While the beauty of technology is what enables us to connect more intimately with friends, family, or colleagues who are sitting in a different location, it is also what can impede our ability to actually get anything done. The ease of access to anyone and everyone, all day every day, prevents us from being able to tune out the noise and dive into deep work.
This is particularly true when your home suddenly turns into your office and you can no longer see the clear difference between private time or professional expectations. Your desk may be in your living room, or your kitchen suddenly becomes your office. When do you get to “shut down” for the night? When do you decompress when your commute is cut down from 30 minutes to the time it takes from the bedroom to the living room.
While it’s always important to be clear about when you are working and when you’re not, working from home requires an additional layer of boundaries to be established to give you the clarity of work-time and not-work-time — not only for your benefit, but also for the benefit of those you work with.
Sometimes people are afraid to set clear boundaries — they don’t want to seem too bossy or pushy, they don’t want people to dislike them — but in my experience, the stronger my boundaries are, the more the people around me respect them.
In the days when I used to work in an office with a team, I would set clear expectations that 3 days a week I would be leaving at 6:30 PM to attend a spin class, or that on certain days I wouldn’t make it in before 10 AM. This wasn’t intended to rebel against the rules or set new work times or structures for others, it was simply to help me take ownership of the different areas of my life and to communicate clearly with those around me what was important for me to be able to work productively.
Setting boundaries while working from home might seem impossible, especially for those who have family members or partners at home with them. But even in these circumstances, the structure of what is and is not okay will help others to be more respectful of you and your time.
Here are 8 ways to set clear boundaries to help you manage the borders between your work and private life — especially when working from home.
- Create a workspace in your home that is separate from your private space — you may not have enough space to have a closed office, but be very clear that when you sit at the dining room table with your laptop, it means you are working, vs. sitting at the kitchen table for a cup of coffee
- Set a clear start time for your work — be clear when your day will begin
- Set a clear end time for your work — it’s so easy for your workday to bleed into night when you don’t have to “leave the office” or commute — don’t slip into this trap and set a clear end time for your workday. There will always be more to do tomorrow and working from home doesn’t suddenly mean you put in extra hours every day.
- Let colleagues /clients know when they can reach you (and when you will no longer respond) — you are allowed to tell people the hours you can be reached and hours when you absolutely cannot be reached Just because technology touches every part of your life doesn’t mean that you must make yourself available 24/7. Set clear boundaries here about when you will not respond, and your colleagues will not expect you to. Feel free to set up different rules for “emergency scenarios” so long as not every scenario turns into an emergency.
- Set aside time for family / friends / children / whoever else shares your life with you that is 100% free from your work. Even if your workspace is in the living room — make sure that when you mentally step away from it you are fully present with whatever else occupies your time outside of work. You need this separation as much as your cohabitors do.
- Eat meals without interruption — it can be tempting to sit down at your computer with breakfast or lunch in hand, and just breeze through the day as you normally would, but it’s important to break your day into segments and feel a clear structure, rather than an endless liquid-state of time.
- Communicate clearly — regardless of whether or not you’ve established (and communicated) a boundary to your peers, use clear communication to let others know what is okay and what’s not okay. It’s okay to tell someone that they are interrupting you or that you can’t get to something right away. It’s okay to let people know you won’t have time to work on something until the following day (or week). Just be open and clear about it so that people know exactly what they can expect from you.
- Say “No” — this can be hard under the best of circumstances. It can be difficult if we feel like we might disappoint others, or are letting someone down. Saying no, however, is the first step to ensuring that you are spending your time and energy on projects or tasks that are important for you to focus on. It’s okay to say no, especially at work.
If you are a person who has not set clear boundaries previously, you can expect that you will get some pushback. People won’t be used to meeting with a wall when trying to reach you, and it may be off-putting at the beginning. But the more that you have this reaction, the more you can be sure that the boundaries you are establishing are necessary.
People, ultimately, respect boundaries once they are clearly communicated. Just think of how many times you’ve asked someone for a favor and they told you they couldn’t manage because they had another obligation. Chances are, you didn’t get angry at them for it, but replied with something similar to, “Oh, no problem, let’s find another time then.”
Setting boundaries can feel nerve-wracking, and definitely takes courage, but once you’ve done it you will feel an immediate sense of relief at knowing that you are creating space for yourself to be productive and effective during your working time, and able to totally shut off and relax when you’re “off the clock”.
Through coaching with Amanda, you will clarify your purpose & values, and start to feel confident in your ability to inspire, engage, and lead others.