Setting Boundaries

Setting boundariesThis week, I received several articles about setting boundaries, and I remembered I started a similar piece about a month ago in response to a post on LinkedIn about the erosion of the 9-5 workday, so I guess that is today’s blog – setting boundaries. 

To get started, I recommend watching the video, Boundaries, by Brene Brown.  It helps to put perspective on the importance of setting boundaries.

Next, learn to set boundaries at work.  If work rejuvenates us without sacrificing other areas in our lives, we are lucky, but that rarely happens.  So here are a few tips for setting boundaries at work, and they may help at home as well.  Exercises on how to apply these tips follows for those who like the step-by-step approach.

  1. You are priority number 1, so take care of yourself first
  2. Prioritize time appropriate to the task
  3. Learn to say ‘No’
  4. Be dependable so you can depend on others
  5. Learn something new everyday

I suggest to complete these steps one at a time over a period of a few months.  In my experience, setting boundaries takes time and practice, and tackling them all at once defeats the purpose.  You might say this is the first lesson; don’t take on more than you can handle WELL.

You can stop here or move on to the practical application of these steps, or jump to the bottom for links to related reading and music.

Step 1:  I am priority number 1 – repeat to yourself, “I am priority number 1”.  Take care of yourself first, so you can take care of the rest.  We need to generate energy in our lives to spend it on the things we really care about.  How do you re-energize?  I re-energize through a couple of daily rituals.  They don’t take much time, but they force me to disconnect from the busy-ness and reconnect with what I love most.  These include meditation, dog walks, reading, gardening, and moving.  When a great beat comes on the radio, I get up and dancercise to it; wow that makes me feel re-energized! 

Step 2:  Learn how to prioritize tasks and time.  Our attention span is limited, and to do a good job, we need to be focused.  Studies show that multi-tasking complex activities or too many activities at the same time can strain and dilute our efforts, resulting in poor results.  Making up for this by working harder longer is not the answer if our wellbeing and family suffer.  So, we need to become good managers of our time and learn to prioritize. 

Here is a good method for learning to prioritize time and tasks at work.  I used this technique as an instructor to help employees with time management.

  1. Start by keeping a journal for at least one month. Write down everything you do during the work day and how long it takes you to complete. 
  2. At the end of the month, create a chart, totaling the hours for each activity.
  3. Next, prioritize the tasks, A, B, C, or D; A being a critical task that needs immediate attention, B an important task that needs attention within 8 hours; C task that requires attention within 24 hours, and a D task that requires our attention whenever we schedule time for it. Here is an example based on my work:
    • Reading email – B – 1.5 hours a day, 30 hours a month
    • Metrics report – B – 2 hours one day a month
    • Customer service – A – 2 hours a day, 40 hours a month
    • And so on
  4. Finally, review the tasks and see if the amount of time you actually spend on an activity reflects the priority. Are you spending too much time on low priority tasks and too little time on high priority needs? Or could it be you just don’t have enough time in the day to get it all done?  If you can reprioritize, great, but if you don’t have enough time in the day, you may need to learn to engage your team to help or just learn to say ‘No’.  Which brings us to …

Step 3:  Learn to say ‘No’.  Saying ‘no’ is not a bad thing, it is being honest and caring.  You care enough to do a job right, and if you don’t have enough time in the day to get it done right, don’t do it.  A smart boss will appreciate this.  Sometimes you may need to negotiate projects or compromise by starting a task and handing it off to someone else to complete, but that is what team work is all about.  And this leads to …

Step 4:  Be dependable for your team, so you can depend on your team.  If you work alone, this is a moot point – go to Step 4.  Most of us, however, have coworkers who make up the team.  Helping each other has many positive effects.  Teamwork builds trust, makes the workload easier to manage and produces great results, especially as a byproduct of the diversity the team represents.  We can learn from our team mates as well.  Does your schedule include team building activities?  Ok, maybe that is asking too much for now.  Let’s move on to …

Step 5:  Learn something new every day.  Make it a daily ritual.  Learning is an adventure, and it doesn’t matter what you learn or relearn.  Knowledge and the skills we build to apply that knowledge is the joy of accomplishment, and we are re-energized.  Don’t limit yourself; all learning sets us on a path to be able to SEE if not create new opportunities we couldn’t before.  Learning can lead us to new adventures, one step at a time.

Until next time, keep moving …

Related reading and music:

Your Guide to Setting Boundaries at Work—Without Making Anyone Resent You

5 Effective Ways to Set Boundaries at Work

Coldplay – Adventure of a Lifetime

Tobymac – Move (Keep walkin’)

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