Does this sound familiar? Toward the beginning of your career, a client came in with more work than you had time scheduled for. As the time progressed inside the session, you knew you needed a few more minutes to effectively help this person.

Does this sound familiar? Toward the beginning of your career, a client came in with more work than you had time scheduled for. As the time progressed inside the session, you knew you needed a few more minutes to effectively help this person.

At this point, you choose to go over on the session by five, seven or 10 minutes to make sure you helped this person as much as you could. While the extra effort did prove effective, it pushed you up against your next scheduled client. However, you managed to keep your schedule moving and this client was appreciative of your extra time.

Then for some reason, every time that specific client came in, they needed extra time to create the relief they needed. You found yourself giving more time in the session even though it wasn’t scheduled. Nothing was openly discussed about the time extension and within a few appointments, it became an expected behavior between both you and your client. Somehow, the actions and relationship around the appointment were now controlling your behavior in that session.

Eroded Time Boundaries

Gradually, this behavior starts to creep into sessions with other clients. The success you had with the 10 extra minutes for that one client fuels this behavior as you try to create the same healing-like experience for others. You begin to find yourself overextending the scheduled massage time with more clients.

Like magic, the 60-minute, scheduled session leans into 70 minutes, then 75 minutes and then before you know it, you have extended their hour with you to almost one-and-a-half hours, pushing into your next appointment without enough time to reschedule, take a payment, or have a small break for yourself.

Maybe it’s because you’re more tired now, but you just can’t seem to complete your work on time. Or maybe you have become overly distracted by clients’ needs and seem to be talking more and lose track of time. Regardless, there is a predicament in your business where you are consistently working 10-20 minutes over with a majority of your clients and you deeply feel your time is out of control.

Now, workdays at the massage table are draining you. When your exhausting day of massage is finished, there is a feeling of being unmotivated to return text messages or phone calls for appointments. You find yourself not wanting to run your business and there is an internal fight between wanting to keep your business running for income and not wanting to continue to massage people anymore because it is too draining.

Are you in this place right now?

As I write this article, I want you to know that I am speaking from experience. I had this same issue with clients and my lack of keeping time boundaries. I want to give you hope and point you in a new direction to learn how to regain your time boundaries and find success in your massage practice.

The Subtle Beginning of Burnout

While the feeling of burnout can be related to many different things inside your business, losing control over your time is one of the biggest contributors to the high-level burnout that makes you seek out a different career.

The further past that boundary line you or I proceed, the more uncomfortable you can expect to feel, and the less you want to continue in your client-care relationships.

With that in mind, l would like to talk with you about boundaries in a very applicable way to time boundaries.

Boundaries are Invisible Lines

While we are all familiar with ethics and boundaries, the biggest thing I wish to convey about boundaries is they are invisible lines or limits that we acknowledge the existence or presence of within ourselves.

These lines are something we know exist from experience (personal limitations) or we have adopted into ourselves because we agreed to follow them such as the codes of conduct in the massage industry.

These lines are not something we see with our eyes; these boundaries are something we feel. And if you are like many, it’s when we approach the limit or go past those limits that we more deeply feel their existence.

When you or I operate within the boundaries we feel comfortable with and have set for ourselves, there are typically feelings of being safe, secure, happy, comfortably contained, well-managed and energetic.

A loss of the appointment time boundary can create emotions such as:

• Feeling unable to control clients’ demands

• Feeling a lack of control or a sense of frustration about your time and earnings ratio

• Feeling overwhelmed by too many people in your “space”

• Feeling “drained” by clients

• “Dreading” another workday

• Feeling like there is never enough time

• Feeling taken advantage of—by yourself and your clients

• Feelings of inadequacy

• Always feeling late or feeling like you need to “make up” for time

• Feelings of your job affecting the energy in your personal life

For the concept of time boundaries, the issue will be how to reclaim the side of the boundary where we feel in control of our time and effort while maintaining our current clients and business income.

A loss of time boundaries has many frustrating emotions that accompany it, but I think the hardest one to change is the feeling of being unable to back up and regain your appointment time without losing clients.

