New technologies, flexible work environments, and other forms of modern-day freedom are awesome! They make our lives (and jobs) easier and more pleasant. Still, these perks come with a few downsides. It often gets hard to grasp just how to set work-life boundaries and draw the line between being agreeable and completely burnt out.
Let’s be honest: revisiting the (same ol’) key points that lead to a healthy work-life balance already feels like a hot trend rather than an actual necessity. But that’s not it. Because some steps, notions, and actions are inevitable if we want a successful career and a gratifying personal life.
So, let’s see how we can create personal and professional boundaries and avoid exhaustion, worries, and overwork.
Work-life boundaries: meaning & importance
Sometimes, we fill in for a colleague. And other times – we still agree to fill in, even though we really don’t feel like it. It’s not uncommon for people to say yes to extra long working hours either. And at times, these situations start to pop up more than before.
So, how to filter these assignments and added responsibilities? How to go around the barn when it comes to carrying out different tasks that could easily overwhelm and crush you? Well, it has to do with setting boundaries.
So, what are work-life boundaries? In short, boundaries can be defined as your physical, mental, and emotional limits that help you avoid over-committing. Basically, they can be categorized as external or internal. The first type is easy to spot and understand. It usually comes from drawing a line regarding personal space, time, and everything that involves the outside world (workplace included). The second one feels a bit more mystified. It regulates how you feel, think, and act. But here’s the key point: strong internal boundaries generally come with self-respect and an uncompromising attitude toward other people’s unreasonable requests.
Benefits of setting healthy work-life boundaries
Creating work-life boundaries that suit you is vital. It will help you dodge and/or manage perpetually urgent emails, panic-fused meetings, and non-stop increasing workloads. It’s not about being stubborn or rebellious. And it’s not about the lack of interest or procrastination. On the contrary: knowing how to maneuver your free time + responsibilities will help you stay focused. It will keep you calm, motivated, and productive. So, in a way, setting a boundary or two is a recipe for a more engaged workforce, too, meaning that employers should praise this approach as well.
Here are a few more advantages you’ll enjoy:
⏳ Learning to value your time, efforts, and preferences and boosting your confidence by doing so,
🤝 Building strong relationships with colleagues, leaders, and bosses based on mutual respect,
🎯 Reaching your aims and ultimately getting paid more.
By knowing your limits and being open about them, you will manage your time more effectively and preserve a whole lot of energy.
How to set healthy boundaries at work to avoid burnout
So, what are healthy boundaries at work? For once, they mean steering clear of overdoing and burning out while still managing to be motivated and efficient. And the first step you must take in order to establish them is to identify and manage your priorities. First, prioritize your assignments at work. Then, learn to do the same with your free time. Sure, you want to gain amazing results and move your career forward. And of course, you’re very fond of the salary, right? But your job is not the (only) first concern. Your hobbies and your loved ones should never be neglected due to extra long working hours. So, strive not to over-commit. And don’t say yes to everything. In fact…
Learn to say “no.”
Although Jim Carrey has taught us tons of useful stuff, the Yes Man resolutions don’t necessarily apply to our daily jobs. So here’s a healthy work-life boundary example – feel free to politely decline a meeting during your lunch break. You could do the same with an ad-hoc assignment that doesn’t match your schedule and requires some extra work (which interferes with your personal time and space). By learning to say no, you’ll keep your goals within reach and at the very top of your priorities list.
Also, some water cooler talk might feel like crossing the line. The same goes for happy Friday activities via Zoom or in person. If your personal life is brought up and that makes you uncomfortable, come up with a gentle way to dodge those convos. Stick to conversations you prefer, and say no to what makes you uneasy.
The barriers we won’t cross at work or while interacting with people on our own time vary depending on multiple factors. But the main one is our (unique) personality. So, don’t expect your teammates to read your mind and act accordingly. If you feel like certain lines could be crossed, speak up. Or, better yet, let your colleagues know in advance what you’re all about and what would be a major limit-bender.
So, if you’re used to going offline at a certain time each day, be sure that your team knows and respects it. Also, make it clear that you don’t answer emails during the weekend or after hours. But surely – you may choose to make an exception or two. And that means that you also need to communicate what an emergency situation really is.
Now, you don’t want to come off as inaccessible or plain rude. Being there for your colleagues throughout the day should be imperative. That way, you’ll all learn, grow, and thrive. And it’s best to say it out loud. Plus, if it feels like you’re the one who’s not getting enough support, convey the message timely.
How do you set boundaries when working from home?
Remote jobs come with a great deal of flexibility, autonomy, and freedom. Plus, there are other major benefits that all telecommuters enjoy, such as reduced time in traffic, lower costs, and even higher salaries (according to studies). Also, companies that let their employees work remotely thrive on all sorts of perks – from a more successful recruitment process to better retention rates.
But there’s an unpopular truth that has to be acknowledged: managing work-life boundaries in the digital age is often tricky. And it’s particularly challenging when being part of a team that’s scattered across different areas and time zones. But that’s not the sole stumbling block to overcome. Remote workers also need to have a boundary (or a few) with partners, housemates, and/or other family members.
Luckily, there are a few tested ways to overpower each kind of deep water that your work-from-home has tossed you in.
Step one: set up a workspace
Freelance, remote & all flexible talents know the struggle: on-site work is (more often than not) not a favored option. But something that resembles an actual office is more than welcome. And it’s not essential to set up an environment like this just because it matches your tie… that matches your sweatsuit and slippers. It’s crucial because it gets you right in the workspace mode. Plus, it helps you steer clear of numerous distractions.
So, that’s the basic rule to go by: strive to pick a room with a door for your home office. However, we all know that many people can’t just occupy a whole chamber and turn it into a laptop cave. Now, if an entire room is out of the question, just choose one corner or whichever area suits you best. The key here is to have a single, dedicated space to work in so that you won’t be scattering your duties throughout the day & household.
Step two: create a schedule (and stand by it!)
If you worked hard to land a remote job (and intend to keep it & enjoy the freedom that comes with it), it’s essential that you learn how flexible the working hours truly are. Ask these questions while you’re in the interviewing phase. Because, later on, you will need a burnout-proof daily schedule made to match your needs and the company’s policies. This is particularly vital if you are a parent or if you have a side gig or two to juggle.
Now, whichever the case is, and whichever your core working hours, you should use a calendar and a to-do list that will help you create a healthy and suitable routine that you’ll stick to. Then, you will know when to take a break, when you’re most productive, and when it is the best time to pause, chill, or run errands.
Remember – you must make time for social interactions too. Without a clear as a bell cue that your workday is done (hint: you’re leaving the office), it gets tough to know when enough is enough. Actually, studies show that 23% of remote workers tend to stay longer than their on-site colleagues. But no one needs you to be online: forever. So don’t turn flexibility into over-committing.
And here are a few more useful tricks for productivity and setting work-life boundaries when working remotely:
- Know when you need some “uninterrupted time” and be clear about it; put these blocks in your calendar too,
- Book some check-ins with colleagues and make them a regular thing,
- Learn which days work best for you when it comes to online meetings,
- Avoid scheduling every single second of your day and leave some extra time for duties that might require a quick chat with a teammate.
Finally, having a morning routine helps. Get a coffee, take a shower, get dressed, or… whatever you would do before going to an actual office. Be ready to put yourself in a working mode while doing things that feel good.
Key point: Out of sight = out of mind.
Sometimes, setting your Slack status as “away” doesn’t do the trick. Yes, the external boundary is set. But our internal boundary might shift slightly to the right and fill our heads with potential solutions and other work-related content. We’ll feel tempted to postpone a personal agenda to take a quick glance (that’s rarely really quick) at our screen. So, just: no! When you log off, be sure that your laptop stays in the designated working area – and that you don’t. Do what you would normally do after a long day at the office.
Step three: get ready for multiple quick (and longer) breaks
When going about your daily schedule, don’t forget to make some room for a proper meal. Your lunch break is non-negotiable! Whether it’s a quick microwave snack or going out to a nearby restaurant, this type of break is a) nutritious, b) delicious, and c) absolutely necessary for you to pause. So, even if it’s a hectic Monday with tons of check-ins and follow-ups on your agenda, don’t skip it.
Now, some research shows that it’s best to take a break every 52 minutes. That way, you will finish a significant chunk of your task/tasks and then reward yourself with a nice sprint of doing absolutely nothing for up to 17 whole minutes. On the other hand, we have the Pomodoro technique. This popular (and very much tested) productivity-boosting framework advocates for taking brief five-minute breaks every 25 minutes.
What to do during these recesses? While there’s nothing wrong with surfing aimlessly, the ideal solution is to either go for a stroll or stand by a window and watch the green surfaces that will rest your eyes and brain. Fuel your mind and surprise your gluteus by not sitting for hours and hours. Or, reach out for a snack that will give some extra energy to your body + intellect (disclaimer: a chicken salad > a donut).
Super-long breaks are needed, too: take your free time & vacation seriously.
It’s your day off. The alarm isn’t set, the coffee tastes a bit better than usual, and everything around you is just perfect. But there are those two, three, or seventeen emails you should answer. Because if you don’t, this huge shadow will just keep hovering above your free time. Or will it?
As part of your guide on how to set (healthy) work-life boundaries, strive not to tune in on your days off. Whether it’s a weekend or a longer vacation, make sure to let go of those job-related duties. Breathe, recharge, and take extra care of your mental health and well-being. Unplug & enjoy.
Learn how to set work-life boundaries & get things done – without compromising you!
When it comes to both remote and on-site jobs, it’s vital (in order to keep a healthy lifestyle & stay well) to set some personal and professional boundaries. So, start with the basic steps we all must take. And, if you work from home, be sure to go the extra mile and work (even more) thoroughly on your internal boundaries. Plus, don’t fail to customize the environment you work in so that it matches your needs, routines, and habits.
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