Healthy boundaries are about more than simply saying “no.” When you set a boundary, you’re providing yourself with the resources you need to meet your commitments, achieve your goals, and maintain your values. Boundaries allow you to be intentional and clear about where you’re going to spend your time and effort.
When people ask for more than you’ve planned, boundaries allow you to consider, “Does this add value? Is it truly necessary? And, does it support me in fulfilling my commitments?”
What a Boundary Looks Like
For example, let’s say that there’s a boss of a mid-size company. He works hard all day long, even answering phone calls when he’s off the clock. However, for a few hours each month, he disappears to go fly fishing. Even if the sky is falling, he doesn’t answer his phone during that period of time.
He does this because he knows that solitude is important for his mental health. While people might try to intrude upon that sacred time, he holds firm. He knows it keeps him centered and gives him something to look forward to when the workdays get hectic.
This exact boundary isn’t possible for every leader, or perhaps it doesn’t speak to their specific needs. But, there are any number of places where you can put your foot down, because you know that doing so will make you a better person. Maybe you insist on having dinner with your family every night. Maybe you leave an hour of margin in your work schedule every day, so there’s room for spontaneity. Whatever your boundaries, defending them is vital.
“The problem is that sometimes you see boundaries as an offensive weapon. Nothing could be further from the truth. Boundaries are a defensive tool. Appropriate boundaries don’t control, attack, or hurt anyone. They simply prevent your treasures from being taken at the wrong time.” — Dr. Henry Cloud, clinical psychologist and author
People will always ask for more of your time, attention, and efforts. There will always be more work waiting on your desk. Save space, so you don’t use yourself up until there’s nothing left.
You Cannot Run on Empty
In our book, Would You Work for You? — The Quest: Discovering the Leader Within, we wrote, “Imagine you have a balloon in your hands, and you’re getting ready to blow it up. As you do, you know that feeling of it getting really full? It’s quickly approaching the ‘burst’ zone. That’s the balloon’s capacity, and you’ve just filled it with a load of air that is testing its limits. When it comes to margin and boundaries in your life, you don’t want to fill your ‘balloon’ until it’s full. It can only hold so much. Set boundaries and respect them.”
People who create margin in their lives are often more efficient. They’re more rested, committed, and empowered. People who maintain boundaries get more done, even as they keep space for the things in their lives that are important to them.
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others. We can’t base our own worthiness on others’ approval. Only when we believe, deep down, that we are enough, can we say, enough!” — Brene Brown, professor, lecturer, author, and podcast host
Don’t Walk Too Close to the Precipice
If you don’t want to fall off a cliff, don’t walk all the way to the edge. This world is competitive, fast-paced, and filled with pressure. People run themselves ragged all the time, pushing and pushing until they arrive at a point of no return. Don’t wait until you’re dangerously close — think proactively about what you can do to prevent burnout.
Keep in mind that everyone is unique. What causes you to burn out might be entirely different from the person next to you. Perhaps you require novelty to remain invested in your work, while they thrive on predictability. Understanding your specific capacity and needs is key to building an effective plan.
Don’t forget that burnout can also be a problem for your team members and should be a topic of conversation. Invest in those relationships, build an understanding of what they need, and offer solutions to help keep them away from the precipice as well.
Another Big Thing You Can Do
There’s a key step to solving the burnout problem that many people miss. Yes, boundaries are important but so is growth. Are you growing, improving, self-actualizing, and feeling a sense of accomplishment? Are your team members doing the same? People don’t become burned out when they’re motivated and excited. Invest in opportunities for growth, even as you hold steady on your boundaries, and you’ll be able to accomplish amazing things.
Executive coaching can help you find your spark, set healthy boundaries, and avoid burnout. Learn more about the process in our free eBook.
Author, Speaker, and Change Agent.
Chris leads a dynamic team of passionate change agents who are dedicated to partnering with organizational executives to create cultures that inspire, engage and ignite the best in people. Our work is dedicated to harnessing the power of culture to equip leaders, build amazing teams and align operation practices to delighting the customer and drive breakthrough results.