5 Effective Ways to Set Boundaries at Work

work boundaries

Work Boundaries  

Dr. John D. Moore

Do you feel like you are married to your job? Does it seem like wherever you go, work somehow follows? Are you sick and tired of feeling guilty for not following through on wellness related activities like the gym or meditation?

If you said yes to these things, you certainly aren’t alone. In truth, the topic of time management comes up frequently among clients who visit our Chicago counseling offices. This is particularly true for folks who identify as executives, sales managers or administrators.

As a counselor/educator who also runs a small business, I know what it is like to feel crunched for time. Truth be told, there are some days where the space between early morning and late night seem like one big blur. “Where did all hours go?” I have often self-reflected at the end of the day.

While I don’t pretend to possess a magic wand that can somehow fix time management issues, I can offer some practical tips on setting effective workplace boundaries so that you don’t feel completely married to your job.

The five suggestions listed here are designed to act as focal points. Start off with one and then then slowly begin to incorporate the others into your daily routine. The emphasis here is on word slow.

Are you ready? Let’s jump right in!

Five Work Boundaries

1. Get comfortable with saying no

This point may seem like common sense but here’s the deal – the most obvious things in life are often the most difficult to put into practice. Saying no to someone doesn’t mean you are a selfish monster or that you that you don’t care about people. What it does mean is that you are concerned about yourself enough to do what is necessary to stay healthy. Here, I am talking about things like:

  • Having time to make healthy food choices
  • Building REAL time into your schedule for exercise/physical activity
  • Going to bed early enough so that sleep is restorative.

2. Check your ego at the door

If you are one of those people who possesses an “I can do it all” attitude, I have news for you – you can’t. That may sound harsh but it’s true. Sure, you might be able to sustain an intense level of output for an extended period of time but at some point, something will give.

The “give” might be your health, your performance or your mood (or all three!). And so checking your ego at the door means adjusting your self-expectations and not trying to be superman/woman. Examples include:

  • Rethinking your need to constantly please others.
  • Assessing the perceived returned from “doing more”
  • Exploring what it would be like if you didn’t take on extra work

3. Turn off your smart-phone

I get it – we live in a non-stop, 24/7 world. Part of what fuels the insanity in our daily lives is our digital connectedness. If we’re not plopped in front of a computer or pad, we’re chained to some type of Internet gadget, such as a watch or smart-phone. It’s enough to make me harken back to the days of analogue dial-up and good old fashioned land-lines. Here is the deal – you don’t have to be wired into every electronic moment of the day. One way to disconnect from the crazy making and allow more time for yourself is by doing the following:

  • Set concrete times for smart-phone use.
  • Keep your smart-phone off your physical person during select times
  • Resisting the urge to immediately respond to emails

4. Place self-care at top of your priority list

One of the reasons I have found people “miss” (or blow off) self-care activities like exercise, meditation and so forth is because they don’t make their wellness as important a priority as work. And while going to the gym don’t create more income, they do empower your ability to work more efficiently over the long term. Placing self-care at the top of your priority list means:

  • Building in time at start or end of day for the exercise
  • Making meals for work instead of buying junk at the convenient store
  • Winding down several hours before you go to bed so you can get a good night’s sleep

5. Set strict boundaries around workplace email

The most common workplace activity most people do at home is check email. As you likely know, this particular task can cause a major derailment of a day’s planned events. All it takes is one “crisis” to pop up on your office mail and poof – everything you wanted to do goes up in smoke. You can do a lot to prevent this from happening in the first place by:

  • Scheduling specific times to check email.
  • Expecting the unexpected and allowing time to deal with it
  • Limiting the number of times you check workplace email to 1x a day on weekends

Final Thoughts

Setting healthy workplace boundaries is not easy. Most of us have been conditioned to be constantly “plugged in” to our jobs from morning to night. But is this really necessary? Sure, your job may require you to stay on top of things but that doesn’t mean you need to have a wireless connection tethered to the company’s Internet server.

If you are looking for more insight into creating a healthier workplace boundaries, I highly recommend the book, Re-Invent Yourself  by Paradee Thomas.

Inside, you will find tons of practical advice on how to use your time smarter with an emphasis on self-care and wellness. I know I particularly enjoyed the chapter on keeping things simple.

Most of us live busy lives. We are required to be productive as a condition of employment. This however, doesn’t mean that we need to be married to our jobs. I encourage you to give yourself permission to say no and to make your wellness just as important as your work.

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