We often have a lot of pressure to always be available. I have a friend who is receiving and answering emails at 11pm. I have other friends that works on the weekend and it is just part of the work.
It seems like everyone does it, so there must be something wrong with you or me if we can’t keep up, right?
My computer does this funny thing – when I don’t turn it off for weeks on end, it starts going regularly to a black screen. It takes ages to load a file and doesn’t play my music when I ask it to.
If a machine – a computer – needs to be turned off to be able to reset and be at its best, then does it surprise us that we humans also need to turn off every once and a while?
The problem is boundaries and expectations. We aren’t always clear about what our organisation actually expects from us. People think that working hard means working long hours. I don’t agree. A hard worker needs to have space for rest, hobbies and loved ones to be able to keep firing at their best and engaging in their work. Otherwise, we can head down the road towards burnout, or other similarly dark paths.
So it is about boundaries. Boundaries help us keep focussed and give us space for things that we want or need to do. But it can be scary. How can we put up boundaries, especially when it seems like nobody else has them?
The first step to setting up useful boundaries is to understand yourself and what you need. What is most important to you? What are your values? What do you need to be yourself and happy? What are your absolute limits?
For example, sleep to me is essential. There are other things that make me feel good, but a lack of sleep will take me down, fast.
Set some rules
The next step is to establish the framework that you need to be well and good at your work. You have an idea about what your limits are and what you need to be well. What do you need to do, how do you need to live your life to be well? What, if anything, do you need to change to align with what you need or want?
For example, I go to bed by 9.30pm every night. It is early for others, but it is what I need to do to make sure that I am able to take on challenges and feel good during the day.
Maybe for you, this might look like – taking time off for lunch, making it home for dinner with loved ones, starting your day with exercise, checking emails only once or twice a day, removing email from your phone, going to bed at a certain time every night, booking a holiday.
A side note: Are you the kind of person that likes rules? Are you more likely to follow them if you set them, or if someone else does? Do you hate rules and do the opposite of what someone tells you? Understanding how you best regulate yourself is important to setting the boundaries that you want. If you’re interested in knowing where you stand on this, take this test by Gretchen Rubin.
Communicating your rules to others
This is the hard part. How do you tell people what you aren’t going to do? Well, you don’t. Focus on the positive – what you are going to do and by when. Depending on how far away is your current reality with how you want it to be, you may need to make slow adjustments rather than change everything all at once. Work as efficiently as you can and be focussed when you are working – no Facebook or social media, no mindless surfing. Figure out how you best get things done (do you need a list, a calendar, prioritise tasks, work alone, with music, etc).
It is important to also take stock of how much of your work depends on or is affected by others. Controlling your own work when you are largely work alone is easy, however it is more difficult in a team. If you work as part of a team and rely on other to finish your work, consider whether there are better ways to improve the work flow. Are there regular bottlenecks or challenges that come up? How could things be better streamlined? Are there communication issues that could be improved?
There will always be times where the rules go out the window. A big project that needs to be completed on time, a sick family member, a once in a lifetime chance to do something. Life likes to throw us challenges. The first step is the most important one – If you know yourself, you will be able to reflect on what influences you and find creative solutions to help you be able to juggle things to your advantage.
Here is a mini-worksheet to get clear about your work and your boundaries:
1. These are the five things most important to me in my life:
2. To be at my best, I need more ________________ and ___________________.
3. My organisation has these expectations of me:
4. My manager and team have these expectations of me:
5. I know this because _________________________________________. The evidence I have for this is
6. These are the things that must absolutely get done and to the best of my ability:
________________________________________ and _______________________ and __________________________.
7. These are the activities that are not priorities and can be flexible or pushed back:
_____________________________________________ and _____________________________ and ____________________.
8. I am going to make these things changes/boundaries ___________________, ___________________________, and