Time is our most valuable asset. Whether you have a lot or a little, you have it nonetheless. How you spend that time determines what you do with your life and your level of happiness.
Throughout our life, people try to rob us of our time in order to help themselves. Coworkers or bosses will ask you to work extra to finish a project. Friends will ask you to drop everything to help them move on a Saturday. Family will ask you to drive an hour to pick them up from the airport.
Some of these requests result in a positive gain for ourselves, too. Perhaps that project helps catapult your career into a higher stratosphere. Maybe that time in your friend’s apartment or that car ride with your family member is full of laughs and love. Giving our time to others isn’t a bad thing.
But it is a bad thing if it isn’t beneficial to you in any way.
While being a reliable employee, friend, or family member is never a bad thing, it could also result in you being looked at as the “nice guy/girl” that can be easily walked over. Being someone’s go-to should be rewarded in some way.
It can be difficult to tell people “no,” but as Greg McKeown described in his book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” it is, well, essential.
McKeown makes a point that we shouldn’t rob people of their problems. Becoming a problem-solver for someone else means wasting our time and energy on someone else’s task while also taking away their ability to solve it.
If this happens in the workplace, you may do all the work and get none of the shine. If it happens in a personal situation, you are simply limiting the other person’s growth as they are not working on their problems themself.
McKeown describes the importance of setting boundaries as such:
“Whoever it is that’s trying to siphon off your time and energies for their own purpose, the only solution is to put up fences. And not at the moment the request is made — you need to put up your fences well in advance, clearly demarcating what’s off limits so you can head off time wasters and boundary pushers at the pass. Remember, forcing these people to solve their own problems is equally beneficial for you and for them.”
Telling people what we won’t do for them is hard — especially if you’re a people pleaser like myself. We want to make life easier for others, and spending some time doing so makes us feel good. But there is a difference between a small bit of effort to help someone out and a large time investment to help solve someone else’s problems.
It is easy to see limits as “limiting,” but they are actually a source of more freedom. Rules and guardrails can feel restricting but they are necessary for keeping us in line and heading in the right direction.
Think of guardrails on a highway. They limit our movement on the road and where we can drive, but they also keep us from swerving and colliding head-on with cars driving towards us and vice versa. They keep us moving straight towards our destination with only ourselves and those around us to slow us down — something we have at least some control over.
Out of bounds in basketball is another good example. Playing within a defined area limits movement of the players, but it also keeps the game moving at a higher pace and forces players to hone in on their skills closer to the basket. If the entire arena was free for roaming, points wouldn’t be scored at a very high rate and a sense of randomness would be added that doesn't require skill to take advantage of.
This can be applied to our daily lives, too. While some (if not most) get tired of a consistent daily routine, those consistent habits are what allow us to make progress towards our goals.
It can be a morning routine, midday routine, or evening routine — it doesn’t matter. If you want to lose weight and build muscle, don’t let the problems of others get in the way of your daily workout. If you are working on a research project or side gig, don’t let others interrupt your daily work towards that.
This is important for relationships or friendships as well. Everyone has a needy person in their life that wants to hang out every day or spend a ton of money on weekly entertainment.
While spending time with these people is important and perhaps a high priority, you have to be selfish and accomplish your goals first. People will only drain you of your time and energy if you let them. If they can’t appreciate you putting yourself first, it shows that they don’t truly want you to be the best version of yourself.
Determining what is essential and defining boundaries around that is necessary for efficiently reaching our top heights and achieving our goals. People will respect you for standing your ground and you will achieve a life balance that properly allows you to work hard and play hard.