One of my favorite Seinfeld bits (from the TV show) is when Jerry goes to pick up the rental car he reserved and learns there are no cars available. Irritated, he snarkily imparts on the un-apologetic agent “You know how to take the reservation. You just don’t know how to hold the reservation. And that’s really the important part…the holding.”
I often see a similar thing with boundaries in my leadership coaching work with emerging leaders, especially when it comes to their ‘me time’ (strategic thinking time, learning time, wellness time, personal time, etc.), something every leader requires. These leaders know how to set boundaries around their ‘me time’. They just don’t know how to hold them. And that’s really the important part…the holding.
For servant leaders — those who believe their role is to serve and support others — holding boundaries for ‘me time’ can be a particular challenge; their desire to serve others can result in painfully fluid time boundaries. (I was this leader for many years.)
Setting these time boundaries matters, but holding these boundaries matters more.
𝐒𝐨, 𝐡𝐨𝐰 𝐜𝐚𝐧 𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐫𝐠𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐝𝐞𝐫𝐬 𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐧 𝐭𝐨 𝐝𝐨 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐥𝐥𝐲 𝐢𝐦𝐩𝐨𝐫𝐭𝐚𝐧𝐭 𝐩𝐚𝐫𝐭…𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐡𝐨𝐥𝐝𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐨𝐟 ‘𝐦𝐞 𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐞’ 𝐛𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐝𝐚𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐬? 𝐑𝐞𝐟𝐫𝐚𝐦𝐞 ‘𝐦𝐞 𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐞’ 𝐚𝐬 ‘𝐮𝐧𝐭𝐨𝐮𝐜𝐡𝐚𝐛𝐥𝐞 𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐞’.
‘Untouchable time’ sounds and feels less me-ish, less selfish than ‘me time’. And, it sounds and feels far less optional. Because, well, it is.
Using this re-framing, I work with my clients to lock in ‘untouchable time’ on their calendar every week, AND — this is the hard part — to help them give themselves permission to treat it as such. Permission to surround this time with an unbreachable boundary, to treat it as time absolutely not available to others, period. Full stop. No need to apologize for it, to feel bad about it, or to explain it; “I am not available at that time.” is in fact a complete sentence when it comes to ‘untouchable time’.
We may start as small as 15 ‘untouchable’ minutes a week and work up from there over a period of weeks. With me as their accountability partner, we explore their enablers of and hurdles to holding their ‘untouchable time’ boundaries in each coaching session.
With practice, the holding of these time boundaries becomes a habit. With practice, entire days can become ‘untouchable time’. With practice, these leaders learn the really the important part…the holding.
How are you maintaining your ‘untouchable time’ boundaries?