• Kim May

The Boundary Series Part 4: Time Boundaries


Some years back when I was job hunting, I was interested in two positions. One was close to my house and had non-traditional hours, but it paid less. The other was across town, 8-5 (meaning traffic coming and going, uh…Austin) with a little higher pay. Both were good opportunities.


While talking through the pros and cons with someone, they asked me to calculate how much time I would spend commuting to and from each job, then subtract that from my total pay. Looking at it at this way, the jobs paid the same.


It was the first time I ever assigned monetary value to my time. I always knew time was valuable and had heard the “time is money” expression, but it seemed more concept than steadfast truth. I have valued my time differently since then.


We all know we must protect our money. We know we are not supposed to flash it around in public or leave it unattended. We lock it up, we put it in banks, we carefully consider who we share it with. Yet, if time really is money why don’t we safeguard it in the same way?


Time is a limited resource


If money doesn’t grow on trees, time sure as hell doesn’t either. Many of us are consumed with non-negotiable responsibilities that take up much of our time. Commuting, chores, procuring food, work, family obligations, schoolwork, going to the dentist---how is it that it always seems like I am past due for the dentist AND it seems like I just went?


Since we all have so many things we HAVE to do, it seems we would be good about protecting what time we have left. Using it carefully and for things that really matter to us. Sort of like that last bit of disposable income after bills and car payments.


However, many of us continue to “overspend” our time. We overextend ourselves, putting us in a sort of time debt. We become fatigued. Resentful. We begin to burn-out. So, how do we reverse this trend? First, we must recognize it.


How do I know if I have poor time boundaries?


1. You consistently give up your personal time to please others (your kid, your partner, that lady you met once at a work function...)

2. You find it difficult (or impossible) to say no.

3. When I ask what your hobbies are or when you engage in them, you laugh at me.

4. Everything feels like a priority.

5. You cannot remember the last time you were not exhausted.

6. You feel guilty when you take time for yourself.


How you allocate your time


We all have different ways we need to allocate our time. Some differences are based on unchangeable circumstances (you have to work a second job to support your family) and some are based on preference (you want time every day to improve your Rubik’s cube abilities).


However, many of us will be splitting our time between work and/or school, family and/or relationship, sleep, daily responsibilities of being a busy adult (laundry, weed eating, dog walking, etc.), hobbies, time with friends, and time alone.


This is a great time to make a pie chart. Figure out the ways in which your time is split, then determine by how much. Are work, chores, and family 80% of your time? Are you cutting out sleep, hobbies, and downtime to make everything else work? If so, odds are good you are headed toward burnout.


What are the symptoms of burnout?

  • Increased anger/irritability/cynicism

  • Lacking the energy needed to be productive

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Lack of satisfaction about your achievements

  • Changes to sleep patterns

  • Using alcohol and/or drugs to feel better… or just not feel

How to establish better time boundaries


1. Ask for help prioritizing. Sometimes involving our partner/boss/kids, etc., in the process can help. “I know a lot needs to happen, but can you help me determine what is most important to you right now?”


2. Set limits around your time with others. For example, maybe you have a friend that calls a lot at random times wanting to chat. Perhaps let them know you have a lot on your plate, but you would like to set a time to catch up when you can focus and really give them your attention.


3. Stop saying yes to everything. “Thank you for thinking of me but, I must decline your request for my help at this time.” Or “I need to prioritize my family right now."


4. Rethink downtime. Rather than thinking of it is a luxury, think of it as necessary self-care that will enhance your work and relationships by preventing exhaustion, burnout, and resentment.


5. Be assertive in protecting your time. Let’s say you have re-worked your schedule, so you get an hour to yourself each day. Think of that hour as your last $100 bill. To whom and under what circumstances would you give it to?

Getting Support


Substance use, guilt, shame, and depression can sometimes lead people to feel like they do not deserve to have time to themselves. The truth is, we all deserve time to recharge and take of ourselves. If you need help establishing boundaries, Substance Use Therapy is here for you. While the road to establishing them can be difficult, it tends to be well worth it. Boundaries are a process.

Looking for more information on boundaries? Keep reading the series.


The Boundary Series, Part 1: An Overview

The Boundary Series, Part 2: Physical Boundaries

The Boundary Series, Part 3: Emotional Boundaries


About the Author:


Kimberly May, LPC-S, LMFT is a therapist at Substance Use Therapy in Austin, TX. Kimberly works with individuals, couples and families whose lives have been affected by substance use. By utilizing a harm reduction framework, Kimberly works effectively with people in any stage of use. In addition to substance use, she works with other issues such as anger, burn-out, anxiety and grief. Contact today to schedule a no-charge, 30 minute, in-person consultation. *Note: telephone and telehealth sessions are currently available.

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