In today’s workplace, it can be tough to set boundaries. You may feel as if you’re expected to answer emails at all hours of the day and night or that you have to take on more projects than you could ever complete in a week.
Follow these tips to set healthy boundaries at work:
1. Assess Your Workload
The first step in setting boundaries is knowing what your priorities are.
What do you need to accomplish with your time? Do you have a long list of tasks that need completing or only a few key items?
You’ll know better how much space you have to say no when you can see exactly what’s on your plate.
To ensure your priorities are aligned with the team’s, it helps to ask yourself: “Will this task help move us forward?” If the answer is yes, then great!
If not, maybe there’s another task that would be more helpful for everyone involved. This will keep everyone working together toward a shared goal and avoid any unnecessary conflict down the road.
2. Ask Questions
You don’t want to be put in a position where you feel like you’re being asked to do anything that isn’t aligned with your priorities, values, and needs. So before agreeing to a project or task, ask questions first.
Ask what the project is, why it is important, who else is involved and how long it will take.
If there are other people involved in the project (and chances are there will be), ask if they have any concerns about your ability to complete this task or whether they have any suggestions for how they’d like things done differently than normal.
This kind of upfront communication can prevent conflict later down the road when more details emerge regarding how much work is needed on this project.
You should also know what your responsibilities and expectations are from the beginning. This should have been made clear in your employment contract.
Of course, contract language can be difficult to understand sometimes. You can get help to understand your employment responsibilities with a thorough contract review from a professional.
3. Offer an Alternative
If you can’t accept a project or task, it’s important to have an alternative solution in mind.
For example, if your company sends you on a long business trip and you’re already behind on work, but the trip is mandatory, suggest another colleague who can take over your duties while you’re away.
Or if someone asks for help in completing a project that’s outside of your job description—or even outside your expertise—offer up some advice or point them toward another department that might be able to provide assistance.
4. Let Go of Fear and Guilt
The first step to setting boundaries at work is letting go of fear and guilt. If you are afraid of how your actions will affect others, then you will never set clear boundaries.
You will rarely say no if you feel guilty about prioritizing your needs over someone else’s. You must give yourself permission to do what is best for you, including letting others do the same.
It’s important not to fall into the trap of thinking that setting boundaries means being selfish or uncaring about someone else’s feelings or needs.
If anything happens due to your setting a boundary, it isn’t because you hurt others by your decision because they had unrealistic expectations about what was possible in the first place.
It can be difficult to say no at work without fear or guilt. Learn how to do it effectively here.
5. Know When to Move On
If your boundaries are not respected, it’s time to move on.
The longer you stay, the more unhappy and unproductive you will be.
You’ll have wasted your time and energy trying to make a situation work that doesn’t want to work.
Your confidence in yourself will suffer because of how much effort you put into something that was impossible from the beginning.
Setting boundaries is a healthy way to protect yourself from burnout and exhaustion. It also helps you focus your energy on the most important tasks and goals, making it easier for you to be productive at work.