Zoe Kaplan
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Staff Writer & Content Strategist @ Fairygodboss

It’s hard to separate work from home when your office is in your bedroom — or your kitchen, your living room, or even your child’s playroom. Yet setting boundaries at work is much more than making a personal office space in your shared home. Boundaries aren’t just physical; they’re personal, too. Setting work boundaries means communicating your unique boundaries with your coworkers and managers. If you don’t, the consequences can not only damage your mental health, but also negatively impact your work performance. Here’s 8 ways to start setting healthy boundaries that work for you — even when you’re in an unhealthy work environment.

1. Know your own boundaries. 

You won’t be able to set boundaries without knowing what your “healthy boundaries” look like. One person’s healthy boundaries might not be anything like someone else’s. That’s why it’s important to reflect and understand what kind of boundaries you’re looking for and what will work best for you. Start becoming aware of work situations, tasks, and even people that cause you stress and anxiety. What boundaries can you set that will help minimize the stress and anxiety you feel about these? Next, think about the lifestyle you’d optimally live if you had the work-life balance you wanted — while ensuring that you still get your work done. When are you most productive? When do you need to check out and go offline? 

2. Communicate your needs.

Once you’ve established what boundaries you need, communicate these needs with your manager. Just because you’re online at all hours doesn’t mean you’re doing your best work — and it can lead to burnout and decreased performance. A good manager will understand that boundaries will make you work harder and smarter rather than detracting from your work. Be clear about situations and work tasks that cause you stress, and communicate what work schedule you think works best for you. The more clarity you can provide, the easier it will be for your manager to understand your needs and help you address them.

3. Delegate where you can.

Setting boundaries doesn’t mean you’re doing less work — it means you’re prioritizing the most important work tasks. Start by making a list of your responsibilities at work. Then, without showing your manager your list, check in with them to see what work responsibilities they think you have. Any discrepancies between the lists should help you see where your work priorities lie, and anything that’s not a priority can most likely be delegated. Asking for help with a project or task isn’t a sign of weakness; it shows you’re collaborative, dedicated, and trusting of your team members.

4. Don’t always respond right away.

There’s a fine line between being available and responding quickly. If you respond to every Slack message or email immediately — especially when it’s not an emergency — your coworkers will have the expectation that you’re always available. Before you jump on board a last-minute project or agree to do some extra work, wait a minute before responding. Taking time doesn’t mean you’re refusing your coworker’s requests; it means you’re checking in with yourself, understanding your priorities, and discovering what you need to communicate to ensure you don’t overextend yourself. 

5. Utilize technology.

Because getting online is easier and more accessible than ever before, having technology at our fingertips can make it harder to set boundaries. Yet that doesn’t mean can’t  make technology work for you. Just as you assess your work tasks to understand your priorities and where you can delegate, assess your work to see how technology might be able to speed up the process. Technology can also be your friend when it comes to making your boundaries clear: out of office messages, status updates on Slack, or setting working hours on Google Calendar.

6. Schedule time off.

It’s not enough to say that you’ll take time off. Before you know it, you’ll go months without a single vacation day. Even if you work from home and you’re not planning on going anywhere, taking time off is crucial for relaxing and recharging. Make it a priority to find time you want to take off and schedule it in advance. When the day (or week!) arrives, you’ll thank your past self.

7. If you block time off, don’t budge.

Once your vacation time rolls around, don’t give into working just because your computer’s nearby. Work emergencies are one thing, but generally try to stay away from all things work related when you’re offline. One way to ease your mind on vacation is to create a comprehensive out of office plan for your coworkers to refer to when you’re away. Separating yourself from work when you’re on vacation will ensure you’re getting the rest you really need — which will only set you up for success when you return. Your emails can wait until then.

8. Respect others’ boundaries.

It’s the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. Be respectful of your coworkers’ boundaries just as you hope they’d respect you. When your coworkers are taking time off, don’t bombard them with messages. When they’re online, be clear about deadlines and let others know when something’s urgent versus when it’s not. Don’t always expect others to drop everything to help you out; instead, understand that everyone has their limits and you may need to compromise to reach the best outcome.

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