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Why Balance Is More About Boundaries Than Time

coaching wellbeing Oct 05, 2021

When I ask clients to define balance for them, they talk about quality time with loved ones, feeling calm, feeling happy, having fun, taking time out for themselves, and yet when they first start to look at their free time during a week to make any of this happen, it’s taken up by other things.

We’ve all been on some kind of time management training during our careers, we’ve been taught about colour blocking, block scheduling, chunking, the time of day to complete certain tasks based on energy and brain power, Pomodoro techniques and many other things.  And I use some great tools to help me to be as productive as possible throughout my week.  

But the reality is for most of us that no matter how many times we are taught to manage our time, we don’t make it happen.  And that’s because we don’t talk about boundaries.  We talk about minutes and hours.  And we all have the same amount of those.

During the course of a week, we each have the same 168 hours.

If on average we say that we’re working a 40-hour week, that leaves us with 128 hours.

If we each sleep for 7 hours a night, we’re left with 79 hours of which a proportion of these are taken up with additional work, household chores, caring for others, self-care etc and whilst we can categorise these in the ‘life’ element, many of us don’t see these tasks as actually living and so we are out of balance, just by calculating the hours.

Back in January 2019 when I was leading The Chrysalis Crew, we started working a four-day working week. And the initial concern from team members when we talked about it, was that they would have to fit five days of work into four days, therefore pushing harder and being more exhausted just to benefit from an extra day off.  And I see this concern raised by people all of the time.  But in reality, if we look at our productive hours during each working day, we waste so much time.

And so, in order to effectively trial and subsequently continue with a four-day working week, we knew things had to change.  We looked at everything that we were doing in the business and for clients, removed any tasks that weren’t adding value and streamlined everything that we kept.  We became more effective.  We became more selective in the work we were doing with clients and we said no to anything that wasn’t aligned with our core message. We created boundaries.

And it’s no different to how we need to create better boundaries as individuals if we want more balance in our lives.

I’ve said for many years that work-life balance is a myth and that in trying to chase it down is quite frankly a waste of our time and energy. What we need to create is balance. And we do this by having boundaries in place.

If as a person you are saying to yes everything and always giving, whilst everyone around you is always taking, not only is your giving;receiving ratio out of balance, but so too will your energy be. And when you feel drained from always giving, you don’t have the energy or enthusiasm to create fun in your life.

If you’re constantly putting yourself at the back of the pile for others, you will feel out of balance constantly and no amount of diary management is going to help with that.

If your diary is always filled of meeting with other people, when do you have the balance of time for yourself?  Time to think?  Time to get things done? Time to get organised?

Is your home life filled with scrolling through your phone, Netflix binges, cleaning up after other people, always having people drop by?

Having more time is an outcome of creating and maintaining boundaries.

Let me share a few examples.

I love delivering keynotes and talks.  So much so that I would say yes to any that I was asked to deliver, even if they had no budget.  Yes, some of my earlier talks were delivered for free.  And largely, because they get sold to you as an amazing opportunity where the audience will love what you do and ‘I’m sure many will want to work with you’, so I saw them as a marketing opportunity in addition to being something that I loved doing, win-win.  But as I began to run out of time for paid work and paying clients as a result of the free gigs I was attending, I had to set the boundary to say no to free speaking.  And in reality, they weren’t free.  They were of cost to me – travel, time, outfits, preparation.  In creating a boundary, not only did I have more time for my clients, I had more space in my diary to say yes to more things that I enjoyed.  I support a set number of clients per year pro bono and do the same now with my talks.  I have a strong boundary around what I give for free and I stick to it. This helps me have balance in my work.

I’ve shared client stories recently about clients who were always saying yes, always pushing hard, never having any breaks, and how they were feeling exhausted, drained and resentful.  They weren’t doing much for their reputation at work either because they were seen as a being a pushover for always doing what nobody else wanted to do.  They put boundaries in place about the tasks they will do, the tasks they won’t, the type of opportunities they will say yes to and the type of opportunities they will say no.  They became firmer in their decision making and as a result changed their reputation at work AND found more time.  In creating boundaries they found more time to improve their performance, spend with colleagues and develop further in their roles.

The additional time is the outcome for having the boundaries.

I was delivering a workshop last week and I shared something that one of my previous assistants used as her mantra for the always last minute requests and it goes like this “I’m afraid that your inability to manage your time does not make it a priority for Kelly, however, she can have it with/to/for you by X time on X date”.  I was very lucky to have her.  It wasn't said in a rude way. She wasn't disrespectful, and people often got one first chance for a last minute request. So many of us fall into this trap when people are demanding things all of the time and we then push harder to get things done for others.

When my husband and I separated our sons' would split the week between both homes and all too often I would get phonecalls or text messages about what they needed dropping off for them.  And I would always take it.  Mainly because of the guilt of our now separated family meaning they were split between two homes.  But I had to stop it.  The day I said no, was the day they stopped forgetting things.

In setting our own boundaries, change happens for those around us too.  When we give a firm no, people learn to stop asking.

Boudnaries aren’t just about saying no though either.  

Boundaries can help us to say yes to more of the thing sthat are aligned to our values, to say yes to more of those things that help us to feel or be more balanced.  

When you want to have more fun, more calm, more energy and you create boundaries to allow these things to take a priority, everything else can wait, you’ll find time for it all later. 

Boundaries help us to prioritise.  Boundaries help us to do what matters.  Boundaires help us to say no.  Boundaries help us to say.  Boundaries help us to create more time.

If you’re struggling with boundaries head over the and see how I may be able to help you.


In 2013, Kelly had a successful leadership career, yet she was burned out, exhausted, and missing out on life with her family.

Determined to enjoy the success that she had earned, she's learned to create a life of balance and boundaries that is also highly successful.

Today, Kelly is founder of The Chrysalis Crew and Executive Coach at Kelly Swingler Ltd. She's helped women leaders all over the world to prevent and recover from burnout by becoming their own VIPs without giving up their careers or jeopardising their wellbeing.


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