Self-Employed? Here are 5 Ways to Set Boundaries and Protect Your Time – Without the Guilt

I’ve been setting a lot of boundaries around my time lately. And finally, I’m at a point where I don’t feel at all guilty about it because I know I’m protecting my time, my self-care, and my goals in an honest way. I remind myself that those boundaries are there for a very good reason… That as much as I’d like to say yes (for the most part) to every favour, request, event, phone call, coffee date, etc. if I did, I would quickly burn myself out and potentially go out of business.

"Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time."

- Jim Rohn

Have you noticed how so much in life depends on being able to set and maintain healthy boundaries around time? Being on time, running out of time, alone time, wasted time, family time, fun time, bedtime… time never stops and no one knows how much of it we each have. And if you’re reading this, it’s likely you feel the same way too… That protecting your time without feeling guilty, is a necessity for happily running your own business, feeling empowered, and making sure your actions align with your goals.

"There will come a time when you have no more time."

- unknown

Whether it be friends, family, business acquaintances, or total strangers who are asking to pick my brain, I’ve always been pretty comfortable with setting boundaries around time and communicating honestly with the people who are asking for it (while also respecting their time). For that, I have to thank the somewhat “hippyish” family I was raised in. No one really pressured or guilt-tripped each other about what to do with their time, yet we all ended up choosing to spend a ton of time together anyway. There were very few rules growing up, and a whole lot of freedom. I even got to decide each year whether I wanted to home-school or go to public school (I ended up doing a bit of both). Even though I considered this to be a strong suit for me, it was still a challenge during the first year of starting my business. Because of the new flexibility, I had in my schedule, not only would I catch myself saying yes before giving it enough thought (or saying yes out of obligation/social pressure), I would also end up feeling super guilty if I said no to someone.

It. Was. Draining.

When you become your own boss and make your own schedule, it brings the importance of settings boundaries to a whole other level.

When I started working for myself, I noticed that saying “I can’t come, I’m working” suddenly didn’t hold the same strength of understanding. Instead, it was almost always met with some push back like “yeah but you make your own schedule, can’t you just take the day off?” or “but why, what are you working on? Can’t it wait?” So if this is something you are currently experiencing in your business journey (or life journey), then read on! Or don’t… it’s up to you what you do with your time. ;)


1. Be Intentional With Your Words

When it’s appropriate, I like to replace “I’m busy” with “I’m focused”, and “I’m sorry” with “thank you”. I found this shift in wording to be more empowering and honest when used in the right context.

E.g. “Sorry I can’t” vs. “Thank you for understanding” Instead of using “I’m sorry” as your default response, take a moment to think about it – are you actually sorry? Try saying both in your head first and decide which one feels appropriate to use for the given situation.

E.g. “I’m too busy with work right now” vs. “I’m really focused on ______ (goal) right now” I used to always say “busy” but in certain situations it started to feel insincere to me. Saying you're too busy all the time gets old fast, and in most cases, I think we all know it just comes down to priorities and making time for what we truly want. So instead, I started to replace “busy” with “focused” which much of the time feels more honest and has a more positive view associated with it. Being focused on goals is something to be proud of!

2. Be Honest

If you really don’t want to feel guilty, then be honest with others about your boundaries and why you can’t commit to something. At the end of the day, you are doing what you know is best for you and MOST people will respect the decisions you make for how you need to spend your time.

E.g. If you have work to do – say you have work to do, if you’re creating art – say you’re creating art, if you need alone time – say you need alone time, if you’re exhausted – say you’re exhausted… Okay I’ll stop, you get the point right?

No need to make up big elaborate excuses! If it’s important that certain areas of your life stay replenished, just be honest about it, no need to feel bad about protecting the time it takes to do so.

3. Know Why it’s Important

For the most part, I’m sure it’s not that you don’t want to go have fun with your friends, mingle at events, or give your service freely…of course, it would be great to do all that! It just comes down to priorities, goals, and making sure your actions are lining up with what you want to achieve in your life and business. Remember why it’s important to set those boundaries and what it would mean if you kept saying yes when you don’t really mean it. A failed business? Failed health? A failed relationship? Whatever it is, you’re protecting your time around it for a good reason. Take 10 minutes to write down what your boundaries are and why it's important for you to maintain them. Trust yourself to decide what's right for you.

4. Offer an Alternative

Have you ever had someone ask to get your service free? Before you straight up say no, sometimes offering a fair alternative ends up being better for both parties involved. For example, when you know you’ve reached your limit for giving out “freebies” but then you have someone requesting that you do another free 20-minute meeting with them, a fair alternative could be to thank them for reaching out, share the benefits of fully working with you and offer a link to book/purchase one of your services instead. This way they will be getting far more value than a quick talk, and at the same time, it shows mutual respect for each other's time and businesses. You might feel that guilt creep in at first, for not just saying yes to doing it for free, (it’s only 20 minutes right?) but when you start getting these requests multiple times a day from multiple different people, you'll quickly find that it's simply not sustainable or honouring of your value. What happens is that 20 minutes per person, get scattered across a whole day, and ends up taking away from the available time and energy you have for paying, fully committed customers.

This isn’t to say that giving out a free service isn’t beneficial or welcomed, it certainly can be! It can lead to great relationships, connections, and sales. This is why I happily offer one free call to every person who fills out my Assessment Form. And whether a financial investment is made or not, it's something I still feel good about offering to anyone who is curious or interested in potentially working together. This point is more specifically about setting practical limits as a business owner and making sure your value, energy, and time is being treated respectfully.

5. Be Aware of the ‘Crab in the Bucket’

If you haven’t heard that expression before, or just remember it from the K-os song, the crab in the bucket (a.k.a ‘the crab mentality’) is basically a way to describe those who act on the thought of “if I can’t have it, neither can you”. These are the people who try to pull you back down when they see you moving forward. Maybe it’s the person who shows up in your life, who doesn’t have a purpose or goal and therefore wants to distract you from yours. Luckily I haven’t personally encountered many people like that in my life – but from talking to many women entrepreneurs who have, I feel it's important to address this topic.

Setting boundaries around your time is a good way to show who truly supports you and wants to see you succeed. Even if you’re met with some push back from your relationships at the beginning, if you just hold your ground, stick it out and maintain those boundaries, eventually, those who are (subconsciously?) being the ‘crab in the bucket’ will likely give up or even remove themselves from your life (if you haven't already). Those who truly care for you, will adjust their expectations/demands and be happy to see you focused on your goals!

Final Thoughts

Remember, your time is YOUR time and it’s up to you how to use it. In my opinion, time is the most precious resource we have. It’s our lifeline. And as many philosophers point out, we only have one life – there is only so much time we all have here on this planet, in this body, in this life. So really embrace those boundaries around your time, and let go of the guilt!

We are all here for different callings, passions, goals, and joys… So say YES or say NO when you genuinely want to. If someone isn’t respecting the boundaries you set around your time, then they also aren’t respecting your goals and the self-discipline it takes to run a business. And if that’s the case, maybe it’s time to question what kind of relationship that really is.

The people who encourage you to stay on track and are understanding your priorities are the ones who truly want to see you happy! Those are the people you want to surround yourself with. Those are the real ones, so keep them close, and be sure to give that love, understanding, and support right back!


If you would like to chat more about setting boundaries or are looking for additional support in your business/business idea, please feel welcome to fill out this short Assessment Call Form and I will quickly get back to you with more details on how we can explore the option of working together. Much love, Megan