attention to how you use your time and energy and try different methods to find those that work best for you. Ask yourself questions like, “Do I work best by...”

  • Having uninterrupted blocks of time?
  • Taking time to plan and fully understand a task before I begin working on it?
  • Scheduling time for exercise and daily downtime?

Be confident in your choice.

Once you choose how you want to use your time and energy, be confident in your decision. Be aware of your body language and how you send that message to others. Do you look down? mumble? fidget? Challenge yourself to hold your shoulders back, stand up straight and make direct eye contact.

Remain “charge neutral” at all times.

When you are setting a boundary it is critical that your voice is charge neutral. A negative charge is contagious and you increase the risk of the other person becoming negatively charged. Once a negative charge is sparked, your message gets lost and so does your boundary. Remember that a neutral charge is also contagious. This is the time to fake-it-until-you-make-it and to practice speaking without a charge in your voice until it feels natural.

Gently and clearly draw your line in the sand.

Don’t assume that others know how you want to use your time and energy. Be willing to teach others how to respect your boundaries. As change takes time, be patient with yourself and with others.

  • Deliver your message and get their agreement.
  • Be sure that your message is clear without going into long explanations.
  • Offer an alternative.
  • Get the other person’s agreement and uncover any hidden issues.


  • “I don’t have time right now to work on that issue.”
  • “I have time at 3:00 to meet with you.”
  • “Does that work for you?” (By asking for their agreement, you will uncover hidden issues such as, “I have a client holding on the phone for this information so it can’t wait until 3:00.”)

Get comfortable with saying “No” and sticking to it.

Be prepared for others to push your boundary and be prepared to say “No” as many times and in as many ways as it takes.

For example, you want to schedule working on an issue at a later time and the other person insists that you deal with it now. First be sure that the issue can wait, then draw your line. The other person may come back with a response like “but it will only take five minutes.” Draw your line, “I understand that it may only take five minutes, but I need to finish my project now.” Repeat as many times as necessary.

Setting your boundary the first time may take you more time than you save. But remember, once your boundary is set, you’ll save that time many times over in the future.

Avoid confrontations by making “I” or “me” statements rather than “you” or “we” statements.

You can speak for yourself, but not for others. You can own your actions, but not the actions of others. So always speak for yourself and only yourself, and allow the other person to make their own choice. For example, rather than saying “You always make us late for meetings”, you could say, “It is important for me to be on time for meetings.”

Avoid confrontations by offering choices.

Offering choices is a proven sales technique for getting the result you want. You can apply this technique to your boundaries. For example, if you want to schedule time later to work on an issue, you could say, “I can meet with you to work on this issue at 3:00 or 4:00; which time works best for you? Or if you don’t want to be late for a meeting you could say, “I’ll be ready to go at 10:30. We can go together then or I can meet you there; which would you prefer?”

In the face of confrontation, acknowledge their position.

Just as you set your boundaries and request that others respect them, you need to acknowledge and respect that others have their own opinions and ways of doing things.

If you are faced with confrontation, first acknowledge the other person’s position, then state your own boundary. For example, if you are working with a “know-it-all” who insists that their approach is the only approach, you could say, “Thanks for sharing, I can understand how that approach has worked well for you. I’ve tried many methods and have found that this approach works best for me.”

Deliver your message and let it go.

Understand that you are not responsible for how others react to your message, given that your message is clear and charge neutral. Keep your eye on your objective – protecting your time and energy. Congratulate yourself on meeting your objective and stop trying to control how others feel about your boundaries. Trust that others will adjust to your boundaries in their own way and in their own time.

Copyright © 2005 Melinda Condray.        

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