Navigating Your Career

Boundaries and Work Life Balance

May 26, 2021 Melissa Lawrence Season 1 Episode 35
Navigating Your Career
Boundaries and Work Life Balance
Show Notes Transcript

Most of my clients struggle with creating boundaries at work and having the work and life balance that they want.

In this episode Melissa is sharing:

  • How to know if you need to create boundaries and improve your work life balance
  • The impact that overworking has on you, your family, and your job performance
  • The behavior all leaders should demonstrate to improve work culture
  • The simple steps you can take to create boundaries right now
  • How to get your boss to buy-in to you working less

Mentioned in this episode:
If you're feeling stuck and want to feel better about your work, apply for coaching with Melissa at www.melissamlawrence.com

Welcome to Navigating Your Career, the only podcast that blends personal development, professional skills and psychology to help you get happy at work and live the life you want if you want to stop feeling stuck and start feeling better. This is the place for you. I'm your host, Melissa Lawrence.

 

Let's get started.

 

Hello, everyone, welcome to this week's episode of the podcast. So this week we are going to talk about something that all of my clients seem to struggle with one way or another, and that is creating boundaries at work and having the work life balance that you want. I actually am surprised I haven't talked about this yet because I have done a number of different trainings. I've talked about this on my email list to my insiders. I work on this topic with my clients all the time, and it occurred to me I have not talked about it here yet.

 

So you are in for a treat. So if you are like my client, then it is not uncommon for you to sometimes or maybe even regularly be working 12 to 16 hour days or checking your email all the time, even after work hours. And I know I did this in the past too, but even checking it before bed and you know, nothing good comes from doing that, right? Because if you see something that is coming through from someone that maybe you don't like working with, it's going to make it hard for you to settle down and go to sleep.

 

If you get some sort of new project or deadline thrown on you last minute that is it going to help you sleep. There's really nothing good that comes from doing that yet. So many people do it all the time. Also, when you take your laptop on vacation with you and you're not able to take time away because you always want to be connected just in case something comes through, just in case you're needed, just in case there's a question that only you can answer.

 

You just want to be the good employee that is always available at OnDemand. And I know a lot of people also worry about the perception of not being available, of not being online. If you want to be seen as visible all hours by those other people that are also visible at all hours, then sometimes you might go in and just log in in the evening just to appear that you were online or that you're away. Status isn't that far apart and that people could look and say, oh, you're working so hard.

 

Right? So all of those examples are things that my clients have struggled with that I have seen in my corporate days. And it's just a lose lose situation because you end up suffering. You're not taking care of yourself. You aren't prioritizing your health and getting good sleep and having those healthy boundaries between you and work. And that's going to bleed into every part of your life. Your work suffers because you aren't giving your best. Your brain isn't able to really produce that higher level of thinking.

 

You're not as efficient and you're just stressed and dragged down. And so you may spend more time talking with some colleagues and complaining about work or maybe having a hard time staying awake or feeling like you're on all the time. And so you're not able to kind of give your best in those situations. And then your home also suffers, right. When you could be home and be present with your family, when you could be present with your partner or doing something that you really enjoy.

 

Instead, you're worried about whether or not someone emailed you or emailed you back or did something come in from this person or that person, or maybe you think you need to push a document through some system so that other people can get it first thing in the morning. And so you just never let yourself take a break and take a step away and have that boundary. That is going to help you sustain your own health and help you be a higher performer and get that advancement at work that you want.

 

So this work life balance issue where people are giving so much to their job is really backfiring because you're not giving your best and it's not helping you advance as efficiently as if you really took care of yourself and then gave your best as someone that was rested and had those boundaries. I personally think this is also a really great leadership trait. And unfortunately, a lot of our leaders don't role model this behavior. But I think if you can manage your schedule, if you can delegate effectively, if you can create boundaries for yourself and role model that for others and for your team, that is an amazing leadership quality.

