How to Create Professional Boundaries

Skylar Wooden and Katie Butler

May 07, 2017

Professional boundaries are subjective. They aren’t set in stone. They aren’t black and white. It is all according to your needs, which are always changing. While we usually support the fake-it-til-you-make-it technique, millennials are notorious for taking on whatever they’re asked to because they don’t want to be branded as the stereotypical millennial. We’re all working hard; we don’t have to prove ourselves by over committing.

There is an ebb and flow to the work day, week, and year. In an effort to stay sane, and keep your reputation, we hope that take these practices to heart.

Know when to say “No”

As a young professional aspiring to do more, it can often be difficult to know when to say no. It seems like saying yes to more work and responsibilities is the obvious path to promotion and recognition. It’s important to know your limit, though.

If you over-promise and under-deliver you will find that are worse off than if hadn’t accepted the extra work in the first place. Consider your past performances and how long it takes you to get the work done.

Here are some alternatives to “no” you could try instead of accepting additional work:

  • “I would love to help you, but I’ve already promised to finish X project by X day. Can I reach out to you when those are finished?”
  • “I’ve talked with X person and they offered to help out. Do you mind if they work on this project instead?”
  • “Thank you for thinking of me when you needed someone, but I am a tad overbooked. If you need help finding someone to do it, I can ask around!”

Know when to say “Yes”

At times, putting in extra effort to help the team is important, and necessary. If you want to be your boss’ go-to person, stay organized. Schedule out your work for the week first thing on Monday. If you know what you anticipate to work on for the week then you have set an expectation for yourself and others.

See also: How to Effectively Set Goals

When you’ve scheduled your week, you may find that you are free for half a day on Thursday. Here is your time to shine. Ask your manager if there is anything you can help them with for that block of time. You can still go above and beyond without over scheduling.

Check Your Calendar

Consistently looking at your calendar will help you know what your week or month literally “looks like.” Assign a color to your work projects. If that color is blue and you see blue all over your week, you will know to lay low until you get a little off your plate. Before you commit to a coffee meeting or to take on another project, check your calendar.

Respect Your Own Boundaries

You just walked in the door from a stressful day. Looks at phone You have an email…from your boss…

It’s tempting to want to be the person that they can depend on at all times, but if you find yourself stressing about work at home, resist! If it’s not an urgent matter, it can wait until the morning. Your boss is emailing you when it’s convenient for him/her. If you don’t respect your own boundaries, why should they? You have office hours for a reason. Draw the line.

Have you ever experienced a time when your managers did respect your professional boundaries? Have you found a better way to set expectations?

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