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How to set work boundaries

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Healthy professional boundaries are necessary for a stress-free workplace. 

Namely, work boundaries are the rules that help us distinguish between our professional and personal life and reach that coveted work-life balance.

Among other things, boundaries at work help us:

  • Prevent burnout, 
  • Fulfill our basic needs for a good life, and
  • Stay focused at work.

Easier said than done, but how do you set work boundaries?

We’re bringing you 8 tips that will help you do just that — no matter whether you’re working in an office or remotely. 

Tip #1: Identify your priorities

First things first: identify your priorities, so you know how to organize your time and distribute your energy. 

Is spending quality time with your loved ones your top priority? 

Then, bear that in mind while planning your work tasks. 

This goes for your work also — set your priorities.

Is it more important to you to earn that promotion or to finish piled-up minor tasks? 

Always prioritize your tasks without losing sight of your goals. 

Tip #2: Communicate upfront clearly and concisely

After you’ve identified your priorities, make sure you communicate them clearly to your coworkers.

Be concise and introduce your colleagues to your boundaries upfront.

One simple example of setting boundaries at work — notify your coworkers that you won’t be answering their messages via chat apps such as Pumble or emails after your work hours or while on vacation. 

Tip #3: Learn to say ‘No’

It’s not enough to set boundaries — you have to be able to defend them. 

Believe it or not, there is a magic word that helps you guard your professional boundaries — No.

The hardest part is learning how to say ‘No.

However, this tiny word is enough to protect you from burnout and other negative consequences of ‘leaky boundaries’. 

Tip #4: Take time off

Forget about modern hustle gurus and their mantras and take care of your mental health.

What better way to do so than by using your paid vacation days? 

Don’t wear your exhaustion as a badge of honor. 

Take a break from work, travel, spend time with your family, and come back to work full of energy. 

Tip #5: Create built-in breaks

Do you sometimes forget to take lunch breaks because you’re swamped with work? 

Newsflash: your work can wait until you finish eating your meal. 

If you don’t want to forget to take breaks ever again, mark them on your calendar and set a reminder.

You’ll kill two birds with one stone — you won’t forget to take a break and your colleagues will know when to leave you alone.  

Tip #6: Develop a system

If you want to be productive and successfully deal with your work tasks, while respecting your (and other people’s) boundaries, devise a system that works for you.

David Allen, a productivity expert and author of Getting Things Done, suggests you sort through your to-do list in one of the following ways:

  1. Do it,
  2. Defer it,
  3. Delegate it, 
  4. Drop it. 

By doing so, you won’t get stuck on a task that is a real head-scratcher for you, but a piece of cake for your more experienced colleague.

Tip #7: Be ready for boundary breaches and bring up the violation right away 

Fact: no matter how clearly set, boundaries get overstepped.

Your job is to bring up the violation right away — make hay while the sun shines. 

Politely mention to the person who breached your boundaries about what happened because sometimes people overstep their boundaries inadvertently.  

Mentioning the breach to the breacher is also important because it helps them avoid the same mistake in the future.

Tip #8: Remote work needs boundaries too

Remote work can additionally blur our professional boundaries and make it even more difficult for us to achieve work-life balance.

After all, remote workers are more prone to:

  • Stress, 
  • Feelings of isolation, and 
  • Anxiety.

However, 3 simple steps can help you set work boundaries as a remote worker. 

Step #1: Create a designated workspace

As a remote worker, you should separate your living space from your work space, to be both more comfortable and more productive. 

If you don’t have enough space, don’t worry — a simple corner with a desk and a chair will do.

You just need a workstation that you can leave when your work time ends. 

Step #2: Limit your work hours

Just like a designated workspace, a limited work schedule is just as important for setting work boundaries. 

So, set work hours and use tools for tracking your time.

Aside from that, make sure you take breaks every 90 minutes, or, even better, try out the famous Pomodoro technique.

Furthermore, you should set your morning routine, which will make it easier for you to get your workday started.

Step #3: Set boundaries with the people you work and live with

This might be the hardest, but also the most important step in our quest for clearer work boundaries.

Let’s start with the boundaries you should set with the people you work with.

According to research, the constant use of technology and social media is one of the main reasons for unclear work boundaries. 

The most effective solution is to use a separate business messaging app, such as Pumble, for professional communication, and not the chat app you use with friends and family. 

This way, you won’t be available to your colleagues after your work hours. 

Another important thing: if you need some time for deep work, the best solution for you is

asynchronous communication

So, set your notification preferences, and answer to DMs once you’re done with other priority work.

If you think that is tricky, just wait until you need to set boundaries with your friends and family

Again, you have to master the art of saying ‘No’, as it’s one of the crucial aspects of being assertive. 

Say goodbye to your FOMO and make room for JOMO (joy of missing out), if you want to be in control of your life. 

Learn how to best frame your refusal — instead of “I can’t” use “I don’t”.

Let’s take this one out for a spin: Yes, you can pick up your friend from the airport, but you don’t want to do that during work hours.

Further reading

This is just a summary of an article previously published on the Pumble blog.
To learn more about setting work boundaries, we recommend reading the full article: