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So often, we think boundaries have to be these harsh and rigid things. Yes or no, black or white, I won’t do this, I will do this. You know, that’s really what we think about when we think of boundaries. Like, rules. And instead, I like to encourage people to think about boundaries as really just a set of parameters, you know, for yourself, or guidelines that you can easily communicate to others. I often describe boundaries as a sandbox that we can play in.
Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing joy in the workplace. I’m Jodee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm, and with me is my dear friend and co-host, Susan White. She’s the owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting, an HR consulting practice.
Our topic today is how to set boundaries without the guilt. I consider myself to be highly productive, to use my time wisely and have strong time management skills. But I realized I don’t necessarily set good boundaries for myself. I tell people that I’m very flexible, but what that really means is that I work on Friday nights…
[laughs]…Saturdays, and Sundays to make up what I don’t get done during the week. I have always been somewhat obsessed around this topic of time management or productivity, and I’m specifically excited to talk today about how to set boundaries. Susan, what about you? Are you good at setting boundaries?
Like you, I think I’m good at it, and maybe I’m not, so I’m glad we’re having an expert come and talk to us today. I do schedule everything that’s on my plate that needs to get done, and I make sure that when somebody asks me for time, I’m really thoughtful before I say yes. So I think I’m good at that. I don’t tell people I’m flexible, so maybe that’s what… I differ from you. Because I think I’m pretty rigorous and pretty regimented about the time I’m going to devote. Now, I’ll set aside time to do fun things, too, and I’ll calendar those things, but I hold those pretty near and dear. So I think I’m okay at it.
Yeah, very nice. So Susan, I met a speaker at our HR Indiana SHRM conference this summer who spoke on “Five Ways to Get More Done Before Lunch.” I was fascinated by some of her ideas, and I wanted to learn more for myself, so I invited her on the show.
Sarah Ohanesian is a Chief Marketing Officer turned productivity coach, speaker, and trainer. She is on a mission to fight burnout and increase happiness at work, and you know I love that.
I do. Right up our alley.
Yeah. So through her program, she helps people clarify their thoughts, organize their work, and take meaningful action, because when you are efficient with what you need to do, you have more time and energy for what you want to do and the people you love. Sarah is the founder of SO Productive and a co-host of the Heroic Council podcast. Sarah, thank you so much for joining us today. And what are boundaries, really? How do you describe them, and why do they matter?
That’s a really great thing to start with, because I think boundaries get construed in our minds, you know, what are they? So often, we think boundaries have to be these harsh and rigid things. Yes or no, black or white, I won’t do this, I will do this. You know, that’s really what we think about when we think of boundaries. Like, rules. And instead, I like to encourage people to think about boundaries as really just a set of parameters, you know, for yourself, or guidelines that you can easily communicate to others. I often describe boundaries as a sandbox that we can play in. You know, I built myself a sandbox. This is where I’m going to play in. I’m saving this sandbox. And, and these are really just parameters and guidelines. So don’t get too, you know, caught up on boundaries, but it can really be a simpler and gentler, lighter… lighter topic. But obviously, boundaries matter so much, because it helps us define what we will do and what we will not do, and it’s really just helping us also to manage other people’s expectations for us. So that’s how I define boundaries. I know there are many definitions, but I really like to think of them as parameters and guidelines for people.
I like that definition. Sarah, what type of boundaries do you recommend that we all have?
There’s really so many. I think it’s a personal thing. Boundaries are very personal and it’s important to pay attention to what’s bothering you, right? What’s kind of sneaking up, and what are you feeling around boundaries? What are you procrastinating about or exhausted by dreading? You know, what are you complaining to your spouse about at night? Those are indicators of areas that you are probably lacking some boundaries. So what boundaries do you wish you had? What boundaries do you wish were different in your life? I would start there. Right? So that’s sort of a “do some homework” answer, but I think it’s really important that we reflect personally on our boundaries. So what I recommend thinking about? Relationships, you know, your marriage, your family, your coworkers. Physical boundaries. Where are we working? That’s become more important than ever. Time boundaries. When will we be working? What is a non-negotiable? And then team and work expectation boundaries are also really important right now. What are the work hours going to be now that some of us are working remotely? How often are we expected to respond to email? How quickly are we expected to respond to email? So there can be a lot of, you know, team boundaries that we need to work out, as well. And then I also like to recommend people think about boundaries around projects. And what I mean by that is defining what makes this project good and setting some boundaries for individual projects, because sometimes we can go way overboard on a project. So thinking about what’s… What’s good enough? What’s the minimal viable product here? And do we need to go overboard, or is this project good enough? You know, how it is. So, many different areas in personal and business life that it’s important to think about boundaries, but reflect on, you know, what’s kind of hitting you when you think about boundaries? And those are probably the areas that you may be lacking boundaries.
