Welcome to The Living Room!

Welcome to The Living Room!

I'm developing this blog to foster a warm community of people interested in ideas, art, science and practice around personal development and flourishing.

I work as an executive coach, and founded a company whose mission is helping people to find success at work in a way that provides satisfaction across all areas of their lives (you can check us out at www.madeleineshaw.com.au).

Leadership, learning, the wonderful brain/body connection, presence, influence, emotions, thinking, effectiveness, flow and FUN.

I want to know more, and do more!

The world is our living room so let's get living.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

3 steps to set your boundaries at work

If Meatloaf would do anything for love - but he wouldn't do that - what limits do you set for yourself at work?
We all have different boundaries - and we all need them. When you ignore your boundaries, you ignore your own limits.  This can work in the short term, but in the long term it can seriously affect your wellbeing. Mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health can all suffer when we are operating outside our limits.

So how do you manage your boundaries at work? There's no doubt it can be incredibly tough to do - especially if you work somewhere with a culture of constant crisis - where your late night/weekend/constant emailing/20-coffee-a-day habit is essential to the continued turning of the world! It can definitely seem essential to your continued employment. It's certainly very normal to want to play our part and meet expectations at work.

The question is how do we play our part at work AND maintain limits for our own health and wellbeing? The answer is different for everyone. Some of my clients thrive doing a few 80-hour weeks, so long as they get two or three weeks to recover afterwards.  Others need a more predictable pace. You'll get some clues as to what works for you if you follow this 3 step process.
1. Ask: when it works, what's working?
Think about 2 or 3 periods during which you felt highly energised at work, and that your limits were respected. Ask yourself these questions (write down or record the answers and study them if it helps).
  • What did these periods have in common?
  • How long did they last?
  • What came before and after these periods?
  • How many hours were you working?
  • How adequate were your resources vis-a-vis your workload?
  • What time were you arriving and going home?
  • Were you taking a lunch break and getting outside?
  • How was your exercise routine at that time?
  • Were you highly social or making time to work alone?
  • What activities were you engaged in outside of work (family, community, friends, hobbies)?
  • What was your inner voice saying - what was the ethical and moral framework around you?
  • What else is important?
2. Listen.
Take a look at your answers. Listen to what you've told yourself. If it helps with perspective, imagine showing them to a friend or coach and asking them: what themes and clues do you see here? What basic boundaries do you need to set from now on, to help you enjoy the levels of energy and wellbeing you experienced in the past?
Write them down. For example, they might be something like:
  • Arrive at work at 8.45 instead of 8.15, and use the time to do 30 minutes exercise each morning.
  • Take at least 20 minutes at lunch to walk alone outside for some quiet time.
  • Switch off the emails for 90 minutes each morning and afternoon.
  • Don't accept meetings on such-and-such a project.
Your boundaries need to be realistic for your role - and your role needs to be realistic for your boundaries. If it's essential to your wellbeing that you work from 9 am to 5 pm each day and never a minute more, that is a perfectly reasonable boundary - it's also possible that legal practice in a large firm might not be a role that leads to happiness for you.

3. Tell.
Often we feel like we can't state our own needs when dealing with other people. But this is a short term game. Maintaining appropriate boundaries - respectfully and responsibly - is an important part of building sustainable relationships.  
Most importantly: give yourself permission to say no. If taking on the new project will tip you over the edge, say so. If you need help learning to assert yourself in this way - that help exists. Seek it out.
Much as we might like others to read our minds, if we don't communicate our needs others won't know what they are.
Be flexible and prepared to negotiate - sometimes your boundaries will conflict with someone else's. When this happens you could
  1. Cave ("Of course, I'd love take over your project! You go out and have fun!") - and watch your wellbeing suffer.
  2. Be unmoving ("I never work between 12 and 1") and watch your career suffer.
  3. Negotiate  ("I can work late Tuesday if it's absolutely essential to the deal, but I'd be missing my class so what if I come in early on Wednesday instead?") and watch the conversation open up.
Just be sure that the negotiated deal respects your limits. If you are happy to cut a deal like this every so often - great! It's within your limits.  If it leaves you miserable and resentful - see step 1. 
What boundaries do you have at work and how do you keep to them?

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