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5 ways working mums can set healthy boundaries at work

Have we become a generation of working women who will enforce boundaries at home but not at work? Get those boundaries in place to stay productive and stay sane at work!

Wednesday 3pm 

“Helen, Susan has just really pissed me off and I don’t know how I am not going to lose it with her. Have you got 10 minutes?” 

“Sure, let’s go have a chat” (becomes half an hour)

Wednesday 7pm

 “Mum, can you just show me how to do my homework/ help me fix this/make me a snack /play monopoly with me” (god i dread that one – i always try to negotiate for Cluedo as it doesn’t go on FOREVER)

“No Cara I can’t, I’m working.”

Sound familiar?

A while back I decided to do a mental audit. How often do I say no to my kid for versus how often do I say no to my boss/ colleagues/ team at work? The answer wasn’t pretty.

Lockdown took that scenario and exploded it on steroids. Where the boundary between work and home was already blurred, increasingly thanks to the arrival of mobile technology, it basically got blasted out of the water in 2020.  Working mums have spoken to me of the long days they are still working remotely and of hours spent on back to back Zoom meetings with no break in between.  What strikes me is this: have we become a generation of working women who will enforce boundaries in their parenting but are not able to in the workplace?

Here are my 5 tips for maintaining good boundaries at work:

  • Activity list audit. 

As a productivity consultant I would do this often – make lists of where people departments spent time and analyse it to see where there is waste. Your calendar and to do list only tell half the story. For just a couple of days jot down everything you do on top of what your diary says. Then take a look:

  • Where did you do stuff you could have done without?
  • Where did you do stuff that took way longer than it should (meetings being classic)

Spot those patterns and then resolve what you are going to stop or shorten going forward

  • Set clear limits and communicate them

Honestly, how effective are your hour long meetings? Can you establish the half hour meeting rule

Block out time in your diary as a “do not disturb”- turn down meeting requests, switch off the email, turn off the phone and concentrate

Have the “chat” that someone needs but be clear that you have 10 minutes

  • Slow it down

I am hyper responsive. Running a contact centre my team was trained on dealing with difficult people and I would, of course, get the worst of the worst escalated to me. These people, no matter how reasonably you responded to them would always come back for more, instantly. I learned a trick that I then applied to more of my work. I simply delayed responding for 24 hours. It is SO counterintuitive for me but I learnt how powerful it is. You see by slowing it down it gave more room for the person to find a solution themselves and by the time I responded with a “do you want to talk about it” they would more often respond “no, it’s all sorted now”. Half an hour saved ✔

  • Just say “no”

After the Christchurch terrorist attacks I worked night and day for weeks as my team responded to people reporting online content. It was complex, ever changing and stressful work. Two weeks in I finally get a day off and am at the beach with my daughter. I get a call from the office – One News want a TV interview on a really important subject for us. The CEO and Marketing Director are both awol, no one can get hold of them and we have to respond. I looked at my daughter playing, at my beach shorts and t shirt and make up free face and did something alien to me – I said “no”.

At the end of the day the media team and CEO had dropped the ball in being unprepared, both my colleagues were renowned for not picking up their phone/ emails and I was always the rescuer. So I applied the “Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine” rule.

Did anyone think badly of me for saying “no”? No

Were they a bit grumpy? Yes but they knew they lost the opportunity not me

Did they learn that Helen will push back? Yes

Did they call me for media on a Saturday again? No

  • Be clear on your alternative

Nature loves a vacuum, right. And if you give space for more work to creep in, then it will. Set good rituals and routines which mean you simply HAVE to switch off as you have promised to do something else:

Book a workout with a mate in the evening

Agree to always read the bedtime story

Let your husband chuck your phone in another room and make a regular date time to finish watching Killing Eve.

But we will talk more about that phone and its ability to drain time from you in week four. 
So there you have it – 5 tips for maintaining healthy boundaries at work. Remember – list it, limit it, slow it, say no to it and replace it.

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