Start Setting Boundaries
I’m sure you’ve all received emails or phone calls from a colleague, a client or even your boss, either early in the morning or late at night. Perhaps you’ve even sent them yourself. You or they may even expect a response outside ‘normal working hours’. How many of you have (or will) be contacted or had to deal with work issues when you are out of the office or on holiday? What does this say about your working patterns or workload?
If your family and friends are starting to wonder who or where you are, perhaps it’s time to redefine your boundaries.
Technology has blurred the boundaries between work and home life, enabling 24/7 connectivity to the office. Just because you can be contacted, read and respond to email outside of work hours doesn’t mean you should.
There’s an expectation – if other people are working late, perhaps you should be too. Many solicitors and lawyers are working long hours, catching up or clearing their admin backlog.
You might enjoy the flexibility of working at a time that suits you. However, when that flexibility extends to working long hours, working late or having to get up early to get ahead, catch-up or clear a backlog, this has a negative impact on your productivity and stress levels.
It’s now even more important to create strong boundaries around your work day to protect your personal time.
When you respond to emails or phone calls outside of normal office hours, you set a certain expectation. They’ll expect a similar response every time.
If you’re always saying yes and accepting everything that comes across your desk, you’ll get more and more passed to you.
Set clear expectations and boundaries with your colleagues and clients.
• What are your office hours?
• What is the best way to contact you?
• How quickly will you respond to emails or phone calls?
• How much work can you actually handle in a reasonable working day/week?
Keep your work and communication with colleagues and clients to ‘office hours’ – respect their time in the same way they should respect yours.
Agree response times and levels of service within the business. Communicate these to your clients, put it on your website or in emails.
How critical/important is it that you respond immediately or can it wait until later in the day, tomorrow or another time?
What difference will it make whether you respond late in the evening or the following morning?
Yes, there will always be exceptions or clients that take priority and need an immediate response but these should be the exception not the ‘norm’.
Be clear about your boundaries. If you plan to finish at 5pm and you don’t have time for all your tasks that day. Reprioritise – what do you need to drop in order to finish on time?
If you’re constantly juggling different priorities and having more work piled on – prioritise the work or get extra support.
What’s more important, what needs to be completed first? Delegate less important work to free up more of your time for the important work.
An open-plan office environment may improve communication by removing physical barriers but it creates more distractions and opportunities for interruptions.
• Try noise cancelling headphones or playing ‘white noise’ to block out office chatter.
• Book a meeting room or arrange to work from home if you need quiet undisturbed time.
• Respect other people in and around your space – if you’re having a ‘chat’ do it away from where you may be disturbing others.
• If you’re meeting with colleagues book a room. Be aware of disturbing others around you and keep desk meetings short.
If you are interrupted – manage the interruption. Do you need/want to deal with it there and then or can you deal with it later?
It’s great to be able to respond to emails on the move but manage the intrusion if they update at all times of the night and day. (See previous articles on how to deal with and manage your emails.)
Create clear boundaries for the technology you use for work. Switch if off or don’t respond to work related emails or phone calls – especially in the evening and weekends.
If you have good boundaries, people will respect your time. If your boundaries are unclear they will make more and more demands on ALL of your time.
Check your boundaries. If they’re unclear or totally undefined, what can you do to reset expectations and create clearer boundaries to give you more control over your time?
Get in touch for more ways to create and maintain boundaries in your own life.