Maybe you heard the term ” setting boundaries” before, but thought it was only a tool for those with difficult relatives. Or, maybe you endorse the concept of healthy boundaries, but you keep it in the “hemisphere” of your personal life. The truth is, establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries in both your personal life and your professional sphere is critical to success, productivity, and your overall happiness.

Boundaries Defined

According to Psychology Today, “boundaries can be defined as the limits we set with other people, which indicate what we find acceptable and unacceptable in their behavior towards us. The ability to know our boundaries generally comes from a healthy sense of self-worth, or valuing yourself in a way that is not contingent on other people or the feelings they have toward you.” Without healthy boundaries, we can become resentful of work we love, or worse, we can become resentful of those we love. Without healthy boundaries, we can lose sight of our own values and goals.

Saying “No” Is Saying “Yes” To You

It can be difficult to set boundaries when we live in a culture of overachievers who want to do everything and be a part of everything. We are driven to do more, serve more and be a part of more organizations. But, in this case, there can be too much of a good thing.

I caution my clients: do not over-volunteer yourself, even if you are capable.  The last thing you volunteered to do, or bring, could be the one thing that causes you to be overwhelmed and stressed. Stressed parents cause stressed kids.   My suggestion to you is to pick one or two things that are important to you and then consistently volunteer for those, but know you don’t have to volunteer every time you are asked.   It is not a question of whether or not you can do it, the question is, “should you do it?”  What are you saying “no” to when you say “yes” to something else?  

A visual depicts this concept well. When we have a garage overfilled with so much stuff we can barely close the door, we know we can’t park our car inside.  However, when we have a calendar overflowing with commitments, it is much harder to realize we should not stuff in one more activity, or say “yes” to one more thing. 

Put Parameters Around Your Time

Time is arguably our most valuable resources. Work and family obligations can cut into our time. I’m not at all advocating that you shut out your family in order to be successful in work. And, I’m not suggesting you put a “do not disturb” sign on your door at work. But, I am saying it is perfectly fine to set an expectation for a reasonable amount of uninterrupted time. In fact, this is healthy for all involved. It is equally important that you communicate your expectation clearly.

The amount of time you set aside is going to vary based on your life stage, home life characteristics, and workflow. And, the amount of time you need to set aside will not always be set in stone. Emergencies arise. Work deadlines will change and special projects will happen. Having boundaries does not mean you cannot be flexible when needed. Having boundaries means you’ll be able to flex when needed.

My Story

This month, Configuration Connection is celebrating 8 years of business. (Hooray!!). My first few years were slow, but they gave me the opportunity to volunteer with NAPO-DFW, the local chapter of organizers and productivity professionals. By volunteering, I was able to rediscover my technical skills and abilities. The new found confidence in my software and application skills helped me develop a new niche in my growing business. I expanded to include digital organizing and technical services. The growth of Configuration Connection led to more challenges in my already overflowing personal and professional obligations. The only way I could navigate through these was by setting boundaries.

My family, including my two daughters, who both just recently left home, understood my commitment to my business. We discussed my professional goals and I purposefully balanced my time. I carefully chose areas within the girls’ school where I could volunteer but still grow Configuration Connection. My husband and I communicated frequently, discussed necessary adjustments and, because I office from home, established a plan for distinct home versus work roles and activities. I modeled, I believe, healthy boundaries for the girls, and am pleased to see them both pursuing their own professional and personal successes today.

Giving a Reason is Not a Requirement

As with most anything in life, we get better with practice. Saying “no” doesn’t come easy for most, but you’ll find it gets easier. You do not have to give a reason when you decline an invitation. This is a cultural-driven concept that is not healthy. How many times have you found yourself stumbling through a reason for not attending/accepting/doing something? Simply saying, “No. I thank you for thinking go me,” is enough. Obviously, the specific response will vary based on the situation, but my point is that you do not owe someone a reason for declining an invitation.

Consider Where You Could Benefit From Boundaries Today

Where could you use some boundaries in your life? Are you protecting enough of the only 24 hours you are given each day from demands incongruent with your values and goals? Defining, and then honoring, the boundaries that enable you to be your best is being a responsible coworker, parent, and partner.

Sara Genrich is a Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop.  She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.

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