Feel like you’re on a treadmill that will never stop? Too much to do? Too much to get done?


Just as the overlap between our work and our home lives has become blurred, and technology has connected us to people and tasks around the clock, we could all be working 24/7 and still feel overwhelmed. How can we get it all done?


You’re not alone. Millions of people are frustrated with their growing to do lists, their constant connectivity and their seeming inability to get anything accomplished. On top of that, a lot of us try to do everything for everyone else. We care. We want to help. We want to nurture. We are not only overwhelmed with our own action lists, but others around us have given us theirs!


Boundaries to the rescue!

In the current environment, we all need to set boundaries. By setting clear boundaries at work and at home, we are enabling ourselves to find the balance that will actually provide energy to each aspect of our lives. Setting boundaries will enable us to get the important stuff done.


The first step in this process is to decide what boundaries are important to you. As an example, if you need that lunch hour to relax and rejuvenate, then one of your boundaries might be that you do not schedule meetings in that time. Another example could be that you don’t want to take business calls at home after a certain hour, other than for emergencies. The more clear you are on your boundaries, the better you will be able to communicate them to others.


When I was in corporate America, I used the first half-hour of the workday to plan my day and get organized. One of my co-workers continually stopped in my office during that time – usually with a great idea she had come up with the evening before. I found that missing that planning time set me back more than I wanted. After I communicated my desire to have privacy for just the first 30 minutes of the day, it worked for everyone. She still came in with her great ideas, but after 8.30am.


The boundaries you set depend on your list of priorities and your values. Each of us has different priorities and values, so boundaries will differ. Many times, the boundaries you set will be those around activities that are not on that priority list. Boundaries relate to protecting what is truly important.


As an example, one of your values may be that you don’t gossip. Yet, you may find yourself in a situation either on personal time, or on work time, when someone is trying to engage you in sharing detrimental information about another person. By acknowledging to yourself that engaging in that discussion would be crossing one of your boundaries, it gives you strength to not participate.


Another area where boundaries can be challenged is when someone asks you to do work that is clearly not in your job responsibilities. Even though your employer may have already defined those boundaries, many co-workers have a difficult time saying no to requests from others who seek their help. It is important for you to look at your ability to get your own work done relative to your need or desire to help others around you, because it can throw you out of balance. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t help people on occasion, but when it becomes a significant infringement on your own job, you may need to revisit your boundaries.


Once you set your boundaries, it is helpful to let people know what they are. This can be easily done through conversation and respectful dialogue. You don’t need to send out an official memo to let people know that you turn your Blackberry off at 6pm. and that if it is an emergency, to please call. Instead, you can nicely let them know that you check your email until 6pm.


Recently one of my clients shared that a friend wanted to meet with her some evening or weekend to show her a new cosmetic product. When my client explained that she reserves her evenings and weekends for her family, they settled on a breakfast meeting that worked well for both. Everyone was satisfied.


Flexibility is important, especially when setting boundaries around work. Just because you set the boundaries doesn’t mean that on an exceptional basis you won’t change them. By keeping your employer’s goals and yours present, you can usually work out an arrangement that is beneficial to both. Being too rigid about your boundaries, especially at work, could be career limiting.


The important part of honoring your boundaries is to be clear about what they are. Knowing your priorities and values, and honoring them, will help you conquer some of the overload or overwhelm you may be experiencing. Defined, communicated boundaries work!

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 MarshaEgan.com, where you can also read her blog. To listen ... (Read More)

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