Boundaries are possibly one of the most important and overlooked aspects of time management.
Without them, it’s virtually impossible to control and protect your time and achieve a good balance between work and home life.
And yet many of us neglect to set them and this could be part of why attempts at getting to grips with time management so often fail.
Here are ten ways to set healthy boundaries at work that will allow you to control your time more efficiently, increase your productivity and hopefully, be happier in your work and life generally.
1. Know the importance of boundaries
For the majority of us, work takes up a huge chunk of our lives.
But that does not mean it has to take priority over our mental and physical health, our relationships and our personal interests and pursuits.
Although what we do for a living is part of what makes us us, it should not be what defines us as people.
As such, it is important that work doesn’t become all-consuming and infiltrate every waking hour of our days.
And for that reason, setting and protecting boundaries is vital.
You can stop working at a certain time each day.
You can leave your desk to eat lunch and take breaks.
You should be able to protect your personal time and not be accessible 24/7.
You should expect to be treated respectfully by co-workers and clients.
But sometimes, if you don’t make a point of setting these boundaries, you’ll find that other people will set them for you, which results in a loss of control over your own time and basically, your life.
You’ll end being overcommitted, overextended, drained and stressed out.
Not a good scenario.
So that is why boundaries are so important when it comes to guarding your time.
2. Give yourself permission
Protecting your boundaries in a work situation may feel difficult or awkward.
As an employee, you might be fearful about how you’re perceived by your co-workers and your immediate managers.
And there’s always the potential for conflict if not handled correctly.
But remember that you have a right to protect and manage your own time and by doing so, you’ll be a much better, happier anymore productive co-worker and employee.
You will have doubts, but give yourself permission to set and protect your boundaries.
3. Know Your Role
If you are not clear on your job responsibilities, it creates the potential to spend time focusing on the wrong tasks, i.e. low-value tasks that do very little to contribute towards the overall purpose of your role.
Be clear on exactly what your job entails and which part of it provides the most valuable contribution and focus in those areas.
Delegate or dismiss the rest and don’t be too quick to take on extra work from others.
You don’t report to everyone in the office.
4. Know what is important to you
Understanding your values and what is important to you allows you to establish where you would like to set boundaries.
For example, spending time with friends or family may be a highly important part of your life, so you will want to implement some strict boundaries that ensure time is not robbed from you to do that. In this case, it might be not working overtime or not taking your laptop home at weekends.
Figure out your rules and set boundaries accordingly.
5. Set boundaries at home
One of the most overstepped boundaries these days is the one between work and home life. Laptops, smartphones and tablets have made a lot of work convenient and super-flexible, but they’ve also blurred the lines between work and personal time.
You must draw a hard line between the two.
That means making a commitment not to check emails, answer the phone, work on reports, etc. Your family and friends deserve your full attention, so make sure the time you have allocated to them belongs to them and not your Inbox.
6. Learn to say ‘no’ more
Saying ‘no’ can be tough and in the workplace particularly, we’re sometimes reluctant to say ‘no’ for fear of being seen as lazy or being overlooked for a promotion, not being seen as a team player and creating resentment amongst co-workers. You might even be scared that it will get you fired.
But don’t apologize for saying ‘no’.
You can’t please everyone all the time and saying ‘yes’ to everything will only result in you becoming over-committed, which will kill your productivity and efficiency.
So stop trying to be a people pleaser and protect your time.
Check out this post: How To Say ‘No’
7. Communicate intentions clearly
Once you are clear on the boundaries you wish to set, you’ll need to communicate them to your co-workers clearly and confidently. A good place to start might be with a discussion with your immediate manager about your intentions and the reasons for setting boundaries.
Then you can speak with co-workers.
For example, if you have made it clear that you are only dealing with your Inbox once per day, your colleagues won’t get frustrated when they don’t receive a reply to their email straight away, as they know what to expect. You are managing their expectations, in other words.
Or if you don’t want to be called out of office hours unless it is an emergency, be clear on exactly what constitutes an emergency.
Always communicate your requests and hard ‘nos’ honestly and clearly. Don’t just set them up and keep them to yourself. Otherwise, they don’t work!
8. Stick to your schedule
If you’re serious about managing your time well, you need to operate using a schedule.
If you have this laid out each week and every hour of your day is blocked out for dedicated activities, it is much easier to protect your time.
Set it up and stick to it as much as possible.
Check out this post: How To Create A Schedule
9. Take Time Off
If you’re always working, people will assume that that is all you’ve got going on in life.
Make sure self-care and time with family take priority and don’t feel guilty about taking time off regularly. And schedule it!
10. Prepare for violations
Unfortunately, any boundaries you set can’t be physically manifested into 15-foot high steel walls topped with barbed wire, so there are going to be times when the lines get crossed.
Be prepared for when violations ultimately happen by visualizing how you will handle the situation.
That way, you’re emotions won’t get hijacked and you’ll be able to deal with it more rationally and calmly than if you were caught off guard and had not really thought about how to handle it before.
An example might be the boss sending you an email at the weekend requesting a last-minute report. Do you ignore it until Monday or reply that you are out with your family?
If you set a boundary, you should remain firm with it, but also accept that there may be occasions when some compromise is required.
Some flexibility in life is healthy, so don’t feel bad if you do cave in once in a while.
Just don’t make it a habit.
Time Hack Hero Takeaway
Setting boundaries takes a degree of courage and practice.
However, if you really want to be in charge of your own time, it’s an absolute necessity. If you don’t set an protect your boundaries, someone else will end up managing your time for you.