Boundaries are something we wrestle with from a young age, though we may not appreciate the limits they seemingly put on our lives. From a young age we fight to push these very limits, even though they exist to keep us safe, out of trouble, and on the right path. In time we come to learn to set our own boundaries so that we can make room for what’s important in our life. As adults, the boundaries we establish are for the many facet of for our life, and we must decide when and where to draw the line.
It’s taken me many years and LOTS of practice, but I am much better at setting boundaries than I once did. There was a time when I worked 40+ hours a week, went to school full-time, volunteered, and somehow made time for friends and family. But all of that came at a cost. One such expense was sleep, because who has time for 7 to 8 hours of sleep when you have that much to do? There was also the cost my sanity, as I tried to keep straight where and when I had somewhere to be or something to do. But this was all a small price to pay for being able to do all the things right? Wrong!
Trying to do everything only led to being..
1. Decide what is most important to you.
Making time for family or friends? Growing in your career? Volunteering and giving back to your community? Faith?
This may be different for each of us, AND it can vary over time. It’s critical that we pay attention to how our priorities ebb and flow. Before I had my daughter, I preferred starting my work day a little later and would work later into the evening. Now that I have my little girl, I’d much rather start my day earlier and get home to her sooner than later.
2. Decide what your limits are going to be.
Limiting yourself to work 40-45 hours per week? Taking vacation time regularly? Seeing your family a certain number of times per month? Having dinner with friends once a week?
Just like our priorities and what’s most important, this can be differently for you and me. I’ve learned that working 50-60 hours a week doesn’t make me any more productive, and I’m better off keeping it closer to 40 hours per week. Thankfully I’m not alone in this, and more and more studies are coming out to show this. Even coming to show that you can be at an increased risk of stroke from working more than 55 hours a week. YIKES!
3. Decide when and where you need to draw the line.
Establishing your boundaries from the start is critical part of being able to maintain them. I have friends who are pastors, and have to choose what their day off is going to be since they work on Sunday. Many choose Monday or Friday in addition to Saturday like many of us. BUT, it’s hard for them to protect their day off, because people want to meet with them on their chosen day off. Like any of us when someone is pushing the limits of our boundaries, they have to decide whether or not to say yes or no. If they say yes, they’re setting the precedent that their boundaries don’t matter. If they say no, people know to respect their boundaries and meet during their work week.
Learning to say no and sticking to it usually doesn’t have it’s negative effects. Instead you protect yourself, and show that you a person of your word. You won’t do that which violates your limits, but you’re all in when the time is appropriate. Once you have established what your boundaries will be, work on knowing your clues for when you’re getting overwhelmed. Being able to recognize this before you’re burnt out helps you recalibrate your boundaries as needed, so that you can make room for what’s most important to you.