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Fortnightly hacks & gripes: work boundaries

Edited

I think it's healthy to create boundaries for different things in our lives, including the things we experience relating to work. Of course, some boundaries are easier to create than others. 

Does the title of this post make you think of something? Perhaps...

  • boundaries between professional and personal areas?
  • boundaries on schedule and what time you give to different activities?
  • boundaries on how close you feel project, for people, or attachment to ideas?

 

For me, detachment from work can translate into an unengaged worker, maybe even become burnout. But it can also be used for healthy reasons. Doctors, therapists, and other medical practitioners do it. They train themselves to draw boundaries between themselves and their patients so that the emotional load doesn’t impact their work or creep too heavily into the non-work aspects of their lives. Do we do that as office workers? And if so, how do you know what to detach from and what to hold on to?

What comes to mind for you?

10 comments

[hack] I create time boundaries for activities that are really hard for me.

For example, I don't like writing long-form messages. I obsess about everything and ultimately write more than I need to, confusing the reader. So to limit my spiraling (for my own sanity) and limit the amount of investment I put into something that isn't worth spending 100% on my time on for example, I time-box that activity. Somehow, that also helps me complete the task faster.

[gripe] Sometimes I want to influence work that I'm not driving or leading.

It's not my role to be an active contributor, but it can be hard for me to support the work without engaging at the level I actually want to take on. But if I did this (or anyone did this), we wouldn't be able to fit our other priorities in scope.

Does anyone relate to this?

Interesting. Recently I've started creating boundaries for spaces at home. 

I never knew I needed it to do these until recently. Working from home has made me divide where work is allowed and where it is not. Also, it has helped me to create better habits.

For example, I only watch movies or series in the living room, never in the bedroom.

I don't take electronics with me inside the bedroom, except for my e-reader.

I keep the laptop inside the studio. And when I finish working, the studio stays closed until the next day. This way, I make sure not to be tempted to work extra.

Working from home can get messy, but setting boundaries for my spaces at home has made it easier to draw the line between "work" and "home" :) 

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Ooooh, yes! For those that didn't work from home pre-pandemic (myself included), there truly is an association between "place" and "activities." Great hack, @Jennifer Velázquez_jexo_ !

Like Marjorie likes this

At its most basic level, the word NO is a boundary, and if we have problems saying NO then we need to work on our boundaries. This can mean unpicking years of conditioning that no is somehow a rude or an unkind word. 

This week for me it has been a lot of directing people to the right person. People outside of Tech just see 'tech person' but there are so many different roles within that and I have had to find constructive ways of telling people i cannot help them with XYZ.

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Absolutely. It's like the book "Year of Yes," which despite the title, is about saying "no."

I think that declining work, saying no to engaging with even the smallest thing that isn't in your prioritization area, etc, is not only a way to create a boundary in the moment, but a way to reinforce the boundary to others.

Great note, @Sarah.Eaton . It's a hack I personally could practice more. Thank you for the reminder.

Like Sarah.Eaton likes this
Daniel Eads Atlassian Team Oct 15, 2021

[hack] Take longer to respond

Sometimes there should be a team behind a situation, not just "you". For a lot of Type A personalities or if you care more than you should, you want to respond quickly to requests. As a result, your team (or the "right" team) might not even be aware that you're taking on more than your fair share.

Take longer to respond. Intentionally wait. You might be surprised to find that the right people start stepping in, and you're not the only person on-point anymore.

This is intentionally different than "stop responding", as you're not totally leaving people without help. You're seeing if the load gets distributed correctly, and maybe seeing if people come in through proper channels. Getting a lot of DMs? If people don't get a response right away, they might seek out the correct channel or service desk for help. Then the next time, they don't need to DM you. They're still getting help, just in a healthier way.

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I LOVE THIS ONE, @Daniel Eads!

