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The Beauty of Boundaries:

3 Ways Limits Make Us Limitless

Quick — think of something white!

You probably began to look around because your mind froze. This is called “cognitive overload,” essentially you having complete freedom to try thinking of something white.

Now, if I asked you to think of something white…in your refrigerator, you’re already thinking — eggs, mayo, butter, milk, yogurt, etc.

This experience is one of “cognitive simplicity,” the ease of being able to process information and think quickly. The difference between both experiences emerging just from adding a little bit of boundaries to the original question (being the fridge).

Long story short, I came across this example somewhere in my reading and it has stuck with me ever since. I see the repercussions of having complete freedom so I have decided to understand the beauty of boundaries and why limits make us limitless.

From one of my favorite books, “Essentialism.”

1. Listing Responsibilities

Jumping into it, why is it that we are so eager to make a to-do list? Or when at work, why is it that most of the time we seem to perform the best when given direction?

Many times I found myself completely overwhelmed with all that I need to do and underwhelmed with not knowing where to start and what to accomplish. There was no direction, just a vast emptiness drawing blank pages on my mind. I would end up browsing through online shopping mindlessly, feeling as if I have nothing to work on while ignoring the anxiety of how much I have to do creeping on me.

This is contrasted to when I jot down all I need to do the following day and I get through it very easily even leaving a lot of time for online shopping after I have accomplished all I needed to accomplish. Of course, sometimes things will be shifted to the next day, but I have a relief that I am moving forward and getting things done.

IMPORTANT: This needs to be paired with an Eisenhower matrix mindset of course — do not make to-do lists just to keep busy. Be mindful of completing the urgent and important things aligned with your goals, not the fringe-tasks.

Eisenhower Matrix

2. Patience with Process

The same concept of boundaries liberating us can be seen in process. If you were given a project to create a social venture in reducing food waste, where would you even start? Now, if you were given a “tool-kit” to approaching the problem, empathizing with your potential market, ideating and designing accordingly, testing assumptions, and delivering your solution, how much simpler would it be?

I can answer this because it was my own experience. Given a design-thinking framework, I had the weight of attacking a globally prevalent problem lifted from my back as I was able to focus at the immediate task at hand. It’s all about following the process.

My cofounder constantly reminds me about the necessity of boundaries and process as I am one to get impatient quickly and want to see results. Moving forward with our social venture, we are able to take stable and effective strides towards our goal by dedicating ourselves to the process’ limits.

3. Paradox of Time

Next time you have to think of something, give yourself a time limit and put it on the stopwatch. You will probably be as shocked as I was when I tried this at my first hackathon and saw that I was able to execute more efficiently than I have ever witnessed myself doing. Essentially, by limiting your time, you will be able to achieve more.

Thinking of a company name — 30 minutes. Meeting with someone to get their insights — 45 minutes. Putting on everyday makeup — 15 minutes. These are some of my real case scenarios that have proven to increase the quality and use of my time.

Now the opposite of this phenomena is called Parkinson’s Law — where no boundaries will cause work to expand to fill the time available. For the days where I wouldn’t limit myself in the morning, I would end up getting ready in an hour stressed out versus in just 15 minutes being coolheaded.

Takeaways

  1. Responsibilities: List them, focus on what is urgent and important, understand the direction you want to head. If you don’t have a manager or boss, it’s very easy to get caught up in unimportant and not urgent things so you have to be your own CEO.
  2. Process: Be patient with process, the limits here will expand your creativity, efficiency, and critical thinking. By following process, you will also feel less overwhelmed and less likely to make mistakes. It will make it easier to give 100% to every step rather than rushing to the final steps.
  3. Time: Give yourself time boundaries with everything and anything. It’s more efficient, creative, and better quality in use of time overall.

Tara Demren is a social entrepreneur & insight capturer who is fascinated about startup culture. Tara is also the host of Tea Time with Tara, which curates high quality content for aspiring entrepreneurs and shares life takeaways for all.