I recently attended a group workshop with Happiness Coach and Meditation Mentor Olivia Horne. The workshop covered what Olivia calls ‘the 4 B’s of Balance‘ (Break it Down, Set Boundaries, Buddy Up and Breathe) for Business and Working Mums, and I totally fell in love with Olivia’s segment on boundaries. But what are personal boundaries exactly? Why are they important, and how can we create any for ourselves? To better understand what they are, you can think of boundaries as guidelines or ‘rules’, if you like. Setting clear personal boundaries can help you with decision-making, productivity, and even with your relationships (both personal or professional). Are you intrigued yet? Then read on!
In her workshop, Olivia talked about boundaries in these four areas:
Space boundaries define your relationship with the space around you. If you work in an office, for example, what does your desk look like? If you work from home, you may need to consider the environment you work in. Do you work from your kitchen table surrounded by the breakfast dishes or the pile of laundry that needs folding? Or on the sofa, while the children jump on you?
When I first started this blog, my work kit consisted of my laptop, mouse and pen and paper. I used to set up camp at the family table as soon as I returned from the morning school run and pack all my stuff back up and put it away before the children got home from school. I had no place to call my own. No boundaries. And I didn’t have anywhere to put stuff up on the walls, for example.
In the summer of 2017, I decided to make a change that transformed the way I work. After a conversation with professional Declutterer and Organiser Zoe Short, (where, incidentally, we talked about boundaries) I decided the time had come for me to have my own office. Creating boundaries around my work (and moving away from the kitchen table) allowed to move forward (and even write a book!) Now I have space on the walls that I can use to plan and create mind maps, for example. I’m much better able to get creative and keep track of ideas and tasks, as well as deadlines and deliverables. I even have my own vision board, which I created at the back of a group coaching course (called How to lead a Gentle Life) I took last year with life coach Emily Hodge.
So where do you like to work?
Olivia suggested looking into the type of environment you feel most productive or creative in. Where do you do your best work? What must be around you? Do you need silence? Or do you work best with music? Would you rather be on your own or in a coffee shop, for example? Do you work better with an organised and minimalist workspace, or do you need ‘controlled mess’ around you? Everyone’s different, and it’s important that each of us understands what our space needs to look like to enable us to achieve the most ‘success’, whatever that means to us.
Focus time vs flexi time
The second element that Olivia helped us consider is time. As the workshop was aimed at working mums, and a lot of us run our own businesses and work from home, she suggested we tried to split our time between ‘focus time’ and ‘flexi time’. ‘Focus time’ is the guaranteed time that you have available to work. It’s time when you can work undisturbed and uninterrupted. It could be when the children are in school or being looked after by someone else, for example. For me, focus time is Monday to Friday from 9:15 am to 11:30 am (term-time only) when my youngest is in school nursery. This is the time I dedicate to my deep and creative work, as Olivia recommends.
Everything else for me is ‘flexi time’ – this is the time that we may or may not have available to work. Because it’s not always guaranteed, we need to remind ourselves to be flexible about it. If it happens, that’s great. If it doesn’t and it gets taken away, that’s fine too. An example of this could be you doing some work while your child naps. But as I’m sure you know, there’ll be days when your child has a different opinion on the matter.
Another super-useful suggestion Olivia gave us earlier in the evening in the Break it Down segment was to chunk out our time (as well as our deliverables and objectives) in smaller, more manageable parts. So if you think of a big deliverable and break it down into several 10-minute tasks, you’re more likely to find various shorter slots in your day that you can use to complete those tasks. That gives you a nice sense of achievement – you’ve made some progress and can celebrate reaching a few more milestones. But also, if you do this, you create smaller deadlines scattered across your day or your week which help you remove that feeling of overwhelm that can sometimes take over when you have way too much on.
I also really valued the idea of creating boundaries around your time in order to manage other people’s expectations. Olivia used the example of a potential client or customer emailing you at midnight. If you reply, you give that person the message that you’re on (and working) 24/7. Going forward, they’ll expect no less from you and may even be disappointed when you take a little longer to reply, even if it’s on the weekend or Christmas day! That’s obviously not fair on you or your family – at least not unless it’s a one-off or an exception you choose to make. Easy ways of creating expectations around your time, to give you some ideas, are:
- Adding your opening hours to your Facebook page.
- Adding working days or hours to your email signature.
- Having dedicated times for checking or responding to emails, etc.
- Have an email auto-responder on that lets people know how long you might take to reply. 48 hours is totally reasonable, but sometimes people need reminding of this. And at times you might need longer, depending on the day/week/holiday you’re in.
As Olivia says: “Managing expectations also gives you the permission and freedom to properly switch off sometimes. And it sends healthier messages to the children about your work-life balance and priorities.”
Who here has ever created any boundaries around screen usage? I know I’ve tried, but I always go back ‘to my old ways’. As our children get older and screen usage becomes ingrained in their day-to-day, I feel it’s crucial for us mums to give screen time some thought. We have a responsibility to show our children how to behave responsibly around these devices, even when it means we’re still figuring it all out ourselves. Olivia gave some suggestions of things we could try and implement at home. For example:
- Having a no-phone zone in the house (like the bedroom or your dining table at dinner time!)
- Having a no-phone zone in the evenings or when the children get back from school. (Ideally, we should all stop staring at our screen at least two hours before we plan to go to sleep, as the screen’s blue light is stimulating for our brain and has a negative impact on your sleep patterns).
- Not using social media on weekends.
- Removing social media apps from your device or moving them to a different screen – when you make it harder for yourself to get on social media, you’re less likely to end up on it mindlessly when you reach for your phone just to check the time. And on that note…
- Getting a watch or old-school alarm clock, so you don’t rely on your phone to check the time or wake up in the morning, especially if you leave your phone on and in your bedroom at night, as the blue light coming on can impact your melatonin levels and effectively start waking you up when that little blue light is flashing, even at 2 am! And if you’ve ever experienced being awake at that time, you’ll also know it’s prime time for worrying and catastrophising! So you really don’t want to be woken up unless you need to!
And last but not least, Olivia talked about our own personal boundaries. These are the things around protecting our personal commitments, learning how to say no to things (and people) that drain us and that we know, deep down, we don’t really want to say yes to. I read somewhere that for each thing we say yes to, we should think about what we’re saying no to. So if we’re (mindlessly) saying yes to spending half an hour sucked into a rabbit hole hopping from one Facebook profile to the next and wondering where our evening went, well, what have we said no to? And what can we do to avoid saying yes again to something that doesn’t add much value to our lives? Ultimately, self-care boils down to serving our own needs and regularly checking in as they change. So it serves to pay attention to what is nourishing vs depleting us and your energy. If it doesn’t serve you, let it go!
And a word about perfectionism…
Olivia also talked about imperfection as something that’s inevitable. A lot of us are self-confessed perfectionists. But when we realise that perfection is what is holding us in a stressed, stuck pattern for so long, imperfection can be quite freeing. With it comes choice, possibility, progress, and much more fun! I love the quote “done is better than perfect” – I have a mug on my desk that says that. Often, of course, just like everyone else, I’ll find myself procrastinating. Why? Because I know I can’t do something perfectly, so I’d rather not do it at all. The good news is that more often than not, I now catch myself doing it, so I can try to do something about it. Accepting imperfection goes hand in hand with pushing out of our comfort zone and taking small risks to grow and develop. If you’re interested in this topic, I’d really recommend you read the book Playing Big, by Tara Mohr. It’s an amazing book, and I’ll be telling every woman I meet about it from now on!
So what are your boundaries? Do you have any in place? If you think there’s room for improvement, what areas do you feel need the most attention?