Yesterday I was involved in my second Table Talk for Microsoft Ignite with a group of people and our topic was…..
— Darrell as a Service 🛎 #RE365 #365MCS (@DarrellaaS) September 24, 2020
Darrell Webster (@DaaS) did a great job as always facilitating a discussion focusing on specific themes such as what managers can do to support staff to work from home, the opportunities and challenges with remote work, a discussion about productivity and the topic I focused on was ‘managing boundaries’.
I decided on this topic mainly because the way I work and learn, at times, there are no boundaries. Certainly when I was working for myself as a learning consultant for Activate Learning Solutions, it seemed that I was “on the job” 24/7. If I wasn’t doing the job, I was planning for it, creating something for it, thinking about it. Pretty soon, it started to mess with my head. A short trip overseas during our Christmas break when we went to Paris, made me have a crystal clear moment that I didn’t want to have my work be my life.
I had to establish some boundaries.
And with that, I decided to reduce my working hours so that I could focus on segregating my work and my life into compartments.
Yes, I know that goes contrary to what everyone is saying however, it was necessary for my mental health as I was burned out. (I was not sleeping well; I couldn’t focus on anything; my emotions were erratic; diet was crap; thinking about when my next client job was going to be. I’d find fault with everything and everyone. I was not in a good place).
Microsoft Virtual Commute (is it ignoring the elephant in the room?)
This week I read about Microsoft creating a “Virtual Commute”.
Basically, to counter the fact that many people now are blurring the boundaries between home and work life, employers want to recognise the people who are candidates for burnout. They’re working together with Headspace to create this function that will help support people to create these boundaries so that their mental health and well being aren’t affected. My assumption is that the Virtual Commute may look like the Focus Time that is booked when you use My Analytics.
Now I’m someone who hasn’t turned off Focus Time. I let it book times for me in my calendar and then I move them around to where I need them to be depending on my mood.
However, the bigger question is:
“Why do employers expect that their workers should work in the ‘commute’ time now that they’re at home?” Something rotten in the state of Denmark right there.
Pretty horrified that it says that some companies are trying to get people to work during their old commute time? I’d be popping in a pay rise request or a big fat “no” if that was the case
— Martin Sinclair (@Biscuits_9) September 23, 2020
So I thought I’d write some of my own methods of managing boundaries so that I could get my own headspace back that may help until the situation with employment law and industrial relations ever gets sorted out.
Ultimately though, I know that everyone’s situation is completely different and that it’s up to you to sit back and think about when you are at your best; the type of work you enjoy (and the stuff that you don’t) and of course, your client or project commitments. Along the way, there’s also going to be a consideration on how comfortable you are to speak up to your managers and team leaders about balancing your workload with their expectations. This one is a clincher because many people (myself included) like to believe that they’re helping others and don’t say ‘no’ to requests. Also, I know that I have the luxury to make choices – not many of us. As we are in strange times where everything is up in the air regarding changes to work and what it means for employment and industrial law, this post is purely based on my own situation and circumstances. Yours may be completely different.
90% of app / product features wouldn’t exist if humans had discipline
— Sachin Gaur (@_SachinGaur) September 23, 2020
What are My Boundaries?
First of all, it’s my WORK HOURS that is laid out in my employment contract that stipulates to me the amount of hours I need to work in order to get paid a certain amount. It may sound a bit cruel but it just comes down to that at the end of the day. Then it’s up to me to work around my projects and commitments to meet those WITHIN the hours that I’m contracted and hence paid for.
As I work three days a week, at times I do find it difficult to get through my work, then add the meetings I have to attend, and the training we need to do however, as long as there’s no pressing urgency with these, it means I can catch up with the recordings at other times.
What this means is that should I need to work an additional hour one day, I will work one hour less the next day. As this is really difficult to juggle as things change and compete with each other, I have decided to go ‘old school’ and simply work dedicated set times during the week within 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. It works for me because I know where I stand and people know that I’m ‘present’ at these times. (This will not work for many people who have family obligations and commitments).
If I’m expected to work on another day due to extenuating circumstance, then I’ll simply do that and change the day, ultimately though, I’m still working the set hours that I’m contracted to do. If work becomes too much then it’s up to me to have a discussion with my manager to determine what is a priority, what can be put on hold, what can be delegated and how I can get some support.
In the past, I wasn’t good at asking this unfortunately. I’d agree to everything and then get stressed and my work was sub-par as a result. Having a discussion with your manager puts the control back in your hands and makes you feel a bit better about being heard.
Secondly, another boundary is my CRITICAL WORK. That is, items that HAVE to be done and remain TOP focus for me. I have to distinguish “what is critical” vs “what is not critical”.
Critical for me is anything related to a client or a community member (who pays my wage) versus other tasks. At times, I may get asked to help out in a client deliverable that my team member needs support. I am more than happy to do this as long as my own critical work is also within the time of being completed. Usually it’s not a problem (but it has made me think of how I could automate some of my processes so that it does leave me time to support others too). More about that later. Currently, for me it’s sending out a fortnightly newsletter (and creating the resources that sit within it); managing the community and writing our second book. In these cases, I will put my Do Not Disturb on and use focus time to get the work done. On the whole, there are ebbs and flows with our work and that’s okay. It’s all manageable and I feel comfortable with it all.
