10 Tips for Setting Boundaries to Improve Your Work-Life Balance
The average person spends more than a third of their life at work. But in today’s modern society, it can be hard to turn off your work brain and enter into family mode even when your working hours are over.
Setting work boundaries is hard, especially if you have a demanding position. But it’s important for your mental and emotional health, as well as the health of your relationships. A good work-life balance can also benefit your employer by reducing chronic stress in the workplace and improving productivity.
Why Is It so Hard to Have a Good Work-life Balance?
Having a good work-life balance has been difficult for generations. It may be new as a buzzword, but it’s an old problem.
Today’s technology makes having a good work-life balance harder than ever. The same tools designed to keep everyone connected make it very difficult at times to escape from work. With it being so difficult to establish boundaries — due in part to increasing demands from employers and the COVID-19 pandemic’s continuing effects on the workforce — workers have been leaving their jobs in droves, many citing a poor work-life balance as a contributing factor.
Challenges of the modern workplace
The goal of technology is to make lives easier. Unfortunately, it can sometimes have the opposite effect.
Smartphones make it easy to bring your work home with you. Similarly, they make it just as easy to bring your home into the workplace. This leads to a complicated union between your work life and your home life. You may find yourself checking work emails at night instead of talking to the family. Or you may find yourself arguing with your child via text when you need to be working on an important work project.
Benefits of having a good work-life balance
Despite the many challenges of having a good work-life balance, doing so is critical to leading a healthy, happy life. Studies show that a good work-life balance has a number of positive effects, including:
- Lower levels of stress
- Reduced feelings of burnout
- Improved family relations
Improving work-life balance can also benefit your employers. Companies that prioritize work-life balance see lower rates of absenteeism and less turnover than companies that don’t prioritize work-life balance. Ultimately, this can reduce expenses while improving overall office morale.
How Do You Set Boundaries With Others?
Boundary setting is an important part of establishing a strong work-life balance. But this can be quite difficult, especially when you’re dealing with your employers or your family.
The first step to setting your boundaries is to take note of what’s most important to you. For example, if you value spending as much time as possible with your kids, then a reasonable boundary would be that you can’t work nights or weekends.
Once you know what your values are, your next step is to establish what you’re willing to sacrifice to make those values a reality in your life. Are you willing to give up a major promotion if it means spending more time with your kids? Or are you willing to sacrifice family time if it means getting a stronger foothold in your career?
Coming to terms with the fact that you can’t have it all can help you decide on the best personal and professional boundaries for your life.
Setting boundaries with your work
Setting boundaries with your employer can feel intimidating. It’s easy to think that your employer holds all the cards. After all, at the end of the day, they hold the key to your paycheck.
It’s important to remember that good employers want you to have a strong work-life balance. Many are willing to work with you to establish that balance as long as you communicate your needs clearly.
If a manager oversteps a boundary by assigning you another task when your workload is already piled high, it’s best not to respond by saying, “I have too much on my plate.” Instead, ask to sit down with your manager to iron out your priorities.
Explain your boundaries in terms of how they impact your employer. For example, you might say something like, “I’m happy to take on this new project. However, doing this project will take time away from X, Y, and Z. Which one would you rather I focus on right now?”
This gives your manager the power to decide what’s most important to them, and doesn’t deny the work they’re giving you, but still puts a firm line in the sand that you’re not willing to cross over.
Setting boundaries with your family and friends
Just as it’s important to set boundaries with your work, it’s equally important to set boundaries with your family and friends. If your husband is constantly emailing you while you’re at work, or your kids are texting you asking what you’re having for dinner, it pulls your concentration away from your workday. This can make you less productive, which can leave you feeling stressed out and frustrated when it’s time to leave the office.
The best way to set these boundaries is to communicate clearly with your family when it’s okay to contact you and when it’s not.
One option is to say something like this: “If you want to go to your friend’s house after school, you need to ask me the night before. If you call me at work to ask me on the day of, my answer is going to be no.”
Once you’ve set a boundary, it’s important to follow through. Eventually, when your family and friends realize that your boundary is impenatrable, they’ll stop trying to cross it.
