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3 Ways to Protect Your Time and Lower Your Stress

By Stacey Feintuch
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
October 02, 2023

Time is valuable, but many of us don't treat it like the precious commodity it is. We waste countless hours on activities that aren't important to us or that are inconsistent with our values, needs, or wants. Instead, we procrastinate on projects we should prioritize or consistently put other people's priorities ahead of our own. If this sounds familiar, you may benefit from setting some healthy time boundaries with yourself and others.

“Time boundaries are a commitment to using time in a way that feels good to that person,” says Pauline Peck, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist who practices in Santa Barbara, California. Creating a boundary that allows you to leave work at a certain time every day, for example, could mean muting emails and texts during set working blocks so you don’t get distracted. Or, it could mean letting your boss know you’ll be unavailable after a set time.

Why Time Boundaries Matter

Managing your time effectively can not only increase your productivity, but also boost your well‑being and life satisfaction, research suggests. “Time allows us to pursue our passions and interact with people, places, and things that bring us joy and move our lives in a positive direction,” Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist in Telluride, Colorado, says.

This type of boundary can also help prevent you from feeling stressed or fatigued. “When you can take care of yourself, it puts you in a better position to take care of others,” says Don Khouri, Ph.D., a speaker, coach, and the author of When to Say Yes, The 5 Steps to Protect Your Time.

How to Set Better Time Boundaries

Here are three ways you can help protect your time better.

1. Share the Load

Remember: You don't have to do everything yourself. Allow family, friends, and coworkers to do their fair share. “If you want to master time boundaries, delegation is a great way to do that,” Khouri says. “It gets things off your plate so you can focus on something more appropriate for you and it gives the people you delegated to the opportunity for growth.”

2. Make a Schedule—and Stick to It

Khouri suggests blocking off time for your needs to get done, like anything else on a calendar. “Honor time blocks like they’re a meeting,” he says. “It will let you focus on your goals and create a time boundary for that focus so no one else bumps into that time.” He suggests putting your phone on “do not disturb” mode to help avoid looking at texts and emails that will interrupt those time blocks.

And remember, it’s okay not to fill your days to the brim. Give yourself time to rest and just do nothing, as well. You can’t be your best self if you’re exhausted.

And once you've blocked off your time, guard it fiercely. “Time boundaries need to be clear, consistent, and enforceable,” Hokemeyer says. Set aside specific times for certain tasks, then don’t let yourself go over that time allotment. “Don’t set a boundary and then allow it to be violated,” he notes.

“Honoring our commitments to ourselves highlights that we’re just as important as others in our lives, not last on the list of priorities,” Peck adds.

3. Let People Know

Communicate your time limits to family, friends, and colleagues so they can be aware and respectful of them.

Alert coworkers and clients that you don’t take work calls after 6 p.m. because you coach your son’s baseball team. Or tell your mother-in-law that you're not available to chat during working hours.

“Focus on sharing your rationale to those with whom you’re close," Peck says. "In our longstanding relationships, sharing some piece of the background and your positive reason for setting the boundary—like ‘It allows for me to be available’—can be beneficial.”

In the end, setting time boundaries is about self-empowerment. “If you don’t respect your time, no one else will,” says Theresa De Armond, a licensed professional counselor in Phoenix, Arizona. “This often leaves one feeling like a doormat that is used and unappreciated, which can lead to resentment and anger. Protecting your time is a critical element of self-care.”

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