TIB #37: How to set boundaries: You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Written by Arno Jansen

Boundaries aren’t about keeping people out, they’re about deciding who you want to let in. Let’s look at how you can set and communicate boundaries in a way that suits you.

Why we struggle setting boundaries

During a recent coaching call, an entrepreneur told me she was aware that she needed to set boundaries, but struggled to do so. She found it very uncomfortable to “go into ultimatum mode” as she put it. We went through a little exercise together and that helped her get perspective and take action. That’s what I want to share with you today.

When working independently, it can be especially challenging to set boundaries with clients because there may be a desire to please them and avoid losing their business. However, failing to set boundaries leads to overwork, burnout, and a lack of work-life balance. You and your loved ones will pay the price for your inability to set boundaries.

Setting boundaries = taking responsibility for yourself

Not setting boundaries means you will likely overstep your own boundaries, which will lead to:

  1. Burnout. Without boundaries, it’s easy to take on too much work and neglect the necessary self-care, leading to exhaustion, burnout, stress and/or sleep deprivation
  2. Poor work-life balance: For many of us independent entrepreneurs, work often tends to spill over into our personal lives. Having clear boundaries for yourself and your clients, helps establish a healthier work/life balance.
  3. Lower productivity: When you don’t set boundaries, you may spend time on tasks that aren’t important or relevant to your goals, leading to lower productivity and less progress. Be aware of your own goals in life and business and how this client work contributes to those goals, or not.
  4. Toxic relationships: If you do not set boundaries with toxic people, they may continually try to get more out of you. Not having boundaries or not enforcing them, can mean toxic people continue to behave badly, leading to more stress and negativity in your life.
  5. Resentment: Possibly the worst consequence of all. If you don’t set boundaries with others, you may feel taken advantage of or resentful when they ask for too much of your time or resources.

How to set boundaries that fit you?

Remember that entrepreneur I mentioned at the beginning? The reason she struggled to set boundaries is because in her mind, establishing guidelines and limitations around the work she would do for her client, required her to be confrontational and blunt. It does not have to be that way though. Setting boundaries early and clearly, can prevent you from having to be confrontational.

Together we did an exercise. I am sharing it with you below. Through it, you will:

  • Understand why boundaries are important
  • Learn what overstepping them does to you and those around you
  • Find a way to communicate your boundaries

Step 1: Ask yourself: What are you like when you overstepped your boundaries?

Spend a few minutes reflecting what you are like when you overstepped your boundaries. Go back in the past, what where you like in those situations? What do your loved ones, your family and friends experience from you as a result?

Making it as explicit as possible, helps to make you realise just how necessary it is to prevent that from happening. What state of being do you have to prevent turning into? 

Step 2: What boundaries do you need to set?

This step is, similar to the first one, all about making things explicit. What boundaries do you want or need to set? To get you started, here are 7 common areas where you might need to set boundaries:

  • Time: What hours or days are you working or not working. How to deal with unexpected extra work.
  • Money: This includes your rate, reimbursement agreements or how much expenses you are willing to cover yourself.
  • Workload: How much work are you willing or able to take on. What type of tasks are you willing to do. What do you have to prevent doing in order to prevent burnout or stress?
  • Communication: You can set boundaries around how often you’re willing to communicate with others, what topics are off-limits, and what your preferred methods of communication are. 
  • Work space: Establishing boundaries around your physical space, such as your home or office, can help you feel more comfortable and reduce stress.
  • Relationships: Setting boundaries in work relationships, can help you establish healthy boundaries around what you’re willing to tolerate, how you want to be treated, and what your needs and preferences are. What people do you work with best or worst?
  • Values: Setting boundaries around your values and beliefs can help you avoid compromising your integrity or doing things that go against your principles.

Remember, setting boundaries is about taking control of your life and making choices that prioritize your well-being and values. You have the responsibility to set boundaries in any area of your life or business where you feel they’re necessary.

Step 3: Communicate your boundaries clearly

Expressing your boundaries is important because it allows other people to respect those boundaries. Do not expect other people to guess or test your boundaries. Communicate them.

However, that does not mean that all your conversations have to be about your boundaries and how to guard them. No need to draft a legally binding contract stating your boundaries. You do need some flexibility. Relationships are reciprocal: you need some wiggle room, so to and fro, some give and take probably.

It does require you to express those boundaries one way or another.

Oftentimes, expressing a boundary means saying no to people. That’s tough for some of us. We don’t like to disappoint other people. 

But keep in mind that: ‘No.’ is a complete sentence. It does not require justification or explanation.

Also, if you have communicated your boundaries before, it becomes a lot easier to say no later on. If you agreed with a client to work monday through thursday, they will know already that friday is off limits. They can ask anyway, but they are already aware of your boundaries. It is now easier for you to say “no”. Or “yes” if you want. It is all up to you.

Bonus example: “In order to” instead of “I want you to”

Be clear, but not blunt in your communication. So, try to start a sentence with “In order to…” to be clear, but friendly.

For example: You agreed with your client, that you work mondays-thursdays for this client. It is now wednesday morning.

The project you are working on for this client, is on a very tight schedule. Deadline is next monday, at noon. You require your client’s input to finish it and need about a day’s work to process that input.

If you do not have her input by noon tomorrow, the project will not be finished in time unless you work on your days off.

Your client is very busy herself and a bit of a workaholic and she has no problem working weekends for her project, so unless you communicate clearly your boundary, she will likely send the input to you on sunday.

In situations like these, you can communicate your boundary clearly, without being blunt: “As discussed, I need your input to finish the project. In order to finish it in time, I need your input on thursday, noon at the latest. That allows me enough time to process it and make sure we deliver on time for the deadline on monday”.

Ok, so now what?

Setting and communicating boundaries is not a one-time effort. It requires regular self-reflection and carefully balancing temporary exceptions that always seem to come up.

But taking this seriously will be a big step for your self improvement.


Because you’re demonstrating to yourself and others that you respect yourself enough to say no to things that are not in your best interest. You’re also showing that you’re willing to stand up for yourself and your values, even when it may be difficult or uncomfortable.

That’s all for today.

See you again next week!


PS. Please share this with someone who needs to read this. Not only does it help them, you will feel good about it and it helps me grow the newsletter. And as always: Feel free to hit reply and let me know how this info helped you, or what you do differently.

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