One of the toughest parts of this new normal where we can all work remotely is we've now lost the clear separation between work and home. We end up working longer hours without breaks because there is no commute, and it seems like even more is expected of us working at home because we don't have any office distractions.
But the truth is, there is NO upside to working yourself into an early grave. Work stress and burnout are real, and they can negatively impact both our physical and mental health, our productivity, and even our relationships with friends and family. Therefore, boundaries are necessary to maintain your sanity and some level of work/life prioritization.
If you're thinking, "I hear you, Julia, BUT…that's easier said than done. If I start drawing boundaries with work, my company will think I'm not working hard enough or that I don't want to support the team," I've got you covered!
Below I've outlined a few ways for you to start protecting your peace at work (whether at home or whenever we return to the office):
Say NO at work.
Contrary to popular belief, it's perfectly OK to say NO at work. This does not mean you're not a team player or that you aren't willing to get work done. It simply means you are prioritizing your activities, and there may not be available bandwidth to take on additional work. If your supervisor or manager asks you to take on new tasks and you know you're already overloaded, schedule some time to walk through your current deliverables to see which ones can be placed on the backburner in favor of the new activities.
You can say something like, "Given the complexity of ABC tasks I'm already working on, I won't be able to add on XYZ as well and still complete everything accurately in the timeframe you've outlined. Which items would you prefer I prioritize first?" It is important that your supervisor is always clear on your work list so they have the appropriate context when assigning new projects.
Set boundaries in the workplace.
Let this be your confirmation:
Unless it's clearly part of your job description or communicated to you upon hiring, you should not need to be on-call for your employer. If you are performing at your highest level during standard business hours, meeting stated objectives, and providing your business partners and stakeholders with required information, your off-work hours should belong to you.
That's not to say there aren't peak times. We've all had to work on an accelerated project or complex presentation that may require unconventional hours. But outside of specific circumstances, get comfortable with leaving work where it is at the end of the day, and picking it up strong the following day.
If you find yourself receiving several late requests or calls, have a discussion with your management regarding role expectations and time commitments. You can also interact directly with those requesting your support. When you get something at the end of the day, respond with a quick note that says, "I received your request, and I will be glad to provide these details for you tomorrow." If you have a meeting scheduled for after-hours, propose a new (available) time and state, "I'm unavailable at XXpm, but I am open to meeting at XXam. Will that work for you?"
Remember if you don't draw the line, people may assume there isn't one!
Establish meeting agendas and objectives for better time management.
This is particularly important if you are in leadership or management. When you are leading teams and setting the tone for an organization, your time truly dwindles. You cannot afford to spend time in meetings that serve no purpose, or else you will find yourself meeting all day during business hours, and then doing your actual work AFTER hours. When meetings are placed on your calendar, review them for agendas and expected outcomes.
Should you receive a meeting with a blank invitation comment box, don't shy away from responding to the sender to ask what the conversation is about, the main objectives, and how you can best provide value. This shows that you're not at all opposed to being part of the discussion, BUT ALSO, it politely lets them know you don't have time to be meeting about some upcoming meeting, which is a review of something they took offline in a prior meeting.
No more meetings about meetings in 2020.
Start delegating tasks more often.
Here's one more for my leaders and bosses! Start giving away your work. This is something I have personally struggled with as a manager because I feel like if something is given to me, I have to be the one to do it! Perhaps you've felt the same way, or you think, "If I want it done right, I have to do it myself." But keep in mind you are only one person, and there is only so much two hands can do. But if you have a team of competent, talented people working for you, tap into their skills and strengths. This gives you the opportunity to provide development and expand their work horizons, BUT ALSO, it gets some tasks off your plate so that you can better balance your more high-priority items, reduce your stress and anxiety levels, and work more efficiently. You've heard the saying: Many hands make light work. Take advantage of the resources you have and trust your team to help you carry the load.
Remember, you are not your job. You work to live, not live to work. And it's impossible to be at your best when you are constantly under excessive work stress. So be willing to put yourself first. There will always be another job, but there is only one you!
For more information about Julia Rock, check out Rock Career Development or follow her on Instagram and Twitter. To read more on work stress and the associated health impacts, check out this CDC report.
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