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How to set boundaries for yourself at work

It is very common these days for our professional lives to bleed into our personal ones – sometimes to the extent that we have no time left for ourselves at all. If you are the person in your office who everyone turns to when they need a last-minute job done or urgent assistance with a project that isn’t on your to-do list, it won’t be long before you crash and burn. Though the willingness to be a team player and lend a helping hand is valuable, so is learning how to say no. Enforcing healthy boundaries is the first step to taking care of yourself on a personal and professional basis and ensuring that other people respect your time, too. Here’s how to get started:

1. Learn to say no: If you are a natural people-pleaser, you have probably been saying “yes” to every single task, assignment and favour that your colleagues and bosses ask you to undertake. Because of this, it’s possible people in the office will assign you work even without checking with you because of the assumption that you’re always happy to pitch in. If saying no to additional requests is truly difficult for you, try starting out by negotiating with deadlines, scopes of work and your level of involvement. For instance, if you are expected to churn out deliverables on the day you were informed about it, politely push back and tell your colleague that you will not be able to complete everything on such short notice. If they do not agree to a more reasonable date, then you should say no to them since you already have prior commitments.

2. Become unavailable: Though it may sound momentarily appealing, making yourself unavailable does not meant that you disappear on your boss, colleagues or other commitments without informing anyone. Instead you should become unavailable by not taking on more work once you have wrapped up your own work for the day. Once you’re out of the office, you are not obliged to reply to work emails – especially if you receive them in the wee hours of the morning. Do not reply to work texts or emails unless it is an emergency situation or an exceptional case you have previously agreed to work beyond normal office hours for, as doing this will signal that you are are game to keep working even when you are not in the office.

3. Speak up: If you find someone’s behaviour toward you unfair, be it’s a superior who piles you with extra assignments without ensuring that you are able to cope with the workload or the colleague who never carries their own weight because they expect that you will pick up the slack for them, you should speak up about it. Share your thoughts with your supervisor, and hopefully they will be able to resolve some of your issues regarding workload and timelines. If this path does not prove to be fruitful or if your supervisor is the problem, you should turn to HR for assistance. Most companies have formal procedures in place to resolve such issues, so be sure to check your corporate handbook prior to the meeting.

4. Manage your schedule: Ultimately, no one can protect you better than you can, so do not be afraid to keep yourself and your best interests in mind when taking on new work. Be familiar with the pace and style you prefer to work at so that you can manage your to-do list and projects e according to your current professional capabilities, and not because you are trying to prove that you are a machine.

5. Take a break: With a high workload and no sense of work-life balance come high levels of stress and eventually, burnout. If you have been finding it difficult to focus and have little to no desire to get anything done, you are definitely suffering from some form of fatigue. Unless you are well-rested, you cannot be your best self. Do yourself (and your bosses) a favour by taking a break – it does not have to be a lengthy sabbatical, but even a short weekend without access to any work updates or emails will do you wonders. So book some time off, and then relax so that you return to the office refreshed. When you do, don’t fall back into old habits: keep those boundaries up so that you keep your peace of mind.

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