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Setting Boundaries at Work for a Happier You

The pandemic might be over and the return to normal is around the corner, but one thing that seemed seemingly impossible to come back to is our ability to clock out. Thanks to technology and workplace habits that have proliferated during these remote times, the lines between our personal and professional lives have disappeared.

As one of my clients told me on our first session, “I’m working in the evening, on weekends, and even on vacation, it seems that I can’t get away from work”.

Unfortunately, this type of on-the-go culture is leading us to work-related burnout pretty quickly as a recent survey found.

Setting and committing to boundaries between your personal and professional lives is one way to rebalance this equation and these are my top six tips on setting boundaries between work and home.

Use technology for you and not let technology use you

Sometimes it feels as if our phones are buzzing nonstop. From social media notifications to work emails, there’s a constant barrage of information that comes our way. Setting boundaries with our screen time, quite literally, involves using “Screen Time” tools to limit notifications. Both Android and Apple have similar functions. You can turn off work-related notifications after specific hours, so you don’t find yourself checking work emails or Slack while also reviewing your Instagram or Ticktock alerts.

If all else fails, commit to putting your phone away at least 2 hours before bedtime and even better if you have it charging in a different room.

I know, I said it!

Leave the work at your desk…

This might be the most challenging, especially for entrepreneurs like me.

Have you ever left the office or your computer and still felt like you were in work mode? If you have quietly nodded in agreement then you know this one is for you.

Here is what I like to recommend: Write a “Tomorrow” list and commit to leaving it at your desk.

Here is the thing, that constant drumming of to-dos (“I must do” and “I need to do”) that translates into creeping anxiety, is just your fear of forgetting something or dropping the ball. By making a list ahead of time, you are tricking your mind into thinking that you have it covered and thus, you will be more able to disconnect.

Whatever you do after the workday is done, don’t mentally clock back in. The list will always be there no matter what.

Use your PTO

This is a huge key to effectively setting boundaries. So many working professionals forget to use their vacation time until the end of the year. There is a misconception that working hard and not using vacation time helps you become more accomplished.

The opposite is true. Paid time off, or PTO, is there for you to recharge both mentally and physically. When you take time off of work, it helps your mind reset. When you return to work, you’re actually more productive than if you had not taken the past week off. Don’t let whatever projects you have stop you from taking a much-needed rest.

Learn to say no

Learn to push back and manage expectations. Whatever expectation you set today is how they will expect you to perform tomorrow.

In other words, if you’re always on the clock, if you answer emails during vacation, if you take work home with you, then they’ll expect the same behavior going forward. While there will always be occasional projects that necessitate after-hours work, don’t make it a habit.

Pro Tip: Learning to say no and pushing back also applies to activities at home and or with your family. This is especially true for all working moms out there.

Beware of Your fears

One of my clients who works at a nonprofit in the bay area was suffering from this paralyzing fear of pushing back. In her mind, her colleagues were going to start disliking her, and worse, she was going to be fired.

After a couple of sessions, she realized that the impact of not saying something was bigger than staying quiet. So after a lot of back and forth and some coaching on how to deliver the message to her boss, she mustered the courage to ask her boss if it was ok if she did not respond to her emails after 6 pm. Her boss told her that she absolutely did not expect her to respond, it just happened that she usually would pick up on her work after putting her kids to bed. The same thing happened when she brought up the subject with one of her colleagues. The lesson: if someone consistently contacts you when they shouldn’t, politely let them know. Chances are that the story you had in your head is just an extension of your fears.

Develop a structure for your working environment

Finally, I encourage you to develop a structure for your weekly routine. If you and a direct report have a scheduled weekly check-in, it’s easy for one of you to let the other know when you will be unable to attend. This maintains PTO boundaries, and it does something else too.

It creates a routine. With a routine like this, you have a set time to talk, go over agendas, and make plans. You don’t interrupt each others’ day time and time again, but rather, set aside time for each other. It creates mutual respect and is another great way of setting boundaries between your personal and professional lives.

Setting boundaries is easier with an accountability partner

Each of these tips can help you achieve a balance between work and home. Screen time limits can force us to walk away from work when we’re with our families. Mentally, it’ll be a challenge at times to stop. Practice the art of clocking out while also using your available paid time off. Communication will go a long way to teaching others how to contact you and developing a routine can help mitigate some of the unexpected interruptions from work while you’re home.

All of these steps are easier when working with someone who can keep you accountable to your goal of setting boundaries between your personal and professional lives. Many of my clients come to me with this exact need. If that’s something you think you need assistance with, I’d love to chat with you. Contact me and we’ll schedule a time to talk.


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