Boundaries. It has never been more important to establish and try to hold boundaries. I emphasize ‘try’ because there may be times or reasons to move your boundaries for a greater good or higher purpose, but if you don’t have boundaries in the first place, you may feel (yet again) that you are giving more than you should – to everyone except yourself.
Boundaries give us control. We feel empowered: to hold firm on what we will or will not do.
We are literally waking up at our office (and there is always work to be done), so if we don’t establish and maintain boundaries, we could find ourselves always working and experiencing burnout. Boundaries help us drive our calendar rather than our calendar controlling us.
Yes, there is always work to be done, but:
Is this work worth doing? and
Is this night or weekend worthy?
Not all work needs to be done, done by you, or done now; that holds true both at home and at work. This is a process of prioritization – and we all need to assess and remember that self-care needs to be prioritized as well. So, is this work worth doing? Is there someone else on your team (and team is general here: work team, home team, support system, community) that should rightfully be doing this work? Does mom always need to be the one cooking, cleaning, managing all of the tasks for the household or are children able to set the table, sort laundry, pick up toys? Is this work that someone else on your committee, in your community, or in your friend group can and should rightfully be doing? Can you instill a boundary on the work that is worth doing?
Second is whether the work needs to be done now (and now means outside of your workday). Is the work just there or does the work need to be done when you aren’t scheduled to work? If you are a bottleneck and someone can’t move forward in a timely fashion without you, then okay. Are you on deadline, then yes. But if you don’t differentiate between work and work that is worthy of your time, at this time, then it will be difficult to hold boundaries.
Other boundary hacks that can help you differentiate between work and home.
1. Set a designated workspace. Literally walk away for lunch, periodic breaks, and at end of the day. Close your computer, physically distance yourself from your office when you are not working.
2. Be intentional about your day.
Calendar your start and end times. Set calendar reminders so you show as available during your workday (which may not be traditional during days of childcare challenges and distance learning). Be sure to confirm your manager’s approval before changing your hours and communicate with stakeholders if your schedule is different than they would expect. Do not start working until your day is scheduled to begin. Use that morning time for family, exercise, social calls, meditation, podcasts, news consumption, meal prep.
Calendar everything: “Best intentions” can get the best of you and you end up not getting to anything that you wanted to do. Be vigilant to a routine which allows you to authentically hold your boundaries on availability: breaks, exercise, family time, social activities.
3. Schedule time off. You are allowed to take a sick day, vacation day, mental health day. Where you can, schedule that time, communicate and prepare to be out with proper coverage. If you are sick, someone on the team will cover for you. They want you to get well and return at 100%. And if you take paid time off, truly unplug and disconnect. Maintain your boundary.
4. Set a calendar invite for the last block of the day. Have a standing meeting invite with yourself for ½ - 1 hr. before you want to end your day. Assess:
What has to be done before you end your day? Get it done!
What might require you to work late – only work that is on deadline, night or weekend worthy. Communicate with family members and caregivers if you might be later than expected.
Set yourself up with a to-do list for tomorrow. Get the spin out of your head and onto a list.
Offer alternative times to meetings that will go over your end time (see What If newsletter from Feb. 7, 2020) or verbalize a hard stop so attendees are aware of your boundary.
Make a commitment to something right at the end of your workday: a walk with a friend, an activity with your child, an online webinar or exercise class. Honor that appointment by ending your workday on time
5. Perfectionism is elusive. Fixers and doers, it is hard to do “enough” and be okay with that. There is a lot written on perfectionism. Time boxing your work, handing it in or passing it on is a way to put a boundary around continuing to try to perfect with diminishing returns.
6. Don’t celebrate 24/7 work habits. Organizations should not celebrate or do shout outs for work done around the clock, nights and weekends. Such praise may signal that the only way to get rewarded or acknowledged is working outside of work hours.
In the end, downtime is a chance to recharge, re-energize and avoid burnout. Carving out time for self-care may be one of the best things we can do for ourselves right now. Setting and maintaining boundaries may be one of the most powerful gifts you can give yourself during a time that feels beyond your control.