Have you ever said yes to something you wish you had said no to, at work? Saying no at work seems overwhelming sometimes, but it doesn’t have to. It all depends on how you look at a situation and how you respond to it.
Setting healthy boundaries is about declaring for yourself what you will and won’t accept from other people. This could be tasks or projects or favors you are asked to do. For example, what if your boss comes to you with an exciting new project that you are truly interested in working on, but unfortunately are swamped with too many other projects. What do you do? Do you simply say yes and stress yourself over how you are going to get it all done, knowing that it will most likely mean extra hours? Or do you let your boss know your deep interest in this project and your need to schedule it or some of your other work at a different time?
Does the boss know how busy you are? One would think she does, but not every boss is an organized project manager. Many managers get promoted for technical skills rather than project management skills. If you happen to have one of those less organized bosses, it is incumbent upon you to communicate the status of your projects as soon as you start feeling too much pressure. Hopefully you and your boss are checking in weekly anyway. Believe it or not, your boss does not want to burn you out. It can cost the organization up to 200% of your salary to replace you, which includes many weeks of lost productivity.
Now what about those of you who are consultants? Setting healthy boundaries might be about not saying yes to everything a client asks of you or setting a boundary around your policies, or your schedule. When someone breaks one of your boundaries how do you communicate delicately to maintain the relationship? Maybe they have accidentally missed a deadline to send you some information you need to progress through a project. In that case you might send a “gentle reminder” or place an eloquent phone call. You never know what stress they are under and how hard it is to maintain their deadlines with you.
Here are some tips to help you set your healthy boundaries at work.
Boundaries with your boss
There are some positive ways to communicate your needs without really saying no. It’s more about communicating the status of the project and your limited available hours. Here’s one possible script, “This project sounds exciting, and I am excited to work on it. At this moment, my other projects are taking my full time and attention. How can we work together to make everything fit? Should we change my other deadlines? What else do you recommend?”
Boundaries for your self-care
Are you, like many workers in the Covid era loaded with back-to-back Zoom meetings? Zoom fatigue has become a real phenomenon. It is important to set a boundary with your time, such as, “I need to end the meeting by 5 minutes till the hour.” Use that five minutes to decompress, breathe for 60 to 90 seconds, or get up and walk around outside.
Boundaries with co-workers
What if someone on your team comes to you and asks you to do something you do not have time to do? Perhaps you try to negotiate or compromise. Or you say, “While I wish I could help you out, I’m sorry, but I can’t.” Just that simple. No over-explaining or suggesting other solutions.
Boundaries with your own schedule
Time management can be a huge source of stress, usually because you are overloaded, or you place too many demands on yourself. You may simply need help managing your time. Time management skills can help you reduce the emotional burden of being disorganized with your time. One thing I’ve started doing is blocking off chunks of 2-, 3-, or 4-hour windows to get my work done.
Estimating Time for projects
We all know that a large project or task needs to be broken down into smaller chunks. But how do you estimate how much time each section will take? If you are not sure, then try scheduling one hour each day for that task and after awhile you will begin to get a feel for what you can accomplish in one hour.
Another excellent suggestion is to do the most difficult or most important task first, at the beginning of the day while you are fresh. Importance may be defined by a deadline. If something is due on Friday, you naturally will be more driven to work on it Thursday if you have not already completed it by then. Deadlines have a way of motivating us.
Often we find ourselves procrastinating when we have a difficult project. One idea is to start that difficult project first thing in the morning when you are freshest.
Finally, ask yourself, “By the end of the day, I will feel satisfied and less stressed if I accomplish the following tasks.”
Some experts suggest your list contain no more than three to five major tasks each day. In her book, Attention Pays, Neen James reminds us, “you only have time to do what really matters.”
At the end of each day, think about how your day went in terms of boundaries you set with your co-workers, your manager, or yourself. And remember to pat yourself on the back when you have mastered your to-do list. Revel in the good feelings of completion of a difficult task. The brain likes a completion and you will feel better about your day and yourself.
Remember: you can’t take of your work, your team, or your family, if you do not take care of yourself.