Speaking again from experience, once you have given away your time it is difficult to recoup that time without creating disappointment. From some clients, those feelings are palpable because they are no longer getting the “extra” service for a same price.

Being honest and up front with clients is always best and talking with them about how you wish to proceed with resetting the agreed-upon appointment time is what you will need to do. Reiterate the benefits of a 60-minute massage and let them know if they want more time, they can schedule a longer session with you.

Once I shifted my appointments back to the set appointment time boundaries, I found myself in an interesting mental and emotional space. Regardless of the re-established boundaries, I felt myself wanting to cross that boundary yet again and literally had a mental fight and dialogue with myself to keep the boundary.

I decided to sit down and ask myself why I was struggling. I was trying to decide if I had just created unhealthy habits and had trained my clients to expect something for nothing. Or if I needed to pursue a change in my business structure for myself.

Shift Time Boundaries and Honor Yourself

After much personal reflection around the massage service I offered, what I came to understand was the real reason I was going over in time is what I practiced and how I applied the massage flow that resonated best with me didn’t fit into the 60-minute appointment time.

This industry-trained approach was not a correct boundary for me. What I was most comfortable offering, and felt success within, was best applied from a 70-minute massage appointment. My conflict was not necessarily one of not keeping my time or valuing it correctly. It was truly that the massage experience I created for my clients was longer than a 60-minute appointment time and I would continue to fight myself to stay within this time frame.

I decided to shift all of my booked appointments to a 70-minute appointment. I reorganized my schedule in a couple of different ways to accommodate this time and allow myself to have appropriate breaks.

If a client requested a longer session, like 1.5 to 2 hours, I made the decision to only schedule these appointments as the first or last appointment of the day. It was much easier to come to work a little earlier or stay a little later and accommodate that time without losing valuable scheduling time in the middle of the day or cutting my much-valued lunch and recovery time down.

I also used this change to reset my business time boundaries and informed clients I would not be going over 70 minutes without a scheduled appointment for a longer time.

After I found the correct time boundary, what amazed me were the feelings I had. The relief I felt was enormous. The energy and happiness that returned to me for my work and my business was huge.

So many of the depressive and draining feelings crossing that time boundary created for me were gone. I felt a deep commitment and need to maintain the 70-minute boundary and not repeat that behavior again.

My clients felt the shift just as much as I did. They were happier with the service because they knew what to expect from me. Because I was in a healthy space, the work I performed was of a higher quality, with less effort.

I had not realized the negative feelings I was experiencing from a loss of time boundaries were transferring so heavily over to my clients. After this experience, I also realized it was ultimately my responsibility to maintain the time boundary for myself and my client.

As a result of these positive changes, I was also able to increase my value at the table over time and raise my pricing structure with confidence.

Time-Boundary Wisdom

Time management can be one of your most important boundaries because it can maintain healthy limits for both you and your clients in many ways.

The time you agree upon and schedule with a client is a boundary for you that is just as important as your draping behaviors or office forms. Once you start going over your session’s allotted time, clients come to expect it all while losing the control of the therapeutic quality of the relationship.

How you value time shows up in how you feel valued and respected by your clients. The effort you are able to give, healthy workloads, and many other key factors to maintaining a healthy practice come from healthy time boundaries. For many, burnout in the massage industry simply comes from offering more time, effort, and energy than you are compensated for.

Boundaries are limitations and rules to help protect you, your hands and career. Only when you have firm boundaries, and honor yourself, do you see how they can help you in your massage practice.

Amy Bradley Radford

About the Author:

Amy Bradley Radford, LMT, BCTMB, has been a massage therapist and educator for more than 25 years. She is the owner of Massage Business Methods and the developer of PPS (Pain Patterns and Solutions) Seminars CE courses and a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved CE provider. Her articles for this publication include “Start a Massage Practice. The MT’s Guide to Budgeting for Startup Costs & Monthly Expenses” and “The Client’s Body Does the Healing (The MT Provides the Opportunity)” (both,