Too Little Time? You Need To Create Personal Boundaries!
Sadly it is impossible to make more time. Whatever you do there are only 24 hours in a day or 168 hours in a week. Manufacturing more time is not possible, all that we can do is make better use of the time we have at our disposal.
Creating appropriate and sustainable boundaries is one way to make better use of your time, but many people find it difficult to do this effectively. The consequences can be far reaching, impacting not only on our time but on the quality of our lives and relationships, and how we feel about ourselves.
This blog is to help people who want to create more defined and sustainable boundaries in their professional and personal life.
What do we mean by boundaries?
- Where we set the expectations of ourselves and others
- What we are prepared, or not prepared to do
- What time we are prepared to give to ourselves and others
- What personal resources we will make available for ourselves and others
- The choices we make about what is acceptable behaviour and the way we expect to be treated
Boundaries are governed to a large extent by how we feel about ourselves and the extent to which our sense of self is determined.
Setting boundaries is easy if you have a strong sense of who you are and you feel good about yourself.
Setting boundaries is more difficult if your sense of worth is generated by what others think of you, or you get your sense of identity from doing things for others.
Many people feel they have no control over how they are treated or what is expected of them. They put the needs and wishes of others before their own and in doing so make a rod for their own back limiting the development and growth of independence in the other party.
Do any of these sound familiar?
- Everyone else is more important than me. My needs come well down the list.
- If I say no or am too strict people won’t like me.
- If I don’t say “yes” I’ll get passed over for promotion. People will think I’m bad at my job.
- I have to do it all, if I don’t it won’t get done properly. It is my responsibility.
- Things have just crept up on me. I’m not sure how I got landed with this lot.
- I must answer my phone – it doesn’t matter how late it is or how trivial the interruption, if I don’t I won’t be doing my job properly.
- Poor me – nobody appreciates me.
- I’ll have to do even more so they notice how good I am.
- No one listens to what I say, they constantly undermine me.
- I can’t switch off, I can’t relax.
If so, it would indicate that you find setting boundaries difficult! But it doesn’t have to be!
Setting boundaries with others is not about dodging responsibility. It is giving yourself permission to treat yourself equally to others.
Tip: It is often useful to think about yourself as you would a best friend. A best friend will give you honest advice based on what is fair. What advice would you give yourself?
The relationship you have with yourself is in fact reflected in the relationship you have with others. Respecting yourself and recognising yourself for the unique human being you are is a first step. If you expect to be treated fairly, then people will treat you fairly.
The rules for creating boundaries are the same for your professional life, for your personal life, within your intimate relationships, with family, your children and friends.
How to set sensible boundaries
- Boundaries need to be in the interests of both parties. They should be fair.
- Boundaries need to be appropriate for purpose. What works in one context may not be suitable for another.
- Boundaries should be sustainable. Think about what you can cope with on a bad day, when the car has gone wrong, the cat has been sick and a client is playing up. It is no good creating boundaries that only work when things are going well and you feel on top of the world.
- Boundaries should be consistent. If you keep changing the goal posts people get confused, there are mixed messages and the boundaries become devalued.
- Paradoxically there needs to be flexibility to deal with exceptional circumstances. The key is that both parties understand what constitutes an exceptional circumstance, rather than confusion created when boundaries have no clear basis.
- Set up the boundaries explicitly. Ensure that all parties understand what is expected of them. Set them up early in the relationship and offer a sound reason for doing so. E.g. I’ll take phone calls until 7.00pm but after that please phone only in an emergency. Be explicit about what you consider to be an emergency or people will interpret it differently to you.
- Boundaries should not be about ego and wielding power. Where position is abused in this way you may gain what you want in the short term but it will damage your long-term relationships. As a boss or a parent you need to set boundaries based on your greater experience, status and understanding of the bigger picture. Abusing your position by setting boundaries to make the other person feel inferior or fearful or simply because you can is a recipe for disaster.
- Boundaries should be set and maintained with respect. Consider your body language, tone of voice, the tenor of the email or phone call. Temper, having tantrums, sulking or withholding your attention when others fail to adhere to the boundaries you set simply makes matters worse.
- Involve the other person whether it is your colleague, partner, subordinate or child whenever and wherever appropriate. Even young children can be involved. When people understand what is required and why they are far more likely to comply. Be clear what is non-negotiable and why.
- Offer people choices with clear consequences if they comply and if they do not. The consequences should be in keeping with the boundary and the impact it will make.
- Boundaries need to be reviewed regularly. As circumstances change, children get older, staff more experienced than you may wish to change the boundary, the consequences or both.
- Model the behaviours you want from others, show by example.
Remember to set boundaries for yourself
Compartmentalising your life and making a clear boundary between work time and personal time is really important if you are to relax and recuperate and if you are to have a happy healthy relationship with your partner and the family.
- When you are at work – do your best. Be productive rather than busy.
- When it is time to go home learn to switch off. Be in the moment and focus on your partner and your child.
Boundaries act like the markings on a map. You can find the quickest most straightforward route, avoid pitfalls, and identify safe havens. When there are no boundaries, just like with a map, it is easy to lose your way and get into difficulty.