How to practise setting boundaries

Whether you’re a senior professional in a large corporation or an entrepreneur working independently, the boundaries between ‘work’ and ‘life’ are getting more and more blurred. This has been particularly evident during the pandemic, as more people have been working from home than ever before. In fact, I’m a big fan of the idea of work-life integration rather than the more prevalent construct of ‘work-life balance‘. However, integrating work into your life does not mean a complete lack of boundaries. Setting healthy boundaries is all the more important for that integration to work for you. And yet it can be so difficult to set those boundaries and, above all, to stick to them. So let’s take a look at how to practise setting boundaries.

Why are strong boundaries so important?

First, though: why is it important to set boundaries at all?

Well, boundaries allow you to protect what’s important. That can mean carving out personal time with your family, preserving your mental health, maintaining healthy relationships… Ultimately, it means staying true to who you are and living your life with integrity.

To understand how important it is to set boundaries, you need only look at what happens when you don’t have them. When there’s a lack of boundaries or only poor boundaries in place, the symptoms are likely to include feeling drained of energy, as if you’re not in control of your own time or priorities, and you’re also likely to feel resentful and being taken advantage of. Although you’re the one allowing this to happen, it’s easy to blame others. That ‘other’ might be a demanding boss, or an unreasonable client, or someone in your personal life who is taking you for granted.

What do good boundaries look like?

Okay, so what kind of boundaries are we talking about?

Taking the example of working from home, setting healthy boundaries can start with actual physical boundaries. For example:

  • Designate an area in your house where you’ll do your work. When you’ve finished for the day, pack away your documents, shut down your laptop, and shut the door to that room altogether.
  • Turn off the notification on your email application while you’re working on an important project or presentation.
  • Set your phone to silent or turn it off entirely when evening comes and you’re having dinner, storytime with the kids, or date night.

There are also professional boundaries that need to be set with your colleagues, managers, direct reports, or with your clients if you have your own business:

  • Define your ‘office hours’ when you can be reached, and when you’re not available. Traditionally, office hours would be Monday to Friday ‘9 to 5’ but you get to define what that looks like.
  • Specify how you want to communicate – is email the best way or would you prefer people to pick up the phone? Are you available on chat or WhatsApp or is that for family and friends only?
  • How much are you willing to give to your work and your clients, and does the scope of your responsibilities end?

There are also more subtle mental and emotional boundaries. For example:

  • Draw a line between your work persona or your professional personal brand on the one hand and your whole personal self that comes to the fore in your private life.
  • Be clear on what you’re happy to share in a work or business context and what is private.
  • Understand who are your close friends who can be trusted with intimate insights and who in your broader circle doesn’t need to know the ins and outs of your personal situation.

How to practise setting boundaries

Now that you have an idea of what kind of boundaries might be helpful in your life and career, what next? How do you practise setting the boundaries that will make sense for you? And how will you make sure they are respected?

  1. Decide on your boundaries – It might sound obvious, but the first step has to be to decide on those people and things that are most important to you, what are your non-negotiables, and where you’re willing to compromise. That means you must clarify what the boundaries are as well as whether they’re completely fixed and immovable or rather a little flexible when necessary. People are more likely to respect your boundaries if you show a willingness to compromise in a true emergency.
  2. Proactively and assertively communicate those boundaries – It’s no good having boundaries that no one is aware of. Clients and colleagues will learn to respect your boundaries if they understand what they are (and why they are important). They’ll probably even be inspired to put in place some of their own!
  3. Learn to say “no” to protect those boundaries – These are your boundaries, and you’re in control here. People will continue to push and test the boundaries (like toddlers!) if they can get away with it. Learn to say “no” politely but firmly.

What boundaries do you already have in place? What additional boundaries could you implement? And how will you set them?

Would you like help with how to practise setting boundaries in your life and business? Get in touch and we can look at how I can help you do just that.

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