set boundaries: person drawing circle around themselves

Marsha Egan discusses how to set and share boundaries

Do you ever feel like there’s so much going on and so many ‘plates in the air’ that you simply can’t cope? Do you feel like there’s no way out of this crazy circus?

You’re not alone. Millions of people all over the world are stressed at their seemingly endless to-do lists, their apparent inability to get much accomplished, and their 24/7 ‘always on’ lifestyle.

Communications technology has blurred the line between our home and work lives, as well as the line between working and leisure time. Global communications have put us in the position where we could work 24/7 if we allowed ourselves to, not to mention the tasks we all take on on behalf of others.

Therefore, we need to set boundaries.

If we don’t set boundaries for ourselves, we risk pushing ourselves beyond what is sensible or healthy. By setting clear boundaries for ourselves both at work and in our home lives, we are providing ourselves with the tools to find the healthy balance we need to provide energy to each aspect of our lives. Setting boundaries gives us the opportunity to get stuff which is important to us done.

Set Your Boundaries

Step one in building boundaries is to decide what boundaries are important to you. For example, if you have young children, you might want to avoid business calls at home after 6 p.m. except for emergencies, to allow you to have some quality time putting your children to bed. Alternatively, you might value your lunch hours to clear your head and recharge, so one of your boundaries might be that you do not schedule meetings or take calls in that time. The clearer you are on what your boundaries are and what you will and won’t allow, the easier you will find it to communicate those boundaries to others.

We all have different priorities and values, which will inform the boundaries we set for ourselves. Everyone’s boundaries will be different, and yours must be based around protecting whatever is most important to you.

You may feel your values are being challenged by what you’re being asked to do. For example, one value might be that your children come first while they are small, yet you are being asked to cover weekend shifts. Acknowledging to yourself that doing those shifts would prevent you seeing your children properly on those days gives you the power to politely refuse.

Another example is when someone other than your executive asks you to carry out tasks that are well outside your job responsibilities. In these instances, it is important that you focus on your ability to get your own work completed on time to the required standard ahead of your wish to help others. This is not to say that you mustn’t help others – quite the reverse, but when the work of others infringes on your own work, your boundaries will have been severely compromised.

Share Your Boundaries

Once you have your boundaries in place, it’s important (not to mention helpful!) that those around you understand what they are. This doesn’t need to be some terribly formal announcement; just bring them up in conversation with those who need to know. Keep it respectful and positive. For example, there’s no need to send out a company-wide memo announcing that your smartphone gets switched off at 7 p.m. sharp. Just politely mention to those you work with that you check your email until 7 p.m.

Flex Your Boundaries

It’s important to be flexible, especially when the boundaries you are setting involve your work. Don’t be a slave to them – setting boundaries doesn’t mean you can’t change them on an exceptional basis. In those circumstances, it’s usually possible to work out a win-win arrangement which benefits both your goals and those of your employer. Being too rigid about your boundaries, especially at work, could be career limiting, which is the opposite of what you’re aiming for.

As the saying goes, knowing what you stand for limits what you’ll fall for, so know what your priorities and values are and honor them by letting them set your boundaries. This is a powerful tool to help conquer the overload we all experience.

Marsha Egan, CPCU, PCC is CEO of The Egan Group, a Florida-based workplace productivity coaching firm. She is the author of Inbox Detox and the Habit of E-mail Excellence. She can be reached at, where you can also read her blog. To listen ... (Read More)

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