How to Set Work-Life Boundaries 

We were people before we were workers.  

Though our work is meaningful, it’s not who we are. Our life outside of work matters, and family, health and individual pursuits are central to our well-being. 

When professional obligations bleed into every available moment, it takes a toll on employees’ lives, and prevents them from doing their best work. To move forward, agencies need well-balanced, well-rested, inspired employees, not burned-out ones.   

With that in mind, we’ve compiled a few boundary suggestions to help you remain connected to your life, while still being responsible to your agency. 

We’ve also put together a quick survey so that you can assess each tactic based on two criteria: Effectiveness (would it work for you) and feasibility (would it be acceptable in your workplace). 

Time-block Tasks 

Be realistic about the time your tasks will take, mark that time on your calendar and stick to it. 

“Reviewing what needs to be done can feel like time-wasting, but planning and procrastination are two very different things,” articulated a set of guidelines by Spaces.  

Time-blocking helps you and your colleagues understand your constraints — which increases the odds that you can actually get your work done during the workday and not have to open up the laptop in the evening. 

Build Downtime Into Your Calendar 

Block out: your lunch break, your exercise time, breaks you need for your kids or pets. Schedule your meditation time. Breaks support your physical and mental health, and they also help your energy level when you return to work. 

In general, experts say that for each half hour of sitting at a desk and concentrating, you should take several minutes to stand up and move around.  

Delegate Tasks 

Sometimes it just seems easier to do everything yourself. Maybe it is in the short term, because you don’t have to explain to someone else what to do and evaluate their work. But if you give extra attention to delegation now, you’ll reap the rewards in the future when you can count on another person to help you carry the burden. Teamwork also makes for a stronger team. 

An Indeed boundary-setting article emphasized the point: “This can help you focus on other more important tasks and allow the daily operations of your workplace to run smoothly.” 

Be Specific About How You Communicate 

Choose your work-related channels carefully, whether it’s e-mail, instant messaging or something else. If you need to be in touch with your colleagues by cell phone, request a phone for work, and keep the work-related apps on the professional phone and off the personal one.  

A TED ideas post offered the following wisdom: 

“Perhaps we don’t want to be contacted by our work colleagues via WhatsApp, text message or social media because we prefer to use those with our close friends and family. Creating a list of non-negotiables helps us uncover what’s important to us, and from them we can create, communicate and negotiate boundaries to support and shield our priorities.” 

Establish Boundaries at Home 

Don’t take your laptop home, unless you work remotely. Remote workers should put professional devices away during off time. Do not check your email during non-work hours, and turn off your professional phone, so you aren’t tempted to break your own boundaries. (Exceptions for those in emergency roles.) 

Success is not made of the emails you answered two hours after work ended. Success comes from showing up the next day well-rested and ready to perform your job. 

Say ‘No’ So You Can Say ‘Yes!’ 

When you’re asked to do something in addition to what’s already on the schedule, ask if it’s worth giving up something else. There will be an exchange. If it’s worth a sacrifice, you can say “yes.” But that sacrifice should not be eating, exercising, sleeping, or seeing your family.  

When you say “no,” you are saying “yes” to your prior responsibilities. 

“It’s important to understand how to say no politely in work situations, as it allows you to maintain boundaries,” offered Indeed guidelines. “While some may find this difficult, try to remember that it’s acceptable to decline some requests.” 

In Summary: Tend Your Own Garden 

Just as good fences make good neighbors, as the poet Robert Frost wrote, good boundaries make healthy employees. 

As people and workers, we need boundaries to keep us content and to let us know where our areas of responsibility begin and end. We can’t take care of every plot of land we can see. We can take care of what’s ours to take care of, and we can help our neighbors, as long as everyone understands where the fence stands. Those firm divisions enable us to continue growing our careers and healthy personal lives. 

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