Updated: Dec 21, 2020
Tis the season to work from home. For some of us that is the norm. For others that is a huge adjustment especially if you have a partner, spouse, roommates or kiddos at home.
In some households where there are few if any boundaries in place, the gloves come out and we do battle with those we love. But it does not have to be this way.
My hope in writing this is that it will serve to reduce your stress, increase your productivity and add more joy to your days as we address the issue of boundaries in general, and specifically boundaries around work.
In full disclosure, I used to have a hard time with this issue myself. I am grateful for the wisdom of others that helped me in this arena.
So what are we talking about when we use the word boundary? A boundary defines things… property lines, personal space or rules. A boundary says, this is what is ok, and this is what is not ok. This is what I am willing to say yes to, and this is what I need to say no to.
Sounds simple right? Then why does setting boundaries feel so daunting for some? The short answer is many people are not used to setting them, don’t know how, feel scared, or don’t know when to set them!
If you are not used to setting boundaries, or you attempt to put them out there sheepishly, you are in good company. Fear that others will be upset, start a fight, withdraw love, or no longer think you are a “nice” person are reasons many people struggle in this area. Somewhere, we got the message- especially women- that nice people don’t set boundaries. WHAAAAAAAT?? Nice people who can’t say no are some of the most stressed out exhausted people I know.
So let’s dispel the myth that you can’t be a nice person and set boundaries… because it’s a little like saying you can’t have water, or air to breathe. Boundaries are essential to living a good, healthy and productive life. (And we don’t need boxing gloves to accomplish them.)
In my experience both personally and professionally, setting boundaries results in feeling more in control of our lives, business, and relationships. Consistent boundary setting allows us to say yes when we really mean yes, and no, where and when we realize we don’t have the time, mental capacity or resources to do the thing being asked of us.
Now, does that mean we need to walk around saying no all the time? Does it mean we need to duke it out to get our needs met? Of course not.
What it does mean is that we need to be more aware and discerning. For example, if I have just volunteered for a project that is taking 10 extra hours in my week, and my brother-n-law calls and needs my time “right now”, I may need to say no.
One technique I might utilize if I want to help him but I am not available in his timing, is called counter offering. That would entail telling my brother-n-law, “No, I cannot help you now, but I can be available to you tomorrow at noon. Will that work?” Now it is up to him to consider whether his request for my time and assistance can wait, or if he needs to ask someone else to help who might be available sooner.
I set a boundary when I state I am not available now… and then serve up a counter offer.( Side note- not every boundary needs to be accompanied with a counter offer.)
Boundaries with teams and in the workplace work much the same way. It may sound like… “Which of these 3 tasks is priority so I know which one to address first?” We may need to ask more questions to gain clarity to know exactly what kind of boundary we need to set.
At home with the kiddos, roommate or spouse, it will be to your benefit to schedule your work hours and let the household know when you will not be available.( Decision followed by boundary setting). You might decide for example to work between 8-noon, take a 2 hour break to have lunch with your loved one(s), play, engage, and then go back to work from 2-5 for example.
The more you act as if you are walking into your work building or place of business, and then use that time to focus completely on work, the better this will go.
Other tips and tricks to set and stand firm with your boundaries:
Put a sign on your office door like you would if you were at work… that indicates your work hours. A “do not disturb”sign or one that says “cave time” can work as a visual reminder for others in your home. If someone knocks on your door, a gentle reminder that this is your work time ought to suffice. Let others know when you will be available. For the littles, put up a “red light” sign when you are not available and a “green light” when it is ok to knock on the door.
Honor your own boundaries. Don’t take personal calls or visitors during your work hours. Think about how you work best, schedule accordingly and act as if the only way you get paid is by following that schedule! Additionally, the more you stick to the schedule you will notice that the new schedule becomes habit, and provides a sense of predictability during this chaotic time. The greatest benefit is ending the day feeling accomplished rather than frustrated.
Do not allow others to lure you away with their agendas- Your work hours are yours. If you keep making exceptions for every little thing your kids/ mate want you to do, you will train them that your boundaries are not really boundaries, but rather lines of suggestion that can be easily moved.
Plan ahead. Will the children need snacks mid morning? Set them out and ensure they are within reach. Additionally, anticipating needs and providing what others may need in advance of your work time can prevent many knocks on your office door. Plan for your own needs as well such as stashing healthy snacks in your work space.
Practice calmly saying no, or not now- so that you retrain your brain that boundary setting is a necessity. Understand it may feel uncomfortable at first, so remind yourself that you are doing something essential for your own health and wellbeing. Do let the people around you know what they can expect from you and when.
Most people will respect your boundaries and be happy to know exactly what is and isn’t ok with you. People appreciate when they don’t have to guess what you are thinking, or what you really want or need. Additionally, boundary setting models for our children that the world does not revolve around them and that sometimes people have to wait- an essential life skill .
We can set boundaries in healthy ways without a fight to get our needs met. Look mom, no gloves.