Can you tell it personally speaks to me? I actually still struggle with this because I like completing small tasks if I can knock them out quickly. It's not for the achievement, but rather, so that I don't have the weight of knowing there's another thing on the to-do list. But to your point, by slowing your pace down, the "task" might resolve itself.

Sometimes these "fortnightly hacks and gripes" end up being lovely reminders or areas this group can swarm on. But truly, this one is a hack I can intentionally put into practice that I think will pay off quickly.

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This is a good one and something I am working on!

Also it is important to leave your status in something like 'busy' or 'focusing' when you need to not be disturbed!

Kishan Sharma Community Leader Oct 15, 2021

I have learned to create boundaries about discussing work with colleagues. At times we meet for discussing some problem, but the meeting is over-stretched after the problem is solved and we start discussing something else, which consumes lot of time and energy impacting other work in pipeline. So I feel creating boundaries about such discussion is necessary sometimes.

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

That's one way to limit scope creep--scope creep on projects, on meetings or discussions, and on individual work portfolios. Great hack + reminder, @Kishan Sharma!

Like Kishan Sharma likes this
  • boundaries between professional and personal areas?
    • Sort of.  I use my personal life to open up the team and get them talking.  But I am careful what I share.  Boundary here is important.
  • boundaries on schedule and what time you give to different activities?
    • Yes. I make sure I give priority to billable work.  I do make sure I plan in time to at least look at the different activities.
  • boundaries on how close you feel project, for people, or attachment to ideas?
    • Sort of.  Definitely a gray area.  for me relationships are key.
Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

Interesting. Curious, @Marjorie - how would you describe setting boundaries regarding what you share from your personal life? I agree that it connects the team more but wonder where the lines are for different people.

@Christine P_ Dela Rosa I learned these boundaries over the last 13 years and I refine them as I learn my lessons.

 

1. I have a set time I get up and log into work.

2. I set up an office, with a door so that the door can be closed and the computer behind it left until the next work day.

3. I do not open office outlook on the phone after I leave "work" aka shut the door. I will address emergency Teams chats.  I find that my co-workers do not violate boundaries often. SO, this works for me.

4. I leave my desk to get coffee and lunch, but like a normal break and lunch time. which means, I do not abuse my work from home situation. I make my breaks and lunch reasonable.  And, if I need to go for a walk to clear my head, I let my supervisor know what I am doing and set my out of office.

5. When work is done, I focus on those around me.  I try not to work too many late hour days, but they happen.  When I am working proposals, we have late nights. They are rare and I keep those days rare.  Bottom line:  my work life will end one day, my family is my priority too!

6. I give my work full attention when I am there. I give my personal life full attention when I am there. Rarely, they cross each other and when they do, I am honest about it. I try to learn from it and refine my boundaries.

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

@Christine P_ Dela Rosa  what I share... mainly information that will help collaboration or is benign or already "out in the electronic environment"

 

1. I talk about my kids.  But usually stuff they have shared with the world.  Like getting married.  Baby on the way. I did honor my daughter's wish to keep her baby off of social media until she was ready to share her.  So, I talked to office mates about her, but nothing was shared on social media.  Bottom line: ALWAYS ask your family what they think is ok to share and HONOR that.

2. I share stories that relate to the situation.  Like when I have been an idiot with my spouse and misjudged him and how I dealt with it.  So, others can relate to the fact life is just messy and sometimes we screw up communication EVEN in our most important relationships.

3. I talk about my hobbies such as camping, kayaking, hiking and paddle boarding. I find we come together with common interests.

4. Anything medical, etc is off limits. 

5. Anything that would embarrass my family is off limits.

6. Anything I don't want shared is off limits.  The web is forever.

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

I kind of use the "parent rule"... if I would be embarrassed that my parents would find out.... I avoid it.

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

@Marjorie - it sounds like at least two big themes: 

  1. You're very present in where you are. If you're not working, you're truly not working, for example, by physically leaving work-designated spaces. And when you are working, you're immersed and attentive to work and not giving into "distractions" of non-work things.
  2.  You share aspects of who you are as a person (i.e. identity, interests). But things about other people in your life or embarrassing notes don't contribute to that so aren't deemed helpful.