10 Tips for Setting Boundaries to Improve Your Work-life Balance
If you’re new to boundary setting, you may not know where to begin. Here at ten easy tips for setting boundaries to improve your work-life balance.
1. Find a job that you enjoy
There’s an old adage that if you enjoy what you do, you never have to work a day in your life.
Truthfully, this is oversimplified. Just because you enjoy writing, for example, doesn’t mean you like staying up until midnight to meet a deadline.
But there is something to be said for finding a job that you enjoy. When work doesn’t feel like a relentless slog, day in and day out, you require less down time to recharge after a hard day.
This goes double for finding employers you enjoy working for. When your managers are respectful of your time and your space, it’s easier to carve out a place for yourself and establish a good work-life balance.
2. Have set times to unplug
Smart technology makes it far too easy for work to follow us home. Instead of allowing that, set specific times to unplug each day.
For example, you may make a commitment not to look at your phone from dinner time until the kids go to bed.
Having a set time to unplug is not only a good boundary for your work, but it also allows you to focus on your family when you’re with them. This can strengthen your relationships, which makes it easier to separate from them during the day without feeling guilty.
3. Ask for more flexible hours
Many workplaces are now toying with offering more flexible hours, from four-day work weeks to hybrid positions that allow employees to work at the office some days and from home other days.
Even if your employer doesn’t currently offer this, you can propose the idea and see what they think. Studies show that there are some benefits to flexible workdays for employers, including reduced absenteeism and increased productivity during working hours.
4. Outline your priorities and deadlines
There are only so many hours in a day. To keep from burning out, take time to outline what you need to get done in a week — both personally and professionally — and set your list of priorities.
Having a list of priorities and deadlines in front of you helps you stay on task and reduces procrastination. This can help you make the most of the hours you do have.
5. Set specific working hours — and stick to them
It’s okay to be the employee who walks out the door at five o’clock each day.
Commit yourself to working during work hours and being present at home during your off hours. Having a clear separation, both for you and the others in your life, can improve your work-life balance and increase your overall happiness.
6. Add more movement into your day
Moving throughout the day is great for your physical and mental health. It can also improve your concentration levels, increase creativity, and bolster your confidence — all of which can increase your workplace productivity.
Move more during the day by taking the stairs more often, getting up and stretching every half hour, or taking walking meetings instead of sitting meetings. The exercise will increase your cortisol and serotonin levels — the feel-good hormones in your brain — which can help you feel less stressed.
7. Take your breaks during the workday
Studies show that a majority of employees choose to work through their lunch breaks. But taking a break during the day to eat lunch and unwind can positively affect your happiness and your productivity.
Choosing to take your lunch breaks or your 10-minute breaks gives you space to recharge your brain and can increase creativity during the day.
8. Schedule your vacations
Vacation time isn’t meant to just sit around. If you have vacations, be sure to take them. Even if you just have a stay-cation to read books during the day and hang out with your kids at night, scheduling your vacation days and being away from work for a period of time can reduce feelings of burnout while improving your family relationships.
9. Be willing to say “no”
Boundary setting is all about being able to say “no.”
This can be personally or professionally. For example, it might mean that you have to tell your child that you can’t pick them up after school and bring them to their friend’s house because you have to work during those hours. Or it could mean telling your supervisor that you can’t work a shift on a weekend because you have to be with your family during that period of time.
Remember that “no” is a viable response in and of itself. But this doesn’t mean you have to be blunt. There are ways to say “no” in a polite, professional manner while still establishing your boundary.
10. Maintain your emotional health
Keeping an eye on your emotional health is key to maintaining a good work-life balance.
It’s okay to take a mental health day from work if you’re too stressed or feeling burnt out. You can also recenter during the day with exercise, meditation, or breathing exercises.
Benefitting from Your Improved Work-life Balance
Improving your work-life balance can have you breathing a sigh of relief. Get started today by outlining your priorities and determining what’s most important to your life. Then, decide what boundaries you need to set to keep those priorities front and center.
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