There you are: Juggling multiple tasks, emails are flooding in and requests are piling up.

Suddenly, a colleague stops by your office with a simple favor. An easy yes. But as you glance at your intricate and over-crowded schedule – which now resembles a Tetris game gone wrong – you realize what should have been obvious before:

You, my friend, are in “Yes!” debt.

“Yes!” debt is a form of purgatory in which your commitments far outweigh your available energy.

You may be in “Yes!” debt if you:

  • Have more than 4 hours of meetings on your calendar everyday;
  • Feel guilty most days about not meeting your goals and deadlines;
  • Are avoiding people you have made commitments to;
  • Have wasted good money on countless systems to manage your workload – to little or no effect.

Here’s the reality: A combination of enthusiastic and reluctant, “yes’s” have overwhelmed your life, your calendar and consumed your time. You not only can’t take on new work – you likely can’t meet the commitments you’ve already made.

So it’s time to revisit a skill we all need to brush up on: Boundaries.

During last week’s Office Hours, we honed the power of saying ‘NO.’ and explored being more intentional with our time and energy by setting our boundaries.

Here are “The D’s of Setting Boun’D’aries”:

Discern – Carefully choose priorities to focus on. Decline work outside your priorities.

Deny – Limit access and availability to your time and attention. Block your calendar, pause your notifications, UNSUBSCRIBE.

Just Don’t – Don’t catch every ball thrown your way. Sit on your hands. Lean back. Let someone else play catcher.

Delegate – If it’s important but you can’t do it, delegate to someone who can.

Delay – Politely ask for more time. And commit to completing by that deadline.

Downgrade – Triage your work. Focus on what’s urgent, then what’s important.

De-escalate – Not everything is urgent. Calm emotional intensity in yourself and others. Get real about when things need to be done.

Disappoint – e willing to sometimes disappoint others to avoid disappointing yourself. Remember: “Clear is kind.”

Friends, setting boundaries is challenging for a lot of people. So if you have found yourself in “Yes!” debt – please know you are not alone. But the situation can be temporary if you are willing to build the boundary-setting skills you need to be free.

What’s waiting for you on the other side?

  • More time for what matters.
  • Less guilt.
  • Healthier relationships.
  • Less wasted money.
  • And…your ability to say “Yes” again in the future.

For more on “Sustainable Leadership” sign up for this week’s Office Hours with Kate where we will unpack some of the best practices for sustaining yourself as a leader.

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About the Author: Kate Cockrill

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A little about me... I am a social scientist, facilitator, and professional coach. Through my business: Kate Cockrill Coaching, I support mission driven managers and directors with 1:1 career coaching, leadership coaching, team workshops, and retreat design. My clients include leaders in healthcare, education, research and social innovation.

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