In a misguided attempt to fulfill expectations of the people around me, I constantly overcommit. I agree to workloads that are unreasonable, agree to lifestyle changes that I don’t believe in, and agree to participate in activities in which I have no interest. Because I don’t set boundaries.
Does this sound like anything you’ve ever said to yourself?
Do you ever find yourself taking work calls late into the evening, or responding to emails over the weekend, or volunteering to help with a work project for which you absolutely don’t have time? Many people do. It cuts into your personal life, reduces your professional output, and leads to disappointment and missed deadlines. Instead of becoming the hero who can do it all, you become the jerk that does everything poorly. So, how does this happen you ask?
If you don’t want to end up scrambling to meet work deadlines while struggling to find time to buy groceries, clean the house, get the kids to school, plan your sister’s birthday party, and practice any shred of self-care… you need to learn to set some boundaries so you can do all of these things with love and care. We’ve learned a few things along the way (trust us – it’s a daily practice!) Here’s a few tips for setting boundaries… PLUS we’ve learned a few things not to do.
Follow these basic rules and you can become a successful person who meets expectations, maintains balance, and makes others feel valued.
#1. Be Clear – From Day 1
When you interview for a new position, negotiate a contract, and/or begin a new project, make sure that expectations and metrics are crystal clear. Many of us are tempted to give people the answers they want to hear – especially superiors and clients. Don’t do that.
[Editor’s Note]: I remember applying for jobs in the service industry when I was younger. Almost always, you’re asked: “Do you have open availability? Nights? Weekends? Holidays?” In in attempt to impress the potential new boss and look like a team player, I always answered yes. And you know what? I worked nights, weekend, and holidays for years. All because I wasn’t clear.
It’s also super-important that you identify your duties, and the metrics by which you will measure success. If you’re hired as a personal assistant, what does that entail? Are you expected to pick up dry cleaning and walk the boss’s dog? Don’t wait until you’re asked to figure it out.
Setting clear roles and expectations allows you to focus on your duties and serves as a sort of firewall for colleagues who may ask you for help outside the scope of your job. Additionally, you need to determine what success looks like. If you’re in sales, find out if success is measured by the number of meetings you set or the net value of your sales.
#2. Create Separation Between Your Work and Personal Life
We know, we know. It’s 2019 and everything is done online, and the age of technology has made everything instantaneous. We get it. You’re not clocking in at the saw mill at 7 then heading home at 3. You’re leaving sometime right around rush hour, and you’ll be getting texts, calls, emails, chats, and pings non-stop.
And here’s the thing: there’s a weird sense of pride that we get from overworking. When we see our boss sending emails at 9:30pm, we have an urge to respond. We want them to know that we’re on the same team and willing to give extra effort.
But that usually ends badly. You stop having true down time because you’re constantly connected to what’s going on in your professional life. And the second you start to answer calls and emails outside of work, you’ve set a precedent.
Look, I get it. The boss sends out an email at 9:30pm on a Saturday. And Karen writes back 30 second later with an upbeat and helpful response. Damnit, KAREN! I saw the email, too. I care. I’m a valuable part of the team.
But once you set a precedent of being available any time, you set an expectation that 1) you’ll never live up to, and 2) will make you absolutely miserable in the long run. We’ve talked about getting away from technology before. So many of us struggle with anxiety these days. But it’s rare that we see anyone without the warm, blue glow of a screen illuminating their faces. Could there be a connection? We certainly think so.
It’s not a coincidence. Go to work. Do your job. Go home. Stop worrying about it. Don’t check your emails until you start work on Monday. If you need to work overtime, make adjustments to protect your personal time. If there’s a project that MUST be completed over the weekend, make sure you take a day or two off the next week.
We know it’s easy to say in theory… but it will get easier when you start putting it to practice. Everything is a practice.
Here’s one more practice to add to your life that will ultimately bring you more joy.
#3. Address People Who Cross Your Boundaries Immediately
This doesn’t mean you have to get angry or stressed. Just firmly reinforce the boundary and be clear why the boundary is important. You have to guard your time. You must know what your goals and objectives are, where your stopping point lies, and when personal time begins and ends.
Remember that guarding your personal and professional boundaries isn’t just for your own benefit; your colleagues and your company will be happier and more successful as well. If you don’t protect your down time and set reasonable goals professionally, you’ll continue failing to deliver on your promises.
However, there are some gentle ways to do this! If a boss, employee, or coworker is constantly interrupting you (whether it’s personal or professional), simply remind them that you need to focus on the task at hand and offer to schedule some time so you can give them your undivided attention. If you’re asked to work over the weekend (or whatever block of time you usually have off), remind your boss that this will take away from your personal time and make it harder for you to bring your full energy to a project. Offer to trade the weekend work for time off during the week, or just tell her that you can’t do it.
This is why you want to make sure you’re clear at the beginning of the relationship, by the way. If you establish your available hours, you have the freedom to decline a weekend request from your boss.
#4. Prioritize Your Wellbeing Over Your Career
Your physical and mental health, your relationships, and your integrity are all more important than your job. I’m not saying to roll into work tomorrow and tell your boss that your job is last priority for you, but keep in mind that the price we pay for not setting boundaries is one we often don’t notice until it’s too late.
Burnout is real. But you most likely won’t notice how burned out you really are until it’s too late. If you find that work-related tasks are the first thing you do when you wake up and the last thing you do before you go to bed, you have a problem.
And the only prescription is more cowbell.
But seriously, have you thought about what a lack of boundaries can mean for your relationship? Your partner and friends do not want to be around someone who’s constantly checking emails, or taking calls, or working through the weekend. Too much screen time is killing marriages, and we’re currently raising one of the most socially illiterate generations ever. When you leave work, leave work.
Integrity is important as well. You are a human being (presumably) and should be valued. Your time may not cost as much as the CEO, but it’s no less valuable. Remember that there are things you owe your boss and things that you don’t. You owe them honesty, consistency, and diligence. You do not owe them your sanity, your pride, your personal time, your soul, or your firstborn child. If your boss can’t respect the boundaries you’ve set, perhaps the company isn’t a good fit.
No matter where you work, what you’re paid, or how your success is measured, remember that doesn’t have to be a nightmare. You don’t need to be worried that you’ll miss an email over the weekend. If it’s an emergency, they’ll call. Otherwise, let Karen handle it. Be clear right off the bat so that you and your colleagues know exactly what to expect from the relationship. Create separation from your work life and your personal life.
Address those who cross your boundaries immediately. And prioritize your wellbeing over your career.
If you do these things, you’ll find that you have a manageable workload, with clear expectations, a healthy home life, and less anxiety.