Do you struggle to set boundaries at work (and then uphold them!) because you are an ambitious perfectionist who is:
- uber responsible (you don’t want to displease)
- focussed on high quality (you have elevated standards)
- avoiding failure (you’re experiencing imposter syndrome and don’t want to let on…)
If so, your boundary challenges may show up as:
Boundaries with work: you’re overworking, and typically work weekends and evenings.
Boundaries at work: there are interpersonal dynamics with colleagues, your department chair, students and others that create tension.
As a starting place, it’s helpful to see where you have more ease with boundary-setting; and, conversely, where you find it more difficult.
5 strategies to set boundaries at work
If your work boundaries aren’t what you need or want them to be, here are 5 strategies that can help.
1. Implement start and stop times for work
When you’re a high-achiever, your (massive) to-do list often rules your days. This translates into long days directed at knocking things off the list. As a result, you may find yourself getting up early, working late, and still feeling like you’ve got so much to do.
Setting a start and stop time to your work day can be helpful; and combining that with an entry and exit ritual can further facilitate the transition in of out of work. For example, one client of mine does two sun salutations at the beginning of her work day, while another takes his dog for a walk. Another lights a candle when she stops working and one of my clients closes the laptop and utters “[Name], you’ve put in a good day of work. Well done!”.
2. Determine whether you want work-free evening and weekends
For some folxs, working on weekends relieves stress and pressure and helps them prepare for the week ahead. Others determinedly protect their weekends and evenings from work because working then would build resentment or erode their mental health.
You get to decide what is most supportive of your self and needs.
3. Do deep work
Many of my coaching clients note that their time is consumed with busy work that, though necessary, feels unsatisfying when it becomes all they do.
If you crave doing focussed, meaningful work (what Dr. Cal Newport calls Deep Work), you need to schedule it into your calendar and fiercely protect that time. If you continuously do the former (schedule) but not the latter (carry through), ask yourself: “What am I avoiding?” In my experience, many perfectionists end up filling that protected (so called) time with busy work because there are elements of focussed work that stirs up fears around performance and they fret they won’t be able to live up to their standards.
4. Limit notifications
A lot has been written about the benefits on health, creativity and productivity which come about by turning off and limiting notifications (i.e., Five Reasons to Take a Break from Screens or How to Keep Work Notifications From Taking Over Your Life). This is an approach to boundary setting that I am highly committed to and that is easy for me to implement (unlike #1 and #2).
Here’s what ‘limit notifications’ looks like for me:
- turn off visual and auditory signals for email (always)
- turn off all sounds on phone for incoming texts (always)
- turn off all other notifications on phone, aside from text messages (always)
- when doing focussed work, I have a “no checking messages” policy, i.e., I don’t check emails and my phone is off.
5. Nurture healthy relationships
The work we do is typically both process oriented and social; and while I recognize not everyone thrives on the social aspect, nurturing quality relationships has multiple benefits, including a positive impact on your boundaries at work. For example, when you already have an established relationship built on trust and mutual respect, it will be much easier to say “no” to a colleague’s request if your plate is full. Similarly, it will be easier to communicate about your needs and limits. Having relationships also enables you to deal with conflict more easily when it arises.
Some of the ways you can foster healthy relationships are:
- mindfully communicate
- support your co-workers
- show appreciation
- ask questions
- take an interest in your colleagues work, hobbies etc
- practice mindful listening
- be reliable
- avoid gossip
Over to you
As you review the above strategies and think about your own challenges with boundary-setting at work, which strategy do you feel drawn to applying? Remember that boundaries rarely get erected on their own: you will build your own by identifying what matters and then implementing strategies that support you in achieving that.
If setting and upholding boundaries is something you struggle with, my coaching support can definitely help with that. In fact, my clients have experienced a lot of success in this area! Successes include: clarifying priorities and acting upon these; limiting practices that lead to overwork; greater self-compassion; successfully saying “no”; identifying strengths and working with these, etc. Book your complimentary consultation here: isabeauiqbal.com/contact or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Photo credit: Capped X, https://www.pexels.com/photo/bird-flying-art-sign-9990178/