work life balance imageCOVID has wreaked havoc on almost all aspects of life, and the most obvious, but little mentioned is our ability to maintain boundaries.

Mmmm Boundaries…remember those? Can you cast your mind back to a time when working from home was a real treat or when the post work trip to the supermarket brought out your inner creative genius. A time when finishing at six, really meant finishing at six, and the daily routine: gym, kids, manager repeat, hummed beautifully all the way up to that glass of wine on Friday evening. The good old days.

Boundaries are officially out of the window, as we wake up earlier and sleep later to make sure the children don’t miss out, we’re still keeping fit, eating well, socialising, reading, travelling and of course still excelling in a career. In theory, we have more time, but in reality, it’s been squandered by a lack of clear boundaries, and this seems to be the new normal; until of course it burns our human essence.

The truth is although we have lost the physical ones, it has never been more important to find our way back to boundaries, and here’s how.

Setting boundaries with yourself

As the ancient saying from times of old when we flew abroad goes, always secure your own mask first, before attending to others. This means accepting that you have finite amounts of resources and distributing them as such. This might look like having a daily or weekly planner and colour coding it so that you always have ‘purple (me) time’. It also means having regular breaks and being clear minded enough to be strategic in how you work. Finally and most importantly, it means being present; when you’re working doing that 100%, when with loved ones, giving them 100% and when having me time, giving you100%. It is the ultimate cure for guilt; that horrid emotion that doesn’t serve anyone in any productive way, but persists in almost every human being.

Setting boundaries with your boss

Business is a game of give and take. It is essential to understand and be able to clearly articulate the value you bring as well as the value you get. Have an honest conversation with your manager about how you can carve out a schedule and a way of working that benefits both parties. Pre-agree ‘non-negotiables’ on time and other generally accepted norms, such as hour long lunch breaks and finishing times, if they are not clear. When creating these boundaries it is essential to make sure you and your boss know the ‘why’ behind each others requirements. Its about having conversations that remove the frustrations that can arise from the unconsented expectations of the other.

Setting boundaries with colleagues

Working remotely can mean people shirking responsibilities, over-sharing, over-chatting, or being more brazen in disagreeing or looser with commitments. Nobody wants to be the one forever chasing, or the snitch or a goody two shoes, but your boundaries could be compromised, if the behaviour goes unchecked. The solution? The pre-agreement. The pre-agreement says “I’m coming into the office today, but am so swamped and won’t be able to chat much” or “If I send it to you today can I have it back by Wednesday? If I don’t have it back by Wednesday I’ll give you a nudge, is that okay?”  There is usually only one answer to the pre-agreement – sure, no problem. And because people like to be congruent within themselves, you’re unlikely to encounter pushback when you expect what they agreed to.

Boundaries with family

Time spent not working, is not the same as protected quality time for family. Family time means being really present and having conversations and really engaging with the people you love.

In the same way your boss would not be pleased if you brought your child or partner into a meeting, you must also commit to not bringing your work to them. Ironically, to facilitate this commitment to being completely present, there is a need to commit to undistracted, focussed ‘deep work’; which will help you to remove the feeling of guilt, and also comes with improved performance and peace of mind to stop working at the designated hour.

The only boundary we mustn’t tolerate

In all of this talk of boundaries, there is one boundary we should completely disregard and that is the boundary to plan for the future we want. It’s tough to see clearly when there is so much uncertainty around us, but there is no better time than now to get a blank piece of paper and begin to push the boundaries of our imagination about what we can achieve both now, and in the not so distant future.

Michelle ChikandaAbout the author

Michelle Chikanda is a Leadership Consultant and Founder of The Influential Me. In addition to working with some of the most prolific senior leaders in business, Michelle’s passion lies in coaching women in middle management ascend the career ladder quickly.


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