How to set boundaries between work and personal life

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Photo Credit: Javier Peñas

It doesn’t take much for work life to crowd over the rest of life, leaving us unbalanced and feeling robbed for time.  Somehow this has become normal to us, hard-workers, to burn the candle at both ends and keep shaving off our personal time until there’s nothing left of it.  This thankless sacrifice really bangs up our wellbeing. Personal time is sacred time. It’s how we remember who we really are. And the more work takes over, the further we drift from ourselves and our truest priorities.

As a former workaholic myself, I have come to realize that setting good boundaries between work and personal life and succeeding at it, is really rooted in developing good boundaries between the two in your mind – focus boundaries.  And as you can imagine, this is much easier said than done, especially at first. But as long as you’re determined to make it happen it’s entirely doable.

Setting inner boundaries between work and personal life:

Commit to where you are

Whether you are at work, at home with family, out with a friend for coffee, or spending some much-needed quality time with yourself – be here completely.  Commit to where you are.  Lock yourself in. Give 100%.  This trains your mind to stay in gear, so it doesn’t skip all over the place – back and forth from work and personal, blurring up the lines and making your boundaries all fuzzy.  Nurture your personal life with undivided attention and protect it from the endless demands of work.

  • Put your phone on silence or out of sight.  Commit to who you are with.
  • Focus on one thing at a time.  Commit to what you are doing.
  • Engage with the environment your physically in.  Commit to where you are.
  • Resist impulses to let your mind “go to work”.  Commit to a healthy personal life.

The biggest obstacle here will be your ego.  The ego is the part of the mind that makes noise and needs to be busy.  It will pull you in other directions with ongoing thoughts about work and reminders about everything you need to do.   The ego-mind is always living in the past or the future and gets antsy in the stillness of now, so as you are trying to enjoy a day off with your family or friends – your ego will be your ultimate distraction.  And untamed ego is a strong force of the mind.

The more you commit to where you are and ignore ego-temptations, the more integrity your inner boundaries will have.  This gets easier and easier. Eventually you will naturally be where you are and muscling around your ego will require much less effort.  And one of the biggest perks of doing this work is the ripple effect that it has in all areas of your life where your ego is limiting you.  Check out our free Ego-Less app for some powerful meditations and techniques that can help you!

Let go of where you aren’t

In order to be able to fully relax into your personal life, you have to temporarily release control of your work life.  In order to get into personal-gear you have to get out of work-gear. You have to let work go. Let go of results. Let go of responsibility.  Let go. For just a short while. You deserve to. You need to. It’s the only way you can truly unplug and restore your authentic self.

To do this, an element of trust is in order.  Trust that by enforcing the boundaries of your personal life, you are investing in a better version of success – one that doesn’t necessarily mean less money either.  

Funny enough, my clientele rapidly took off after I stopped catering to it and allowed it to cater to me.  As I demonstrated respect for my time, everyone else naturally reciprocated the respect and began putting effort into working with my schedule.  I’ve created new professional expectations, and prompt after-hour responses aren’t one of them. And as long as when I’m at work, I’m doing my very best, working at 100% and giving my clients 100% (which I do much better leading a balanced life!), success seems automatic.

Once you get your inner boundaries straight, all outer boundaries seem to fall into place.  You can have the best of both worlds - be a successful hard worker with a healthy, hearty personal life.  Make the change from within and watch how it effortlessly seems to unfolds without, and start experiencing the joy of getting your life back!

Here some other pointers that can help set boundaries between work and personal life:

  1. Write down your work/personal schedule and physically create boundaries within the schedule.  You may even want to set reminders of your boundaries in your phone, or stickies around your house.
  2. Schedule down-time to unplug yourself from all digital devices so that you can fully disconnect from the rat race and remember yourself.
  3. If you can, physically divide work from personal.  Keep work stuff at work. Some people have a separate phone for work and for personal life.  It’s a thought.
  4. Take a break from people pleasing.  Protect your personal time by practicing the occasional “no” and letting go of the false urgency to respond to everyone asap.
  5. Tell important people in your life about your new healthy boundary restructuring.  You might want to mention to friends, family or colleagues that your response times will vary and not to take any delay personally.  Share your self-bettering intentions with them. You might find you inspire others to reprioritize as well!
  6. Keep your word to yourself.  When you say your going to take personal time – hold yourself to that agreement. Be stern, don’t let a few extra bucks sell you out.
  7. Be organized.  Write down two separate to-do lists for wok/personal, prioritize each list, take care of anything that is code-red and save the rest of the work list for work hours.
  8. Be compassionate with yourself.  Know that developing strong boundaries between different hats is a process and there will be times where life bulldozes through.  Don’ beat yourself up. Just do your best, and keep working at it.
  9. Be flexible.  Every day will be different, every week will be different, every month will be different.  Move with the ebb and flow of the seasons and adjust your schedule as needed.
  10. Reward yourself.  When you have indeed committed to your personal life and successfully let go of work while you are “off” – make sure to include some extra enjoyment for yourself as incentive to keep up the great work!