 

Imagine of all of the leaders that we worked with. Prioritize work life balance, prioritize the boundaries, encourage their teams to do it. That would be amazing. But so many of our leaders are not like that. And so we try to emulate them because we think that's what you need to do in order to get ahead. And it's just simply not true. I've seen this happen time and time again with my clients that struggle with the work life balance.

 

We work on creating boundaries, and when we do that, they end up getting promoted, getting higher visibility projects. It's happened with every single one of my clients. They get more when they take a step back and they really focus on having those boundaries for themselves. So the reason that so many of us struggle with work life balance is you're trying to be everything to everyone. And when you're everything to everyone, you aren't helping people and being there for people and doing your best work.

 

So when you're everything to everyone, that's when you're taking on more responsibility than you need to when you're seeking validation from other people. So many people that get caught up in this work life balance issue, they are looking for that validation by doing things for other people, taking on responsibilities and tasks that they don't need to. And then that creates a cycle where then you're getting positive feedback and so you keep doing it and it creates a positive feedback loop that you thrive on.

 

And then that makes it harder for you to say no because you crave that good job, you crave that validation. And even if it's not in, you know, good job, Pat, on the back, it can be with providing you more opportunity, providing you more visibility because you went that extra mile and you attribute that to you putting in those long hours. Another issue that comes up is when you let circumstances control you. And so what this looks like is let's say you already have a really full plate at work and you get another assignment given to you and you just take it.

 

And you think that's just the way that it is, instead of thinking, OK, I'm having this project added to my plate, what can I take off to make room for it? Right. And this was a strategy that worked really well for one of my clients. She had a manager that would constantly be giving her more work and it was just piling on and piling on. And so something that we tried and worked really well for her and her manager was to communicate when something was added.

 

OK, great. I would love to do this for you. What can we take off of my plate? What can someone else help me with so that I can take care of this new responsibility or this new priority and that provided so much visibility into that person's workload for their manager? It also allowed my client to create some really healthy boundaries. That strategy works with so many things that works in your personal life, too. I remember when I was shopping for wedding dresses, that was something about the salesperson dead as I was only allowed to have three dresses in my dressing room.

 

And so, you know, when you go in, you're trying on dresses and it's very exciting. And you like so many of them and you're not sure what to do. So you just try to kind of pile them all into your dressing room and pretty soon you don't fit there anymore. And so instead, the salesperson was so genius about that. She said you can only have three, so you'll try someone. And when you get to that fourth one you like, you have to put one back because you can only have three.

 

And that was so smart because it taught you how to not only control yourself as far as the things that you wanted to take on or put on in the case of the dress. But it also forced you into making decisions and creating boundaries. And so that same concept works at work as well. So when you're given more responsibilities, you can say no, you can ask who can help me or how can I get some support with this or how can we do prioritize some of these other things so that I can move this up the list and still get it done.

 

But instead, we don't always go to that. Instead, we will just take it on and try to be the good employee who just takes on everything and thinks that that is what is required of us or we get worried that will get in trouble or our manager will not be happy with us or this won't look good for us or we won't get that promotion if we don't take on more. But really, this goes back to the leadership behavior that I mentioned before.

 

It's a sign of leadership to be able to prioritize your work and to be able to push back and advocate for yourself. That's what you want to have in a leader, so you doing that for yourself, even if you get some resistance at first, is really demonstrating that you have those characteristics to advance in the future. We can also get really caught up in what other people think of us. So when you are taking on more and more work and just trying to be helpful, you may be hurting yourself and taking on more than you think that you are.

 

You may be thinking that this is something you have to do and really it's something that you are putting on yourself because you want to be seen as the one that gives it all, the one that people can count on, the one that is reliable no matter what. And I see that happen a lot, too. Sometimes the strategy that I work on with my clients is we look at where those things that you're signing up to take on that you kind of forgot about.

