The biggest problem of the digital age – of being accessible everywhere and all the time – is figuring out how to create boundaries, especially if you’re new to working or a new company. If you don’t know how to do this, you’ll end up exhausted and resentful of your job and your boss.
The key to creating boundaries is communication – from you and from everyone around you. Here’s how to create those boundaries.
1. It starts with the job description and interview process
From the outset, your manager should be clear about the expectations of the job. And you need to be clear about what you’re expecting, too. This includes how “accessible” you are during the day, on weekends, evenings, etc.
Some of that will depend on your role. For example, if you’re responsible for a social media feed, you may be expected to respond to questions, comments, and anything else that’s needed rather quickly. This can be demanding so it’s critical that you ask, in the interview process, what the expectations are.
Did you miss this step? Not to worry. You can always have this conversation. It may be a bit more uncomfortable now because your boss has expectations. But it’s important to do this step and have this conversation. What hours are they expecting you to work? Are you responsible for answering emails on the weekends? Etc.
2. What are you willing to do?
There’s probably going to be a time when “extra work” is expected, such as making an important deadline, meeting a launch date, or going to/working at an event. Again, as the planning is done, it’s important to ask what the hours will be and to schedule your time accordingly. If you’re not or willing to put in this extra work, then this particular position may not be a good fit.
Having said this, if you’re willing to spend the extra time and put in the work, it will be appreciated. And it’s typically the people who step up and help in these situations that are the ones who are rewarded and/or promoted.
For that reason, it’s important that you know what you want. Are you willing to do the “extra” work when needed? Do you want to learn how to move up? Or to stay at the same level? What are your goals for this job and this year? Your goals will help you figure out what it is you’re willing to do and what’s best for you right now.
3. Learn to say no the right way
One of the best ways to create work boundaries is to learn to say no to work that is excessive, or pushing the boundaries of your typical workday or workflow. But saying no the right way is communicating and asking questions.
For example, when I was asked to take on more work from my manager and I knew that it was too much for me to get everything done on time, I would ask the following question:
“Ok, can we talk about my work priorities so I know what I should be working on first? I’m doing (X, Y, Z) and they have these deadlines (A, B, C). Does this go in front of them? Or can it wait until after I finish those?”
Sharing your “to do” list with your manager helps them understand your workload. They may not be aware of all that you’re doing. With a conversation, they can be made aware of the projects and can then prioritize for you.
This is a great way to “say no” the right way, which is not saying “I don’t want to do that,” but rather “I can’t at this time – can you help?” There are only so many hours in a day and you’re letting your manager then chose what you do when.