You and your boundaries – how are they working out for you?

7th July 2020

I think it’s been around 15 weeks since all of this COVD craziness began and over that time we’ve all had a completely different experience of lockdown life.

One thing that I believe has been common to us all, is the challenge of making a clear distinction between work and our personal or family life. There have been examples of nurses living away from families to keep them safe. Parents trying to work from home while also home schooling children; and homeworkers creating makeshift workspaces in bedrooms and spare rooms out of necessity.

The lines between work and home are more blurred than they’ve ever been before. We all remember this guy! This was March 2017 (yes three years ago!) and the clip went viral. It was out of the ordinary, completely unexpected and maybe we laughed because at the time it was considered quite a No-No?!

Cut to three years later and lots of us have had to manage similar situations as we adjusted to trying to work from home and doing more work virtually and online. I’ve run webinars recently where we’ve been interrupted by small children; dogs barking; delivery men and partners shouting something in the background at that crucial moment!

Our personal and working lives are overlapping like never before – and I believe one real upside is that we’re seeing more of the human, infallible sides of each other. On the downside lots of people have described how tough it’s been to switch off from work and to make the distinction between when work begins and ends. It’s all mushing together and the lines are blurred. Lots of surveys have shown how we generally work longer and more intensely when we work from home. The working day stretches; we start earlier, and we struggle to know when to switch off.

What we’re talking about are our boundaries. Boundaries being the distinctions that we make about the things that are both OK and not OK for us. Boundaries are about being clear on what’s right for YOU and what’s a priority for YOU. Yes, you get the idea it’s about YOU!

These might be linked to your values and linked to how you want to live your life. for instance, one of my strongest boundaries is around timekeeping. It most definitely is NOT OK for me to be late for something and it’s something that I’m a real stickler for. Timekeeping might not be such a big one for you, but here’s some examples of what would constitute a boundary;

  • I don’t check work calls/emails after 6pm.
  • Weekends are family time.
  • I don’t start work before 8am.
  • Wednesday nights are my gym night.
  • No phones/devices at the dinner table. (a personal fave!)

You and your boundaries

With the impact and chaos of COVID, it seems to me that our boundaries, and the lines between work and home life have intermingled to an unprecedented level. I’ve spoken to people that are checking work emails at all times of the day and night. I’ve heard people talk of the worry of being away from their desk “just in case my boss calls, and they think I’m skiving!” For those people working at home it feels that people are working longer and harder than ever!

From some of the people I’ve been speaking to, the boundaries have become light, wispy and flimsy.  We’re adding an hour at the start of the day; not taking much of a break in between and we’re working later into the evening.

If any of that sounds like you, maybe now’s a good time to put some clear lines in the sand? If you feel that you need to work on your boundaries here’s what you can do as a start:

Have ‘em – be super clear on what’s OK and not OK for you.

Step one is for you to be really clear on your boundaries. What is REALLY OK for you and what’s REALLY not OK? What do you need to be in place for you to feel REALLY, genuinely, deeply comfortable with what’s going on around you? You could use any number of headings to help you identify what you really need right now; work, family, mental and physical wellbeing, finances, friends etc.

Share ‘em – be super clear with others on your boundaries.

This can be one of the biggest stumbling blocks – but if we don’t talk to others about what we want or need how will they know? What stops you talking about boundaries will be personal to you. If this feels difficult or you avoid asking for what you need, maybe that’s where you need to start? I’d suggest working with someone to help you untangle what it is about you that finds asking for what you need so difficult.

Hold ‘em – be prepared to hold onto them even when challenged.

This is about being prepared to say “no” to things that aren’t OK for you. We’re talking about upping the assertion level and being prepared to stand up for yourself. And again, there might be lots of underlying thoughts and beliefs that can stop us in our tracks here!

I’m not saying that we become overly rigid either. There may well be times when you CHOOSE to flex and accommodate others. What I’m referring to are those things that are SO important that you don’t want compromise those. If you know what your boundaries are, you have a point to start from. Then you can make a conscious choice as to whether you dig in and stand your ground or whether you compromise to accommodate someone else’s needs.

Is it time to work on your own boundaries?

One sure fire sign that you’re not holding appropriate boundaries is when we feel that build-up of resentment at something we agree to or when someone treats us in a way that’s most definitely not OK. If you recognise those times when you put yourself under pressure because you feel that you can’t say “no” or you feel that you’re always putting others first; maybe it’s about time you treated yourself like someone you care about, and stand up for what you want and need? 

What d’ya say?

If you’d like some help clarifying your boundaries or support in finding the right way to share and hold them, please feel free to get in touch!