Did I get that right? Especially on the second theme, I'm not sure folks intentionally think about what to share. And on the first one, there's a bit of focus on the mode you're in. Perhaps I could then come up with one big umbrella theme for these two: you work with intention.

Like Marjorie likes this

@Christine P_ Dela Rosa 

 

That would sum it up nicely.  I work with intention. 

I am not perfect, so #1 I can fall back into habits of working late. 

When it comes to sharing, I highly recommend thinking about it ahead of time.

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

At an extreme, I would find it really odd to not be able to speak about personal stuff at all in a work situation.

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

I feel like especially these days we need to set boundaries around taking time for ourselves. It's easy to get into a habit of constant late nights but inevitably this leads to people burning out and the quality of both work and relationships declining. 

Setting a mental boundary that says all I can do is my best and nothing more is expected of me really helps to reduce stress and encourages us to take more time to look after ourselves in my experience. 

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Yes! I think it's much easier to see what boundaries others need or use, but when it comes to our own mental needs, we often overlook that. So sometimes, intentionally setting those boundaries to help us stay sane is clutch.

When our company started to use the same messenger as I use for personal life and family - all boundaries were gone. Now I work 24/7, no weekends. 

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

Oh no, @Alexey! That's certainly a [gripe] to hear. Is there any way to provide feedback to coworkers and leadership that that's how you (and potentially others) feel?

@Christine P_ Dela RosaHonestly, I don't mind. Sure, someone could call me on a Sunday evening, but at the same time I can go out for personal stuff any time I want. No boundaries = freedom and agility.

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

Ah, so both side of that coin I see. Accessible for work even during times that are considered less traditional working hours [gripe] but also you're able to control when you want to work, which includes times that most others are typically working [hack].

And by not having any boundaries, you've kind of also formed your own boundaries... which is no boundaries. I think I get it!

Andy Gladstone Community Leader Dec 18, 2021

[hack] Black out periods on my calendar

I started using this tactic to ensure I have a brain break programmed into my day. With the increase of video conference meetings, touch base meetings and my normal cadence of weekly/monthly/quarterly meetings, my calendar started to become a life of running from one appointment to the next, without time to think and absorb the previous meeting, prepare for the next, or get all of that other stuff we call work 'done'. The black out period has become my fortress of solitude.

[gripe] Self imposed guilt for not answering after hours messages ASAP

OK, this is a personal problem that I need to come to terms with. I mute my Slack notifications after 10PM and try not to stay tethered to my iPhone when I get home, but I still feel guilt when I am not the first to answer, or leave someone that is messaging me after hours hanging without a response. I try to remind myself that we once communicated via fax, and businesses still thrived then.

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

That gripe is hard to shake. I ask you though: what happens when you don't respond right away? Anything that bad? I wonder if sitting in the emotion of what happens after might be a good reinforcement to not having to respond as fast the next time.

And that hack! "Black out periods" and "fortress of solitude" is such a cool way to brand what should be an individual's personal time. It should be precious to them. Maybe branding much needed meetings with ourselves as something as important-sounding as your keywords is actually the hack ;)

Andy Gladstone Community Leader Dec 20, 2021

@Christine P_ Dela Rosa the more dramatic you can make the name of the meeting or calendar invite, the more likely you’ll stick to it!

On the gripe I do agree with you it is more of a self imposed guilt than an implied guilt by my team members or CEO. It is more associated with my own out of whack insecurities of wanting to always be available for my team, and not wanting to be the source of a bottleneck. As communication channels have expanded and we’ve become more of a global village with business interests in multiple time zones, the balancing act of being available vs. being true to my own personal needs has probably been my longest ongoing struggle. 

Does this group accept insurance for therapy or will I need to pay out of pocket? 😛😤😲

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