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These Five Boundaries Are The Key To A Calm Work Day

No, I’m not going to tell you to meditate.

Kelly Barrett
Jan 7 · 5 min read

I had a full-time corporate social media job, and taught yoga classes in the mornings and evenings, while surrounded by company layoffs and ongoing turmoil in the media industry.

And yet…

My co-workers kept telling me how unfazed I seemed to be and marveled at how I regularly left the office at “normal” times. They acted as if I had figured out some magical formula to stay calm at work or that somehow all that yoga gave me a superpower.

But it wasn’t magic and had nothing to do with yoga— it was something much simpler that anyone can do.

I established boundaries.

The stress we experience at work is largely driven by factors outside our control —leadership transitions, lack of resources, egos, budget cuts, and more. No matter how hard a human resources department tries, they can’t do much to combat these common causes of stress.

But the real source of our stress isn’t factors beyond our control, it’s because we lack effective boundaries.

This isn’t our fault.

Learning how and where to set boundaries takes a lot of time and practice — and can’t be taught.

The following five boundaries may not fully nail it for you, but I hope they can plant the seed for you to find your own.

1. Don’t go to every work happy hour or social event. (And managers, stop hosting them so much.)

It’s easy to feel like a bore or an old grump when you decline every happy hour that’s sent through.

But there’s no reason to feel guilty about it.

Your time outside of the office is your time, and as much as we’d like to convince ourselves work happy hours are a chance to “let off steam” from the work day, we are just kidding ourselves.

Work happy hours are an extension of the work day, with a heavy dose of emotional labor. You are expected to represent your company appropriately during this time, and you’ll likely end up talking shop.

If you choose to see them as an extension of the work day (which they are), you’ll want to note that studies have shown drinking on the job increases self-reported work performance problems.

No surprise there, but you can’t knock the evidence.

Take your team out for coffee and lunch during the work day.

This eliminates the unfortunate issues with alcohol-related misbehavior (and the poor quality sleep it leads to!) and allows employees to build this social time right into their work day so it’s less of a burden and more of a mid-day release.

2. Don’t vent your work frustrations to colleagues.

One survey I found concluded a single employee spends on average 65 hours per year gossiping and it wouldn’t surprise me if that number is even higher for some people.

You can avoid this by being intentional about your office chat topics to avoid political chat and gossip pitfalls. Make it a point to talk about non-work topics while eating lunch or getting coffee with coworkers (Movies! Books! Vacations!).

Set the tone for this by intentionally going into conversations with something you want to talk about that is totally unrelated to work. Setting that initial conversation can shift the conversational dynamic, and will often demotivate office gossipers, who will take their negativity elsewhere.

If you’re frustrated, unload your work woes into a daily morning journal, or to a trusted friend.

3. Don’t sit at your desk all day.

We’ve all heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.”

Sitting has been linked to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. But what’s most concerning for the average person is that sedentary days have also been shown to increase anxiety.

This is because when you exercise (and that includes walking), endorphins are released. When you’re too still for too long, those levels can get imbalanced.

The best way to keep those feel-good neurotransmitters in check is to stay moving.

Occasionally use a standing desk if you have one, or take at least one five-minute walking break every 90 minutes to rest your eyes and stretch your legs.

Install the Chrome plug-in StandUp if you need help with this.

4. Don’t host all your meetings in a conference room.

Science suggests our environment (access to light, the level of noise, etc.) plays a critical role in our mental health.

I would also suggest a lack of novelty is a critically overlooked aspect of general boredom, frustration and stress in the workplace.

Getting together with your team will not always require a PowerPoint or “normal” technology that a conference room offers, so why limit yourself to it?

Shake up the format of your meetings.

Turn your regular 1–1 meeting into a walking meeting. Or meet in a local park. Or even just on a different floor!

If you can get outside, not only will the movement release feel-good endorphins, but the access to sunshine and fresh air will lower cortisol levels (the fight-or-flight, stress hormone).

5. Don’t respond to emails within 5 minutes.

My perspective on using email was forever changed when I read Deep Work (Cal Newport), who basically attests that email, instant messaging and social media are all forms of shallow work.

They don’t take a great amount of focus and we dole out this time willy-nilly because of how unstructured our days tend to be.

Again: Boundaries can help.

If you can be at peace with the notion that you don’t need to immediately respond to emails, you’ll give yourself permission to get to those emails when you’ve got a clearer head.

Set aside blocks of your day to look at email.

That way, when a maddening email arrives and you’re mid-deep focus, you won’t be inclined to shoot off a response, because you won’t even have seen it. You can read it during your allotted email time, digest it, and come back to it once you’ve had a moment to process.

Avoiding the dreaded impulsive, reactionary email response will make you more effective and strategic in your work.

Time — even five minutes — offers us perspective, and perspective makes us more calm people to work with.

🙏Subscribe to my newsletter, Om Weekly, sent every Tuesday to receive a personal reflection framing an ancient philosophy into the everyday, and offering techniques that will help you get to know yourself better. Check out the archives here to see if it’s for you. Subscribe if you like it.


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Kelly Barrett

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Freelance writer, digital strategist, yoga instructor. Words: National Geographic, Washington Post, more. Newsletter writer: omweekly.com

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