How are your boundaries between work and life doing these days? Did they vanish like the morning mist when Covid struck? Or perhaps when your baby arrived on the scene? This topic certainly isn’t new to the Mindful Return blog (see A Working Parent’s Boundary-Setting Tutorial, and When Shutting Down Work Each Day is a Challenge). It’s a topic that causes perennial working parent angst.
I’ve grown and changed a lot in the boundary department since becoming a working parent, and I’m always, always, looking for ways to be smarter about this subject. Nedra Tawab’s Instagram feed inspires me, particularly in setting personal boundaries. Laura Vanderkam’s book, Juliet’s School of Possibilities, is also a brilliant parable about the critical importance of boundaries in living a meaningful life.
And today, I’m thrilled to introduce you to another of my favorite boundary-setting gurus, Paula Price. Paula is an executive coach whom I recently met through her podcast, The Joyful Practice for Women Lawyers.
Here’s her wisdom on 3 important steps you can take to improve your own work-life boundaries.
A few weeks ago, Lori and I had a good chat about juggling work and kids. You can listen to our conversation here.
One thing we talked about is boundaries – a topic that comes up a lot with working professionals, especially when little humans are involved.
Setting a boundary can feel uncomfortable at the best of times. Let alone when you’re trying to prove to your boss – especially as a new parent – that you can still hack it.
Despite your best intentions, you may say “yes” when you’re already overcommitted. Then you find yourself struggling to keep up. You end up feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and resentful, as your workload piles up and you fall further behind at home. Even though you’re constantly working and cooking and caring for your kids and clients, you never seem to reach the end of your to-do list. Instead, you feel like you’re losing a war on two fronts!
If you can relate, you’re not alone. And if you want to go from feeling scattered and stressed to focused and calm, I have a few ideas. These three steps will help you make time for your priorities, trim the excess, and safeguard your sanity – all by asserting better boundaries.
Step One: Reframe How You Think about Boundaries
You may see setting boundaries (a.k.a. saying “no” sometimes) as a sign that you’re not being helpful, or that you’re weak or lazy. You may think that if you turn down work, your clients will leave and never come back. Or you may worry that if you let your child spend an extra hour in front of a screen so you take a nap, you’re going to damage their little mind for life.
If you have these thoughts, you’re in good company. Your homework? Let’s come up with some fresh ideas about how boundaries can actually help you show up and serve others better.
What if being more selective about what you take on could help you perform better and form stronger relationships at work and at home? What if boundaries were a sign that you respect yourself and others?
Think about what happens when you say “yes” to a project that you realistically can’t complete. Sometimes, a clear and polite boundary at the outset can save a lot of grief in the end. When you choose to think about boundaries as enhancing your work and relationships, you can let go of the guilt that keeps you from bridging the gap between knowing you need to set a boundary and actually following through.
Step Two: Know Your Triggers and Prepare a Script
You probably already know your triggers. Maybe you crumble under the weight of guilt when your kids ask to have their friends over for dinner on a night you need to prepare for a presentation. Or you default to “yes” whenever your boss pops by your office with a “great new file”. When you know what potholes mark the road ahead, you can plan how to maneuver around them.
To execute, have a script ready. Decide what words you will use to assert your boundary. You can search online for ideas and then craft your scripts using your own words. Boundaries don’t need to be rude or dismissive or complicated. They can be gentle and firm. Elegant even. Decide what you want to say and how you want to say it, before you find yourself caught off guard and defaulting to “yes”.
And bear in mind: people rarely remember what you say, but they will remember how you made them feel. Decide how you want others to feel when you assert a boundary and work from there.
Step Three: Practice, Rinse, Repeat
You may think you’re terrible at setting boundaries. Perhaps you struggle to find your words. You may shut off your phone after saying “no” and then second-guess whether it would have been easier to just say “yes” to avoid feeling guilty that you let somebody down.
If this is new territory for you, it can feel very uncomfortable. But, there’s no need to torment yourself. You’re learning a new skill. You’re experiencing growing pains.
As you practice, the words will come more naturally. The conversations will feel less awkward. You’ll move on from them faster. You’ll eventually start to feel more confident in yourself and what you choose to take on… or not. And, as you practice, you’ll find yourself feeling increasingly focused and calm. Pretty soon, you’ll be helping others do the same.
So, next time you’re asked to host the school bake sale or take the lead on a project at work, consider – before you answer – whether the opportunity is a “yes” or a “no”. If you need to set a boundary, you know what to do!
If you find these suggestions to be helpful and would like to learn more, I encourage you to check out my recent podcast episode about setting boundaries with ease.
You’ve got this!
Paula Price is a certified executive coach and non-practising lawyer who helps lawyers excel in practice through coaching and virtual training. In her coaching practice, Paula provides lawyers with structure, support, accountability and feedback to help them achieve their goals and overcome challenges in areas of career transitions, parenting transitions, leadership, strategic planning, time management, procrastination, perfectionism, confidence, boundary setting, interpersonal relationships, networking, communication and outplacement. You can learn more about Paula’s coaching practice on her website, www.uplevellawyercoaching.com. Connect with her on LinkedIn or tune in to her weekly podcast at www.thejoyfulpractice.com/podcast.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave