Setting clear boundaries for yourself

If you are like most women I know, sometimes you are not sure where your work ends and your personal time starts, if at all. And then if you have a partner, family and other commitments, life can seem to be one amorphous lump of amorphous-ness! Phew – even I got tired writing that sentence!

At times it can seem as if our calendar is controlling us, even though we are the person that adds the appointments to it. Bizarrely, it can feel as if we are addicted to this busy-ness. How did this craziness start and how can you get your control back? The good news is the addiction is not your fault. Blame it on the 1.5-kilogram mass of grey matter in your head. Blame it on your brain.

Thousands of years ago, when we were wandering the earth as cavemen and women, our brain was programmed to continually scan the environment, searching for danger. Every rustle in the bushes, each shriek from a passing carnivore, caused us to have a burst of adrenalin shoot straight into our central nervous system, readying us to run or fight.

Fast forward to 2017 and whilst we may not be scared of hungry large carnivores, our brain is still using that programming from centuries ago. Your brain is still actively scanning the environment for danger and change, as change in your situation can represent danger.

Have you watched people get off the underground trains? As soon as they reach signal, they are scanning their phone for a message, as if it is essential they get that news now. This is their brain, addicted to novelty and scanning, taking over and causing them to reach for their handset. Overriding such a primal response can be done.

Be mindful

This means being present in the here and now. Focusing your mind on what you are doing right now, and not letting it be distracted by internal thoughts of the past or future. Try and set yourself a thinking boundary, only think about where you are right now and what you are doing in this moment. By placing boundaries on your thoughts, you can start to feel more contained and more in control.

I believe boundary setting starts from the inside out

Once you have created your thinking boundaries, it’s time to move into the external environment. Too often our work life can bleed into our personal life and we no longer know where one stops and the other starts. Here are some tips to create boundaries around your work time,  thus separating work from personal time.

1. Start work at the same time every day

When you used to work for someone else you had to turn up for a certain start tome each day. So why is it, that when you start working for yourself, you let your standards slip? Start making boundaries between your personal and work life by choosing a time to “Start Work”

2. Create a Start the Day Routine

When I used to work in an office, I would commute to work and buy a coffee in the coffee shop at the bottom of my building. Walking into my office, I would take off my coat. Sit down and start my coffee. I felt like my working day had started. Creating a routine for your day to start is also a way to signal that you are in work mode. It may be that once you are dressed and ready, you go for a walk around the block, and then as you put the key in the lock to open the door, you are in that mindset of starting the working day.

3. When you are at work, work

Once you have your time chosen to “Start Work”, then work. Discipline yourself to focus. Don’t be tempted to put a load of washing on, or quickly do the vacuuming. If you were working in an office, you wouldn’t be doing this! I know from the experience of my clients, when they have the time to put the washing on, they are avoiding a task that scares them slightly. It may be calling a prospect, following up a sales call or chasing down a journalist. Start to respect your business by working during your working time.

4. Create a finishing work time

In the same way that you create a Getting Started time, choose a time to end the day. And end the day. No sneaking back to check email after dinner or when the kids have gone to bed, but truly commit to making the end of the working day the end. In that way, you can reclaim your personal time and feel as if you have boundaries between the two.

5. Create a finishing work ritual

In the same way that you create a Getting Started routine to kick-start your working day, develop one to end the day. I love to reflect back on my day and write down three things that have gone well for me, or three successes. I find that this helps me end the day feeling like I have achieved and that my business is moving forward. Create your own finishing work ritual to close the day so you feel good.

Now you have created boundaries around your work time, use them! Make the most of having a life again and get out! All work and no play not only makes us dull but it hampers creativity, we lose our perspective on our problems and work and frankly we become mono-dimensional and boring. Ugh – who wants to be that?

Celebrate your new-found freedom by doing something new! Feed your creative self, get out and see something new, connect with friends and enjoy yourself. You will feel much better when you turn up for work the next morning!

Wendy Kerr

Director for The Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Auckland University.The Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is the hub for the development and promotion of innovation, commercialisation and entrepreneurial activities within the University.We create experiential programmes, workshops and events to unleash the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, to transform the mindsets of our students and staff to support the growth of New Zealand as a prosperous and creative nation.

Be the change that you want to see. Step into your leadership.


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