Setting boundaries can be tough business.
First you need to establish what they actually are and then you have to enforce them. Sometimes it’s easier to just be a yes-person and save the hassle, right? Ahh, sorry but you couldn’t be more wrong! Don’t believe us? Don’t worry, we can prove it.
Whether you’re an established business with employees or working on a side hustle for some extra cash, it’s important to remember you’re allowed to say no, even if it comes with some level of FOMO. We recently partnered with our accounting software BFFs at Xero to discuss how to set and keep healthy boundaries at work. With the help of Xero’s Global Head of Wellbeing, Lucas Finch, we learned what skills are needed to have autonomy over how we work and how to be clear with our boundaries. Missed out on the masterclass? That’s a huge bummer, but don’t stress, we’ve summarised the best bits from our chat to share with you below.
When it comes to boundaries, Lucas says his number one tip is to name them to tame them. Your boundaries can be anything from not checking work emails after hours to skipping overnight business trips unless absolutely necessary. And by articulating what your boundaries are, even just to yourself, you have the power to enforce them. A boundary consists of two key elements, territory and belonging.
It’s important to create and understand your physical and psychological territories. Whether that be where you work and the time in which you do it, allocating awareness to these things helps you establish where and when your boundaries are set.
We have an innate sense of belonging to our tribes – including our family, friends, community or even colleagues – and this often impacts our ability to set and maintain boundaries as we’re afraid it will result in us not belonging to the group. Lucas reminded us that it’s imperative to make a stand for what you want to accept, and understand this can come at a cost. Many people don’t always respect boundaries, and perhaps they aren’t worth keeping around – if you’re lucky enough to choose.
Lucas pointed out that the pandemic has resulted in a collapse of our boundaries. Our role as employee/partner/mother/dog walker/everything else we are has been sucked into one place – our homes. We don’t have the walk to the cafe downstairs to unwind from the meeting, the train ride or drive home to process the day, and the energy to play Lego with the kids for another hour because our routines and rituals have disappeared. We often have different versions of ourselves between home and work, and shifting between the two can be quite the challenge.
So what now?
Lucas advised we follow two simple rules:
Rule #1 Define your territory
Understand what it is you want. Then communicate it and do it with definite language. Swap ‘I can’t work after 5 pm’ to ‘I don’t work after 5 pm.’ Be assertive and clear and as he shared, ‘put your oxygen mask on first before helping others.’ Focus on setting boundaries around the things that drain your energy when looking to define your territory and go from there.
Rule #2 Implement the automatic door closer
We only have a finite amount of willpower and often by the end of the day, we’ve become a bit of a pushover. Lucas recommends we look to simple automation methods when it comes to the parts of our jobs we hate and how to remove the emotional stress it associates. He shared the story of a hairdresser who was inundated with booking requests when the lockdowns were lifted. She felt drained and stressed that she was receiving so many requests, despite her telling clients she was fully booked. Instead of responding to each email, she decided to create an automatic response which stipulated she was fully booked and their request would be added to her waiting list. She no longer felt the pressure to extend her working day beyond what she was comfortable to do and she always had clients on standby should another cancel at the last minute.
Hate meetings like we do?
Sometimes we feel our days are spent clicking from Zoom to Zoom or meeting to meeting without actually being able to get any work done. Lucas shared that it’s a great idea to reconsider your company’s meeting hygiene.
Red flags include:
- Are there too many people in the meeting for everyone to be able to effectively contribute? The magic number is a limit of 7 attendees for maximum efficacy
- Is there a clear agenda set?
- Is there a prescribed note taker?
- Have you asked if you actually need to attend or can it be recorded/the notes be emailed after?
By setting clear boundaries, you’re giving yourself an ability to say yes to the things most important to you. Just remember we have the door handle on the inside of our territory, and those outside do not determine who and what comes through – only you do.
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