Do you repeatedly feel burnt out? Or feel resentment or anger towards your work, especially for lacking a healthy life-work balance? These can be signs of poor boundaries, and learning to set healthier ones can help you build greater focus on your values whilst improving your wellbeing and work productivity so that both you and your employer are winners.
Setting business boundaries are just as critical as your personal or relational boundaries. Healthy boundaries can help you take control of your time, energy and ultimately get more done without getting burnt out.
What is a boundary?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a boundary is “something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent.”
This is an imagined line you set in your relationships and work to retain balance and prevent misunderstandings and burnout. Boundaries create a mutually beneficial safe space between yourself and others.
Once you set a boundary, it should be non-negotiable, so make sure to set meaningful boundaries from the get-go.
So, how do you set healthy boundaries? Here are five steps to get started.
1. Establish your values and what tasks add most value to your business
The first step to setting healthy boundaries is to establish your values. Do you value your time alone? What about your health, spirituality, and work? Is your family top priority? Even before the pandemic, studies show that bringing work home can negatively affect your family life, and studies show that work-family conflict affects all aspects of your life. Based on what values you prioritize, you should create boundaries to protect them.
This applies to what you value in work as well. What tasks at your business do you value, that can lead to success, and what tasks are less meaningful? For instance, you may realize that checking your email ten times a day does not add much value to your work. On average, you spend five hours a day checking email. Create a boundary for how often you will open your email, and it will save you time. Pop a total time limit on it too.
To create boundaries around tasks that add value to your business, mark off a few hours each day of uninterrupted time to work on the higher value tasks within your role and business. Protect that boundary by not scheduling any meetings during that time and avoiding other inefficient distractions (reactive calls, checking your WhatsApp frequently, etc).
Write down your top three to five values in your personal life, and the top three to five things you value with your work.
2. Evaluate how you are living your values
Based on what you wrote down, how well are you currently prioritizing these things? What do you need to do to better align with your values?
For example, are you spending too long in your physical or virtual office? Since the pandemic has forced many of us to work from home, the 9-5 schedule feels more like 24/7. Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index found that 54% of workers felt overworked, and one-fifth felt like employers didn’t care about work-life balance.
Recent research shows that this blurred work-life balance leads to an overall decrease in happiness and increased exhaustion. In the short run, answering work communications at all hours of the day can lead to an increase in productivity. But studies show that in the long run, it leads to more stress, less recovery time and ultimately negatively affects your work and happiness.
When working from home, you have no physical boundary for office hours, and so work time blends into personal time. Setting boundaries around your working hours is a good place to start to win back some free time and prevent burnout.
3. Choose one or two ways to improve
Selecting a whole new set of boundaries at once could be overwhelming for you and confusing for the people you work with. It is better to select one or two small improvements at a time. As evidenced with my Life Work Effect clients, adding one boundary or smarter habit each week for a month can have significant positive impact on work performance and life happiness.
Choose one boundary to focus on that appeals to one of the values you wrote down earlier. After a week, evaluate your progress and make any adjustments as necessary.
A few examples include:
- Set the hours you will work each day
- Don’t answer work correspondence out of your office hours
- Learn to say no to projects that don’t add value towards yours and the companies priorities
- Spend less time on non-essential tasks like checking emails too frequently
- When on vacation, digitally sign-off and stay off otherwise it is not a vacation!
4. Communicate clearly with others
Boundaries do not work as well unless you share them with others. Research from before the pandemic showed that even the expectation to answer work communications outside of office hours led to a decrease in wellbeing. A decrease in wellbeing decreases our work productivity, and quality of work, whilst it increases the risk of burnout which can have serious long term health impact.
Let others know when you will be available to connect. You can also include that information on your website, your email signature, or anywhere else clients may find it.
Additionally, it’s far more effective to communicate your boundaries upfront so that everyone knows the plan ahead of time. For instance, if you need to leave a meeting at a certain time, let your team know before you start. Taking a vacation? Let your clients know they cannot reach you and give them resources so they can confidently help themselves in your absence.
5. Stick to what you said the first time
Your boundaries will do you no good unless you stick with them because it allows the other party to continue overstepping. Set reminders on your phone and schedule out blocks of time so you can stick to your word.
Know that some people will challenge your boundaries. Some people view boundaries as an invitation to test the limits. But don’t let this take you off guard – you can choose to stick to your agreement or to concede if appropriate. The key is that you should always consider your values and make decisions true to those, especially when your health, happiness and career success are at risk of detriment.
If you do get pushback and decide to concede a bit, make sure to clarify if it is a one-time thing. It is also okay to say no. Sometimes, you have to say no to protect your values.
Remember that setting healthy boundaries is healthier for you and your business. Good luck, you’ve got this!
For further help or sounding board on any of these topics, you are welcome to contact me via https://www.darylwoodhouse.com/, or if you prefer through my linkedin profile here.