 

Right, because we don't we don't necessarily think about this from a perspective of I created this situation for myself. It's more because little things kind of snowball where you sign up to take one thing, maybe to help out another employee with this, maybe sign up for this work event or this culture activity, all these different things, they pile up. And next thing you know, you don't have bandwidth anymore. You're beyond capacity, but you created that for yourself.

 

But because it happens slowly over time, it kind of seems like it happened to you. And so looking at. What you have on your plate and what is really required versus what you signed up for, what what you volunteered to do can be another another way of looking at your workload and assessing it to take things off of your plate so you have a little bit more breathing room. Another thing that I see is sometimes you're just unhappy at home and if you're unhappy at home, then having work, having a distraction.

 

Can be a welcome escape from screaming children or a partner that you're not getting along with right now or you are dealing with something uncomfortable and you're just trying to escape feeling your feelings by throwing yourself into work and you're using that as a distraction. And that can be really dangerous over time because you're not only preventing yourself from really processing your feelings. And having kind of a full life experience, but you're letting things kind of bottle up and when they bottle up, they come out sideways and over time this becomes your identity, you being this person that's always busy, that never has enough time, that always has to check their email in the evening.

 

That becomes who you are. And when that becomes who you are, it goes back to what I said earlier about you suffering your health, suffering your work is suffering and the people in your life are suffering. So you have to be really careful to be self aware of how you're using work when you're not at work. And especially in these times when so many of us are working remotely and at home, that lying can become very blurred. So really try to think about do you have a schedule in place?

 

Do you have physical boundaries around your workspace? For example, if you have an office, do you shut the door at the end of the day? Or if you don't have an office, maybe you change your clothing at the end of the day to signify that it is the end of the workday or you go for a walk around the block. So it's kind of like a home commute. So there's a number of things that you can think of that will help you create a signal in your brain that work is now over.

 

And then when work is over, when you do that, it's much easier for you to be aware of when you're blurring those boundaries for yourself. So if you change your clothes, you go for your little walk around the block at the end of the workday and then you find yourself in your work email at eight o'clock at night. That will become more apparent that it's not work hours that you're choosing to do that. And then you can ask yourself why?

 

What are you running away from? What is it that you're uncomfortable with at the moment? What do you think is going to happen if you don't check your work email? Why are you drawn to do that at that moment? So really being self aware of your own behavior around this and where you're contributing to the problem is very important. So another thing that I see is when you put so much work on yourself and you are taking on more than you need to, and you're overburdened, you're overcapacity, you feel like you never have enough time, that work is just very demanding of you.

 

What ends up happening is you end up missing opportunities that will help you advance in your career and it can be easier to do all the busywork, like helping other people taking on administrative tasks like onboarding or being a point person for a meeting. Just different things that you might take on because you're trying to help all of those little things add up and then you fill your plate with all of these little tasks that your expertize or not needed for. Then when something big comes up, like maybe an opportunity for a stretch assignment or to shadow another area or to visit another site, then you end up saying no to those things because you don't feel you have enough time.

 

And this had come up recently with one of my clients as well. She is really busy and a lot of what she had taken on was things that she could delegate or have someone else help her with. But she didn't see that at the time. And so what had happened is she was offered an opportunity to do something outside of her role that was tied to her future, that was tied to her development plan, something that she wanted to go toward.

 

And she said no to it because she didn't think she had enough time. And instead, what I want you to ask yourself is, how can you make that opportunity work? How can you prioritize those things that are important to you, that are connected to your goals and what you want for your future? And so instead of saying, no, I don't have enough time, I want you to think about how you can create the time, how you can make sure that when those opportunities present themselves, that you're able to offload some of those unnecessary tasks to do the important works that you can really advance in your career.

 

So now I want to transition a little bit to how you can create some boundaries. So I've shared a lot about how this shows up with my clients, how I've seen it shown up when I was in the corporate life, and the impact that this has on you and your family in your work. And I hope that you are really clear that having work life balance isn't a luxury, it's something that's necessary, and that if you don't find a way to manage your workload in a way that is sustainable for you and that allows you to work towards what is important to you, you are going to stay stuck.

