Boundaries are rules you set to let others know what is okay and what is not okay for you based on your values and priorities. They protect your personal and mental space, including physical, sexual, intellectual or mental, emotional, material or financial, and time boundaries.
For this post, I’ll focus on how to set boundaries around your time.
How about you?
Do you have a hard time saying no when someone makes a request of you? And then you end up saying yes even when it would have been better to say no. For Adults with ADHD, this is a common challenge and is often one of the barriers to focusing on what is important to you.
What if you could say no more often? How would that help you focus on what is essential in your life?
Ready to try?
Why ADHD Adults Have a Hard Time Setting Boundaries
While I’m guessing you already have an inkling, aren’t you curious why you just can’t do it — say no?
After all, how many times have you thought to yourself, “Why did I just agree to do that?! How am I going to fit that in with everything else?”
According to Vanessa Bohns, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Cornell University, we may struggle to say no because:
We don’t want to reject people. We don’t want people to think poorly of us … so we are really managing the impression others people have of us.
As an adult with ADHD it may be particularly hard for you to say no because of your history, perceived or otherwise, of falling short. So, you may end up saying yes to prove to yourself and others that you are capable.
You want others to think well of you, of course. But does saying yes, when no is a better answer, accomplish this?
You might also find it hard to create boundaries because of your ADHD challenges around time blindness. Because you don’t know how long something will take, you may be overly optimistic about how much you can do. So, again, you end up saying yes to too many commitments. You can learn how to estimate time better.
Challenges around self-regulation can also contribute to the difficulty you have with setting boundaries. As you may say yes to a commitment before giving it enough thought.
How about you? Are any of these reasons why you don’t set boundaries around your time?
What Happens When You Say “Yes” And Want to Say “No”?
Sure, in the moment your intention in saying yes may be to have people think positively of you.
And sometimes it may work out just fine — you are able to fulfill the request and your other responsibilities don’t suffer too much.
What about those times when it does not work out?
You may end up:
- letting people down when you don’t deliver.
- becoming overwhelmed because you have too much on your plate.
- avoiding the person and /or task because you can’t really do it.
- allowing essential tasks and projects to slide.
I’m sure you see where this is going. People may end up thinking poorly of you.
Just what you were trying to avoid!
How Setting Boundaries Around Your Time Can Help You
Setting boundaries around your time can help you in many ways.
For one, when you set boundaries, you’ll feel less stressed and overwhelmed. Because you will no longer be taking on more than you can handle. And can use your time in ways that nurture you.
And you will also have more time and energy to say yes to using your time in ways that allign with your values – what is important to you.
As you take care of yourself and how you use your time, you will be more present with the people in your life. And better able to handle the responsibilities you have. This will also lead to better relationships.
And, as you take better care of yourself, you’ll feel better about yourself.
Ready to build your boundary-setting muscle?
Why Might You Say “No”?
Saying no is just hard sometimes. So, there really is not an easy way out.
But knowing why you are saying no may help you be more confident that you are doing the right thing, even when it does not feel good.
Sometimes it may be best to say no because you:
- really don’t know how to do what is being asked of you.
- already made commitments, and you want to be able to honor those to the best of your ability. You simply don’t have time to do more.
- need downtime to refuel so you can be at your best to do what you decided is essential to you.
- don’t want to trade off sleep to do more because you know how critical sleep is to feeling and operating at your best.
- know it is best to trust your instinct and set boundaries with the person making the request.
- don’t want to do it.
These are just a few. What are other reasons you might say no?
How to Set Boundaries Around Your Time
Below are various situations you might encounter and ways to say no. You can adapt each one to suit your unique needs.
1. A client asks you on the 3rd of the month to do a project for him and deliver it by the end of the month. It is one of your busiest times.
“Ariel, I’d like to be able to help you, but I’m not sure I have the time now. I need to check my calendar and the status of my other projects. Would it work for you, if I get back to you by tomorrow?
(the next day) “Ariel, I am sorry, but I can’t fit the whole project in this month, but I can do a part of it. Would you want to talk about what we can accomplish?
In this scenario, you gave yourself the time you needed to figure out what you could do. And then, though you couldn’t fulfill the whole request, you offered an option to your client.
2. Your boss asks you to take on a project for which you simply do not have the bandwidth.
While sitting in your 1-1 meeting you say:
“Bob, thanks for meeting with me. I could really use some guidance. I know that this project is really important to us. But I’m not sure I have the time needed to give it my best effort because of everything else on my plate. So, I wanted to get a sense of your priorities and find out where I should focus my time and energy. What do you think?”
(Give him time to respond)
Depending on how the conversation goes, you might add, “Could we look at shifting around some of my other work so I can focus on this?”
By framing the conversation this way you are acknowledging your shared objective of you being able to do your best work.
3. The committee chair for an organization you belong to asks you to join the committee.
“Lisa, thanks so much for thinking of me and for all the good work you are doing for our community. While I have too much going on right now to help out, I might be interested in helping out next year. Could you keep my name in your file of interested people?”
If you are truly interested in helping, but just not right now, this is one way to express that sentiment.
4. A person you know and like from your professional circles asks if you could meet for coffee.
“Terry, it’s great to hear from you, and hope you are doing well. I look forward to catching up but am fairly consumed by a project I am working on right now. I will have time to meet starting next month. Can I touch base with you then to arrange a time for coffee?”
Again, this is a way to express your interest and let the other person know that you just don’t have time now.
5. A former colleague reaches out to you for help on a project he is working on.
“Tom, I’d really like to help, but this is not really my area of expertise. And I think you could really benefit by having someone help you who specializes in this. I know of a few people who may be able to help you, and I’d be happy to send you their contact info if you would like. Please let me know. And best of luck in the project!”
This is one way to help if you can, but not offer help that is beyond your capacity.
6. A friend asks you to pick up a package at the post office and bring it to her house.
“Sue, I can pick up the package, but won’t have time to deliver it to your house. I can leave it at my house so you can pick it up when you have time. Does that sound ok?”
Here you are offering to do what you can, and trusting that the other person can decide whether that will work for them.
CRAFTING YOUR OWN GRACIOUS NO
There are three keys to keep in mind when saying no.
First, do it quickly. If you really mean to say no, don’t avoiding answering by offering a vague answer like, “I might be able to…” or “I’ll try…”
Keeping these loops open will only waste your time and energy, and potentially lead to resentment by the other person.
Second, offer a reason. While, no matter how well you craft your answer, the other person may still not like your response, you can be confident you said no as gracefully as possible.
Last, when possible offer an alternative, rather than a hard no. This can communicate to the other person that, though you can’t do what they asked, you still want to help.
What are you going to say no to today?