Creating Boundaries At Work: How To Ask For What You Need

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this blog post is part of a series, #oneblogpostaday.

the first part of this series is focused on purpose + career.


As we enter the working world, we often hear about this imaginary idea of “work-life" balance.”

It seems so normal when you think about it: Go to work in the morning. Leave work and don’t think about work the rest of the day. Come back the next day (no weekends included).

But it’s quite an ancient concept. Now with the whole cell-phone thing, we’ve kind of ruined the ability to have a nice, quiet evening sans emails or phone calls. Actually, in my first job I often had work calls at 10pm with team members in different time zones. Crazy!

And often, when we’re in our first (or second or third) jobs - we aren’t the ones setting the tone of our work-life balance. If our boss is sending emails at 9pm, that means we should be too…right?

Well, not always. There are a few tried and true ways to develop your own sense of boundaries at work - even if (especially if) no one is setting them for you. Here are some ways that we can navigate setting boundaries at work when it seems like there aren’t any.


Establish your sense of “normal”

Setting clear boundaries at work isn’t always about leaving your desk at 5pm and coming back at 9am the next morning.

In our world where work and play seem to cross over way more than we might imagine (did that class at Soulcycle with a client count as “work”?) we have to really understand what’s most important to us before setting clear boundaries.

Maybe getting a workout in is your number one goal. Maybe you really love getting drinks with your college friends on Thursday nights. Or maybe you just need a quiet morning at home to start your day on the right foot.

Maybe it’s all of those things. More importantly - maybe that need changes over time.

Whatever it is, figure out your non negotiables. Make a list of them, and keep them in plain sight actually. Revisit them every so often, but know the top 3 to 5 things that need to happen in a day (regardless of work) in order to make you your happiest and healthiest self.

For me, it looks something like this:

  • Get a workout in

  • Have some alone time (read, write, meditate, whatever)

  • Get at between 7 and 8 hours of sleep

Small things, right? But - if I wasn’t clear on those three really simple ideas, it would be easy to write them out of my day. To de-prioritize them because of important calls or meetings or deadlines.

So, step one is to figure out what your baseline should be every freakin’ day.

Communicate early + often

This is the hardest part - especially when you’re early in your career (or have never done something like this!).

Because, I hate to break it to you, but people will always be chipping away from your personal time. Most often, it’s not malicious or intentional. This is the time that you need to get a little (or a lotta) selfish.

I find it easiest to share the ways that you work best as early on in your working relationship as you can (with your boss, peers, whoever). That doesn’t exactly mean that you go ahead and tell them that you MUST get 8 hours of sleep every night. But maybe, you share that you work best in the morning hours (leaving your evenings free!).

But, what about if you’ve already been in your job for a while and are trying to start new habits? Share them! Maybe you decide that every Tuesday evening is your gym date - no matter what. Tell your friends at work. Share it with your manager (hey, maybe they want to join!). Add it to your calendar.

And then - actually make sure that it happens.

Do the damn thing

This is the hardest part about setting boundaries - you actually need to stick to them.

As I mentioned earlier, there will always be people who are pulling at your time. So, you need to be the strong one here.

Remember that Marsha will always need that report due yesterday. Everyone’s needs are pressing - but until you put your needs first, you’ll never actually see those boundaries work.

Find what tactics work best for you: maybe it’s adding those things (gym dates, personal time) to your calendar and treat them just like a meeting. Maybe it’s reshuffling your schedule so that you could leave work on the earlier side, but wrap up those last tasks in the evening.

The best part about all this is finding what works for you.

But, the most important thing to know is that setting boundaries is difficult. In our 24/7 culture, we often have to be our own champions. Just know that you are an inspiration to so many others who are trying to do the same.


Bonus: What if you are your own boss?

Ha, jokes on us my friends!

When I switched into working for myself, I had to navigate a completely different way of being around “work-life balance.” Because I loved everything I was doing so much, I felt like I never wanted to stop working. Any semblance of boundaries disintegrated before my eyes.

But, after a few months of nonstop working, I realized that I would burn myself out - even if I loved everything I was doing.

So, I adopted a new mindset: Be Fully Engaged in everything you’re doing.

That means: even if you’re working until 10pm - do it fully. If not, stop. And if you decide to take a mid-day power nap, do it fully. Don’t be answering emails in the middle of it.

As entrepreneurs, our work days look differently. We are constantly on. So, make the time to be off for a little (hey - 20 minutes still counts). Be fully off. Be fully engaged.

Work-life balance is exactly what you make of it.

Katina Mountanos