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How to be creative and productive AND have boundaries in place

by Julia Menard, PCC, M.Ed. and Professional Certified Coach

"A challenge for me and many of my clients is creating a life that includes time for self-care, nurturing family/friends, community and the various demands of an active work life.

Many of my coaching clients are managers who operate with an "open-door" policy. And this is part of what makes them good managers. But all too often, there are important projects they just can't seem to get to because of interruptions.

I also wondered whether my own time stress might be related to unclear boundaries around how I organize my time. So I was grateful when someone in my mastermind group reminded me of a time management tool popularized by Dan Sullivan. Sullivan is a Canadian coach who works mostly with entrepreneurs looking to put more structure into their lives. According to Sullivan, our work life can be organized into three categories: Focus, Buffer and Free Days. And he built a system around it.

In fact, I've seen my clients have great success when they experiment with creating a "Focus" day: putting boundaries around their important activities.

Here are the 3 Types of Days to Create and Set Boundaries

1) Focus days

"Focus" days are dedicated to our most important work—what we're here to do.

For entrepreneurs, this means focusing on the top activities that generate income for us and have the highest impact on the mission of our business.

For executives and career coaching clients, it means focusing on the activities that we know are the most important. These align with Quadrant 2 "Goals and Planning" activities from Stephen Covey's Urgent Important Matrix, items that are important but not time-urgent.

Focus days also align with Quadrant 2 "Big Projects" on the Action Priority Matrix, items that are high impact and high effort.

2) Buffer days

The recommendation from Sullivan is to keep "Buffer" days separate from our "Focus" days.

Here the idea is to block in a day dedicated to the "small stuff". This might be doing administration work or returning phone calls or planning for an upcoming meeting.

"Buffer" days free us up on our "Focus" days to keep our attention on the most important work.

3) Free days

In a workaholic culture, "Free" days are the most controversial suggestion—but the most welcome.

Sullivan suggests we need to book in time where we're not checking email, reading articles or doing any kind of work-related activities.

In an information age, what becomes most valuable is the ability to be creative. And we can't be creative if we're strung out from too much work."

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