 

You're always going to be in this rat race of taking on more and distracting yourself because you're unhappy with how much you have to work. And so you kind of fill that with more work. It just becomes this self sabotage cycle. So how do you create boundaries? So this is the the more simple part of this episode, because how you create boundaries is simple. You decide the boundaries that you want to have. So what are the boundaries that you want to have?

 

What do you want your workday to look like so that you can have the life that you want? And then you get to work Problem-Solving, how can you make it happen? So if you want to work eight to five and maybe give yourself some buffer time for demanding projects or deadlines, things that come up and say that you want to be off of your computer by six, 30 at the very latest, but five is going to be your end date for the hour and time, for example.

 

Then how can you make that happen? What are you doing now that is preventing you from making that a reality? And I want you to really think about how you're contributing to this problem. I know that might sound harsh and I might be triggering some of you right now, but I've seen it time and time again. I had another client, for example, that for years she has been just drained from the amount of work that she was doing and felt she had no work life balance.

 

She wasn't seeing her friends. She wasn't doing the things that she enjoyed. She didn't have time for her partner. She was barely hanging on. And when we looked at her work life balance and what was contributing to that? Some of it was the boundaries we needed to create, which is what I just mentioned, deciding what you want and making that happen. But there were also hadyn sneaky little things that she was doing that was part of her problem.

 

Like she had a very high standard of quality for her work. And she didn't want to take the time to teach someone else how to do it because she had a bad experience where she tried to have someone do something and they didn't do it to her level. And so she decided it was easier for her to do it herself. So she was taking on hours and hours of extra work. On a regular basis. Because of that bad experience and instead what we did is I coached her through how to help this other person help her, how to help her stakeholders have a more quality product, how she can coach them so that what she gets is higher quality and she can let that go off of her plate.

 

We also had to work through her thoughts around what high quality is and what her standard is versus what's acceptable. So there's a lot of reasons why we can sometimes add more to our plate. It can be that we're distracting or numbing ourselves. It can be part of our identity. It can be that we have really high quality standards and we think we're the only ones that can do it the best way. So really, take a look at where that might be happening for you and what changes you can make, what decisions you want to make to take some of that off of your plate so that you can have the work life balance that you want.

 

And I don't define work life balance with a certain number, because work life balance is personal to the individual, one person might want their work life balance to be 40 hours a week to another. It might be 50 to another, it might be 35 five. It's really up to you to decide what is that work life balance that you want to have? When is it that you want to turn off and have time for you? What do you want your day to look like?

 

And then you start to problem solve? How can you make that happen? What can other people do for you? I had another client who she was doing something that other people could do at other levels. It wasn't something that she needed to do. It's just something that was always part of her role. And so I worked with her to work with her manager to have that task taken off of her plate. And have someone else do that, so there are a lot of creative ways that you can come up with, but you first have to look at what is the work life balance that you want to have.

 

And if you're hearing this and you're thinking this is impossible for me. Then I really want you to take some time and take out a pen and paper and take some quiet time for you and ask yourself why you don't think you have the work life balance that you want and why these strategies wouldn't work for you. But they work for so many others. Because there may be a deeper reason they're around having some resistance to this, some people like to have that identity of always being busy and feeling very important.

 

And if you're distracting yourself from something else in your life that can also be part of the resistance, or it could be that you just need to spend some more time problem solving, how you can change this for yourself. So you can negotiate with your boss, what your responsibilities look like and look at what help you need, what can you delegate, what can be transferred to another department or another person? Maybe there's someone that as part of their career development, they want to take on some of the work that you're doing that you don't need to do if you have a hard time.

