Defend the Perimeter

We’re going deep on the concept of care this month, in 360 degrees: Care for yourself, your close circle, and your larger community. Whether things are going well or fraught with uncertainty, the care part matters, because it serves as the foundation for the road ahead. So let’s start with you, and my soapbox proclamation:

Self-care starts with boundaries. 

It’s also where most women struggle, and mightily. We want to help, and be of service — and we give ourselves away in the process. That’s how we find ourselves burned out and too exhausted to enjoy our lives.

So this month, let’s begin taking some time back for our own personal pleasures. The things that feed our well-being, creativity, and sense of self.

If you are already a Mistress of No, I applaud you. You are effectively defending the perimeter of your time and space, and perhaps there will be another nugget you can capture from what I’m about to say.

If you do struggle with saying no, I come with good news: It’s a muscle that can be exercised and developed. With practice, you can strengthen your abilities to decline without feeling guilt, or that you need to explain yourself. I recommend bookmarking this post or taking some notes, because it’s one you can revisit in moments of uncertainty. 

Let’s start with a question:

What makes your soul smile, that you wish you had more time for? 

Write that down. Now, in order to make time for it, we’re going to need to carve some out, so  let’s start with the perimeter you need to defend most vehemently: your calendar. 

When I say “defend the perimeter,” I mean you need to say no to some things to make room. If you don’t have an organized calendar, you won’t really know what time there is to play with, so this a great time to put that in place! Here’s a way to think about this, and it made a massive difference in my efficiency and clarity:

1. Structure Your Weeks

A few years ago, I decided to create Fridays as a “me” day to fuel my spirit and creativity. Sometimes that’s through art, or music, and other times it’s a weekend away to breathe. 

To set up a support framework for this schedule, I found that structuring my week into context buckets made a huge difference in terms of efficiency, and knowing exactly where my focus needed to be for the day. 

Obviously your calendar will be different from mine, but I want to give you a sense of how things could look. This is from my former professional scenario, where I was coaching startups full-time, but it doesn’t look drastically different now, because I still do things that require a coaching mindset (e.g. cohort activities or workshops) on Tuesdays. My brain now knows that Tuesday Means Coaching.

  • Mondays — Admin/Thinking/Writing: This keeps the day quiet and brainy, where I can take no calls except with my team, and stay in my pajamas.
  • Tuesdays — Coaching: As the practice of coaching requires a specific mindset and level of active listening, I don’t want to shift energy and gears to do something else that day.
  • Wednesdays — Meetings: I can be out and about for the day, with one morning devoted to make-up and fashion.
  • Thursdays — Spillover/Help Day: This is for anything I didn’t complete during the week, along with 3-4 hours for calls to meet new contacts or help others.

Here’s a secret: People are a lot more flexible than we think, and we can often direct the action toward what we want. When I book time with someone, I’ll give them two time slots to choose from, and tell them to come back if neither works. It’s rare that I have to go outside those parameters, but am happy to accommodate when the call is important.

I also keep my calendar clear before noon not only because it’s my sacred brain time, but it also leaves gaps in case I need to fit someone in, or schedule international calls.

A Note on the “Help” Day

My “help” hours are set up via calendly, with 20-minute intervals that require people to be concise and come ready with a problem to solve. During the booking there’s a question that asks: What specific question are you trying to answer? It forces them to be concise.

The slots don’t always get filled, but they give me a place to direct people if they ask for my time — when I have it to give. 

Pro tip: Structuring a particular window this way compels people to determine how urgent something really is. If they need help that badly, and you aren’t available, they will ask someone else.

2. Schedule Time with Yourself

Now that you know what you’re creating time FOR, how much time will it require, and how will you manage where it fits in the schedule? For example, if it’s morning yoga or a run, that time needs to be booked each day, as an unbreakable appointment with yourself.

You don’t have to have the perfect right answer on this first go. For now, carve out one chunk of time in the next week to do that thing. Book it in the calendar, and mark it as un-bookable by anybody else.

3. Defend the Perimeter

Now comes the challenging part: How do you keep that time slot pristine? It’s going to require quite a few nos, so it’s time to build your ‘No’ Muscle. We’ll go deeper on technique in a couple of weeks, but for now, just practice saying no.

No is a powerful word, and I most often find when we fear saying no to someone or something, it’s usually because we think we need to manage the reaction of the other person. I have great news! We don’t need to do that. Other people have to work that out for themselves, and it isn’t our job to manage it.

Let’s get real for a second: When we’re high achievers, up to Big Things, we tend to put ourselves last because we want to accomplish the thing. Or to be of service

Sometimes a lack of boundaries is a measure of our strength of character and commitment. 

Having said that, being an overachiever often comes at a steep price, in the form of autoimmune disease, exhaustion, depression, and a host of other problems. And if we are always a “yes,” it trains people to keep on asking, because they know we’ll step in and do the thing.

You are allowed to say no. 

They aren’t expecting you to say no.

So let’s give them a little surprise and shake their world up too, yes? Later this month, we’ll some exercises for you to practice and develop that ‘No’ Muscle.

With love from NYC,


Jennifer’s Table is a monthly editorial about our focus at IMPERIA, based on her decades as a successful entrepreneur and startup coach, her global travels, and the work we do with women founders around the globe.

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