January 2021—Starting small with setting and maintaining boundaries

This blog is all about my year of unlearning ambition.

At the beginning of each month, I will pick one area of my life to focus on. I’ll post about what I hope to accomplish at the beginning of the month and will check in a few times throughout the month to let you know how it is going.

I’ll also post reviews of books I am reading and on ideas that I want to share about ambition and productivity culture.

The goals that I set each month come from books, article, blogs, podcasts, conversations—anything that people on similar journeys have suggested. If there is something that has worked well for you, please let me know, and I may add it to the list!

One last thing to note. I am trying to unlearn ambition and challenge productivity, but I am not trying to lose my job. I still want to be a good employee and person. This is not a free for all year of laziness. What this means is that you will hear about the real challenges I face and tricky situations that I must navigate.

I decided for January to start small. I know this entire year is going to be hard. It is going to involve breaking a lot of deeply ingrained habits. It is going to involve tough conversations as well as deep introspection. To start with something manageable for this first month, I decided to focus on setting boundaries with my time.

In terms of my boundaries, I want to meet these goals as often as possible:

  • No working in the evenings or on the weekends
  • No checking email while not working

Because of the pandemic, I have been working at home full time. And even after restrictions are lifted and others go back to the office, I plan to work from home four to five days a week. I love the time I have gained from not commuting. I also find myself much less drained at the end of the day.

While I am super excited that I get to work from home going forward, it also means that I need work on setting boundaries around my time. Increased flexibility often leads to blurred lines between work and home. In fact, there have been a number of articles indicating that Americans are actually working more now that they are working from home due to the pandemic.

My plan is to set clear hours on my calendar noting that I am out of office during my lunch break and after my day ends. I am a morning person and typically start work at 6 or 6:30 a.m. I work a full schedule (40 hours a week, 8 hours a day), so this means that if I take a full hour for lunch, my day should end at 3 or 3:30 p.m.

However, sometimes meetings are scheduled after this time, or I get roped into doing tasks past this time. I often feel guilty logging off because I know others are still working, and will keep responding to messages after this time.

My hope is that simply marking these hours on my calendar will be a major step in setting boundaries. My company uses Microsoft Teams, and this is the way that my coworkers most often communicate with me. Teams will note that I am “out of the office” and so they should know not to expect a response from me. They can check my calendar and see that I am not working. 

Additionally, after setting the hours, I want to meet these goals as often as possible:

  • Completely logging off (not checking Teams or email) during lunch and after 3:30 p.m.
  • Not responding to texts outside of those hours
  • Declining meetings that fall outside those hours

I have also noticed one problem that causes me to work longer hours is that meetings go longer than scheduled. This eats into time that I have planned to work on other tasks and ends up lengthening my day. My plan is be more conscious when meetings are running late, and if possible, leave the meeting by noting that I have another commitment.

Another issue is being asked to complete tasks at the last minute. This can lead me to work late when added onto my already-full plate. My goal is to communicate with my boss that I need a certain amount of advanced notice to complete unplanned tasks.

Lastly, I am starting to think through some strategies to prepare for when my boundaries are tested. According to this article in Forbes, an important step in setting boundaries is to prepare for pushback. When people respond negatively to your boundaries, it is a sign that they are working. They recommend visualizing how you will address the situation when it happens. If you don’t enforce the boundaries, then they will consistently be violated.

Further reading: Here are some resources that I referenced to get started. I’ll post more throughout the month!

Protect Your Time at Work by Setting Better Boundaries by Elizabeth Grace Saunders in the Harvard Business Review.

10 Ways To Set Healthy Boundaries At Work by Caroline Castrillon in Forbes.

3 Crucial Ways to Set Boundaries at Work by Jennifer Winter in the Muse.

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