Your ability to do your best work depends on your ability to create boundaries. That’s because you face two kinds of constraints: external ones, and internal ones. External constraints are things like having enough money and time, having the right tools, and having useful feedback. But you also have to deal with internal constraints, and it’s these that are often most neglected.
Your most important internal constraint is your level of motivation. You can only do great work if you’re motivated enough to care about doing great work. And this means creating boundaries around what you will and won’t do. If you can’t say no, you can’t be motivated
There is a lot of talk about boundaries at work these days. People talk about being “boundaryless,” about not wanting to have them. Some of this is just people being lazy: if you make it hard for people to be mean to each other, they may get less done. But some of it is people genuinely not seeing the point of boundaries, or at least of the good ones.
One of the most important things we have learnt along the line is the importance of boundaries and how to create them. Much of our time has been spent working on new ideas, and it’s often hard to do that while also keeping existing projects going. Over time RisePath has figured out a few tricks that help us work well within boundaries so we can get things done without making anyone unhappy.
Create Good Boundaries
A good boundary is one that helps you stay focused on what you’re working on without excluding input from others. It’s a way for you to say, “I’m working on this right now and need your input in order to succeed, but I’m not ready for your input yet.” This seems like a small thing but it makes a huge difference in getting things done without stepping on toes or creating frustration.
Temporal boundaries determine how you use your time at work
This includes things like deciding when you’ll start and end your day or take lunch, but also how you structure your time in the office, such as when you schedule meetings or answer emails.
Smarter temporal boundaries can help you be more productive and avoid burnout by ensuring you have “microbreaks” throughout the day. When we don’t schedule breaks, they often don’t happen — or they happen when we’re exhausted and need to call it quits for the day. Well-placed breaks are actually crucial for productivity because they help us recharge throughout the day, maintain focus and improve our moods.
- Stick to your schedule and boundaries.
For example, if you’re working from home for three days, tell your colleagues in advance that you will not be answering any calls or emails on those days. If you’re more comfortable with setting a cutoff time for the day when you will stop responding to emails, then do that.
But don’t go changing the rules on people. You can’t tell your team that you aren’t going to respond to emails after 5 p.m. and then expect them to call you during dinner because of some emergency. That’s just not fair.
- Create a schedule and stick with it.
One of the best ways to create boundaries is to start by creating a schedule and sticking with it. The schedule doesn’t have to be a rigid hour-by-hour plan, but it should include the time you plan to start in the morning, as well as when you plan on taking breaks throughout the day and when you plan to stop working for the night.
This will help you avoid spending too much time working or thinking about work when you’re not actually at work — which is one of the biggest challenges that many remote workers face.
- Set expectations for your colleagues and managers.
Another way to create better boundaries at work is to set expectations for your colleagues and managers. This can mean letting them know when you will be available during the day — and also when you won’t be available, whether that’s because you’re taking some vacation days or because you just don’t want to be disturbed between 7pm and 9pm every night so that you can spend time with your family.
- Treat your commute like a buffer between work and home life.
Don’t check emails or do anything else related to work during that time; just be present in the moment and relax! If possible, try not to think about work during your commute home either—focus on what’s coming up next instead: dinner with family members or friends perhaps? A movie? A workout? Make sure these things are scheduled so that they’ll happen no matter what happens at work today!
- Create an email strategy.
According to a study, an average office worker spends 28% of their workweek reading and answering emails — that’s 11 hours out of 40 hours a week! If you’re spending this much time on something that’s not even a part of your job description, then it’s time to start creating boundaries and setting limits.
If you don’t want to be bombarded with emails or notifications that you feel compelled to respond to immediately, set aside specific times throughout the day when you will read and answer emails or Slack messages. You can also create different email signatures so people know when they can expect a response from you and what priority level their message is. For example, if someone sends an email about a specific task, it probably needs your attention sooner than a general newsletter.
- Establish meetings in the morning (but don’t check email all day).
You can ask your team to use the first 15 minutes of each meeting to discuss what they accomplished yesterday and what they plan to do today. That way, people can stay focused on their work without worrying that they’re missing out on something important.
- Ask for support from your manager.
Your manager can help you create boundaries by setting expectations with senior leadership, other teams, and customers. And she should model those boundaries herself—if she starts sending emails after hours or on weekends, others are likely to do the same (even if it’s subconsciously).