Thirdly, another boundary for me is understanding MY MOST EFFECTIVE WORK TIMES and for me it’s MORNING. I’m definitely a morning person and I feel I do my best work between 8:30 am to 11 am. They’re my three magical hours where I just easily tap out tons of work and my most productive. Meanwhile my moments of inspiration – those moments of ‘daydream’ a-has all come about during my morning walks (6:30 am – 8am) where I quickly capture a note or voice note into my phone with ideas. At times, I get up at 4:30am inspired with ideas too and I write these down into a notebook. Quiet times in the morning is my most favourite time to jot notes into my journal while drinking a cup of coffee and knowing there’s a whole day ahead of me.
Forget everything after 2pm, where I’m starting to wane and focus my administration work or catch up with training in the afternoon. Luckily, most meetings are for me at this time too. By 4:30 pm I’m well and truly wrecked. Zonked out!
Fourthly, another boundary for me are MINIMISING DISTRACTIONS. This means:
- I don’t have apps that open up automatically when I log on every day (nothing opens up unless I click it to open).
- All notifications are off.
- Only three to four tabs open in my internet browser
- Only use two screens (even that was a new addition as I always worked with one screen since starting Adopt & Embrace). I NEVER used two screens even in my corporate job relying only on Alt+Tab between programs.
- Phone is on silent through the day
Another boundary for me is ESTABLISHING THE NEED FOR A THIRD SPACE. The commute was an example of the ‘third space’. It’s the time between two spaces where you get physically and mentally ready for the next space/actions. In this day where our home and work life is blurred because of our tools and technology, my mind cannot make the ‘physical break’ that it needs to get ready to face the next activity. After reading the work of Dr Adam Fraser, “The Third Space: Using Life’s Little Transitions to Find Balance and Happiness” (a gift from my husband back in 2012), I realised that I need these physical spaces in my life to stay alert and in control. Without them, I unravel.
Ways I establish third spaces are:
- Only working from the home office (there is no other computers set up in other parts of the house). Should I need to use a laptop/tablet in another room, I physically take it out of the home office and return it there at the end of the time I used it.
- At the end of the day, I close my study door signifying that work has ended
- A new habit is after work, I will spend 20-30 mins just reading in the other room; other times I will surf social media before the time for me to start preparing the evening meal
- Every morning I go for a walk and must complete 10K steps before I start work
- Upon returning, I make the bed, shower, get changed into NORMAL clothes (rarely if ever track suit pants or gym gear) and put on make up before I start work.
Those rituals above have made me feel like I’m in control and set me up for the next activities I have in my day. They also put me in a good mood and I’m nicer to my husband because I feel less frazzled.
Some Other Ideas for Consideration
Some time ago, Paul Woods (@paulwoods) talked about Managing Boundaries (he studied this topic in his Masters thesis) and I captured the discussion in a tweet thread where he also shared some research papers if you want to read more about it.
— Helen Blunden #AlwaysBeLearning 🤔🧠🦉📚🥇 (@ActivateLearn) May 19, 2020
Also, I accept that managing boundaries is pretty hard in this day and age because of competing demands and interests. It’s not always black and white.
For example, to keep up with a lot of things, I use my own time to learn and undertake my own professional development. Some people think that should be within my contracted hours. I do too. However, much of what I’m doing in my day-to-day life is applicable to my work anyway. That is, I’m finding it difficult to make the distinction between what is learning and what is ‘work’.
Another example is the additional work when it comes to presenting and participating in events and conferences; or requests to help out my network and communities. I am under no obligation to do these at work and yet, I agree to do these sometimes when I can. This is where the line becomes grey. Is this considered “work” when you’re talking about the very topics that you do in your normal day-to-day job? I have no answer here as I’m still grappling with it. However, the only way I have come to terms with this is accepting that I have made this choice to do this. No one else therefore I’m responsible.
(For a joke gift, my husband bought me a ‘NO’ button that sits at my desk. If I press it, it says ‘NO’ in different ways as a means to try and get me to stop agreeing to every request.
Another consideration I’ve been thinking a lot while learning Power Automate is automating tasks in my work so they just happen in the background. I have automated the more routine tasks of my work as a community manager and automated the onboarding process through Active Campaign. I have created some buttons on my mobile phone using Power Automate buttons to:
- Block out the next hour
- A timer for 25 minutes Pomodoro where I can focus on a task (you can use this flow).
I do have screen time on my phone but I use it mainly as an admonishment for myself. I check the statistics and hope that every week it’s less but well, I’m not perfect.
In some way, the more I think about it, the more I realise that I’m trying to fill my life with boundaries because I need them as a way of staying in control and not being a slave to the technology. I need to feel that I can still control it as opposed to it pervading my life and constantly making demands on my time and focus.
How do you manage your boundaries?