 

Like I said with this, it's usually because there's some sort of identity conflict with being busy, a lack of self-confidence and being able to advocate for yourself, maybe wanting to be involved in everything, wanting that higher level of quality. And another big one is taking personal responsibility for the company. Had another client that that was her struggle is that she felt a personal accountability to the company. The company was understaffed. They didn't have enough people to do the work in her opinion.

 

And so she was working at least one and a half positions. And that is it appropriate. It's not your responsibility unless you are the CEO of the company to take responsibility for being understaffed. And unfortunately, what ends up happening is when you take on this added responsibility to be the good team player to step up for the company, then your company, your boss sees that you can do more and then they often don't fill those positions. And so it's something that I call performance, punishing, performance, punishing is when you do an amazing job and it only gets you more work.

 

So you do an amazing job. You're the best at what you do. You put in all these hours and then everyone around you says, well, look what you can do. I need you to do this. You're the special person that has to take on this big project, because I know you'll do it well and I know you'll do it right. Right. And that's just punishing those that work hard at what they do. So you don't want to get caught in that cycle of giving more than you can sustain because your company isn't necessarily going to take work off of your plate at some point.

 

Instead, they may decide, well, you've shown that you can do this. And so this is how we're going to leave it for now. And then you end up draining yourself for a longer period of time and you just end up getting more work. So I told one of my clients going into a new job, she's notorious for working extra, that when she was told in the interview process that the company is very busy and it was going to be very demanding for the first couple of months, my client came to me and said, I'm really concerned about this because we just established all of these work life boundaries and I have my work life balance the way that I want it to be.

 

And I'm worried I'm going to get sucked in again. And what I suggested to her is that she give 80 percent at this new job. And that may be scary to think about, but I'm guessing that your 80 percent is most people's 100 percent or even one hundred and ten percent. So if you give 80 percent, you're still going to be a high performer. You're still going to be seen as a team player, as highly productive, but it's going to give you that little bit of cushion.

 

So that going back to what I said, if. Companies see you exploiting yourself, working beyond normal work hours, then they will use that often times to their advantage. So if you go in giving your hundred or one hundred and ten percent and then try to back off, then it can almost be seen like, oh, while you were working 100 percent. Look, all of these things that you've done, you're doing less now. Are you less engaged?

 

Are you distracted? Maybe you're not as high of a performer as they thought, right. It kind of like. Becomes a problem for you? It's like you threw yourself under the bus, so if you go in giving your 80 percent. Then you have that 20 percent cushion or you're not exploited. You still can control some of your time and the work life balance that you have, it's still going to be better than most people's 100 percent. And then you can tweak it as you need to.

 

So as you acclimate to the culture, then you can decide, OK, should I give a little bit more? But you're in control of what you give. So I want you to really think about how you can prioritize yourself and stop sacrificing your needs for your company. I'm not saying that you should be a poor performer or that you should not do your best. I'm just saying you have to look at your role as something outside of yourself. It is not you.

 

And if it is negatively impacting you, if you're listening to this episode because you feel that you're drowning, you feel that you don't have time for you, that you're on work. Laptops, emails, all hours of the day and night, and you want to stop that, then really look at how you can do that. Decide on what boundaries you need, problem solve. Come up with the solutions ahead of time. Don't just go to your boss and say, OK, I've decided to create these boundaries.

 

Here are my problems. What are the solutions manager instead? Go with the solutions, think creatively and how you can do work smarter, not harder. And then take the appropriate action and remember to have your own back in this, you are more important than your company's needs. And so if you're suffering, if you're having stress, if your home is suffering, if your health is suffering because of the amount of work that you have and you want to make that change, it is totally within your power to do so.

 

All right. That is all for this week's episode. Have a wonderful week. Coaching with me is the best way to guarantee you get happy at work and achieve your career and life goals. Getting started is easy. Head over to www.melissamlawrence.com to learn more and apply. It is the first step to get you from feeling stuck to knowing exactly what you want and have the tools to make it a reality. I will be by your side the entire way.