There’s been a lot of talk about boundaries lately, and for good reason. Having effective boundaries in place protects us from stretching ourselves too thin and taking our work home with us (which is a lot easier to do now that work is at home already).
Beneficial though they are, boundaries are hard to establish and maintain. We’re a culture of “yes people” and culture that treats exhaustion and burnout like badges of honor. (“What’s that? You were up all night working on a proposal and you haven’t gotten up from your desk or spoken to your family in 17 days? What a champ you are!”)
How can we protect ourselves from allowing work (or other outside obligations) to eat away at time that should be dedicated to ourselves, our families, and our health? It’s a 24/7 battle, but there are practices you can implement at each point in the day to help maintain your sanity.
Rise & Shine: Morning Boundaries
The morning is (usually) a calmer point in the day, which makes it a great candidate for personal wellness and/or quality family time. You always want to start your day with a morning routine. Having a routine gives you some predictability and empowers you to start your day on your own terms.
Your routine can include whatever you want (stretching, prayer, walking, family breakfast, etc.) but it cannot include your phone. Checking your phone before you’ve started your day is an open invitation for external parties (the news, social media, your boss, etc.) to decide how your day begins. That’s your choice, not theirs.
Pro Tip: Resist the temptation to check your phone by turning off push notifications or by putting your phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode until you sit down to work.
Here’s something I struggle with: taking a lunch break. After all, I’m not being paid to eat!
But taking lunch (even if it’s just 20-30 minutes) is a productive use of time. You are (literally) feeding your brain and giving yourself the rest you need to take on the second half of your day. You are not doing anyone any favors by toughing it out through lunch and crashing at 3pm.
Pro Tip: Eat somewhere other than your designated workspace (more on space boundaries here). Eating at your desk means mindless, distracted eating, which leads to cravings later (not to mention the disappointment of looking down and realizing your sandwich has disappeared). You also don’t want form an association between food and a stressful work environment #stresseating.
Night Time is the Right Time (To Relax)
Evening hours are the hardest to maintain discipline around your boundaries. It is the most common time for folks to send emails they didn’t get a chance to during the workday. Add on people working in multiple time zones and you’ve got yourself a full inbox for dinner. How do we keep ourselves from becoming engrossed in email on our couches late at night?
To start, when you have finished your work for the day, close your computer, walk out of your designated workspace, and do not go back in. Start thinking about walking to your workspace (even if it is only 10 ft. away) as a “commute.” Would you ever drive back to the office to check a few emails? Didn’t think so.
Speaking of emails: Do not read or send them outside of business hours. Again, you can turn off notifications or enable “Do Not Disturb” mode to mitigate temptation. Remember, just because you receive an email at 10PM does not me you have to respond at 10PM. Why? Two reasons: 1) What realistically can be done to resolve an issue between 10PM and first thing in the morning? Unless something is literally on fire (in which case email would not be the preferred method of communication) it can wait; 2) Whenever you respond to an after hours email, you give the sender permission to do it again in the future. Don’t reinforce bad behavior.
Pro Tip: Most email platforms have a “Schedule Send” feature so if you must draft an email after hours, it won’t be sent until first thing in the morning
Boundaries are hard, but they’re worth it. Hopefully this has provided a useful framework to enforce your boundaries at all points in the day. How will you be preserve time for the things that are important to you? Let me know in the comments below!