Yeah. Already, I want to turn this into, like, a personal therapy session for me…
…about my boundaries.
So, not just for me, of course, but…
Asking for a friend.
Yes. And all of our listeners. Why is sticking to our boundaries so difficult?
It is so hard. And I think even people who are wonderful with boundaries can easily see themselves slipping back into a lack of boundaries. And having the boundaries actually isn’t hard, right? It’s very easy to say “I am in my office now, I’m recording a podcast. When the door is shut, don’t come in.” That’s a boundary. It’s so easy to define these boundaries. What’s hard is communicating them and really sticking to them. Part of the reason for that is we attach emotion to our boundaries. We say, you know, you’ve… you’ve crossed a boundary, you’ve hindered my boundary, and now I’m upset with you. You know, now that… that means something more to me than just you opened a closed door, right? So I think attaching emotions to boundaries is what really makes this challenging. And we’re so afraid to say no to people. We’re so afraid to say, “That’s not okay with me.” It’s very intimidating to communicate what these boundaries are, and I really believe that that’s one of the biggest reasons why sticking to them is so hard. It’s not that you don’t have them. You probably still have them. But communicating them and really standing up for yourself can be can be very challenging.
Sarah, can you give us some advice? Because I think doing this at work is where you don’t want to be perceived as being mean, or harsh, or not generous with your time. What are some suggestions you have at communicating in the workplace, that saying no when someone wants some time that you’ve got a boundary around?
Exactly. And keep in mind that the most successful people in the world have boundaries. They’ve been able to say, “This is what my priority is right now and I am going to stick to it.” And it doesn’t mean that you are mean. Very, very nice…I consider myself a nice person, and I’ve got strict boundaries. It’s about how you deliver it, of course. You can deliver your boundaries kicking and screaming and yelling at people…
…or you can say, “You know what, I put this boundary in place because I have some priorities that I’m working on, and please be respectful of my boundaries.” So the delivery is, of course, really important. That attitude and tone with which you deliver it is really important. But what’s interesting that I found over the years is that when you have boundaries, people actually respect you more. And here’s why: Because instead of being the person who’s scattered and all over the place, and “I don’t know when I can get that done for you,” or “I don’t know if I have time,” instead, when you’ve got boundaries, you’re the person who can say, “Let me look at my priorities. Let me look at my calendar. I can not do that for you this week. I can do that for you next week.” And boy, you’ll deliver – right? – when you’ve got those boundaries in place. So I really have found over the years that this is when people actually respect you more. So when you’re clear on your boundaries, and you’re communicating those well, you’re managing people’s expectations. And that’s so much of what this is about. So, boundaries can really, actually be a wonderful way for you to grow as… as a leader, as a… as a coworker in business, and people will respect you more, actually, for having boundaries. I know it doesn’t seem like it initially, but they will.
I think that’s a great “Aha,” because, you know, sometimes I’ll have a client that I really want to please, and I know I really don’t have the time, but I’m tempted to go ahead and say yes, but I think by saying no, they’re going to respect me more, because I can’t do it this week, but I can do it next week, and if they need to go to somebody else, that’s okay. So I love that. That’s great advice.
Susan, I actually, I think you’re exceptional at…
…really monitoring your time. And Emily, who’s the producer of this podcast, she is, I think, sets very good boundaries that I’m jealous of…
…because I don’t set them myself, in that she does not have her email on her phone. And she always tells our team, you know, if you send me something after five or on the weekend, I don’t get it. If you really need me, or you really need a response, feel free to text me. But I do, I super respect her for setting those boundaries, even though I don’t do it. So.
Yes. Until you need her for something really important, you think, “You didn’t read the email?”
Oh no. [Laughs]
But I think that’s a great example of knowing when it’s okay to cross the boundaries. And I really work with companies to think about what’s a real emergency, right? So often we think “This is an emergency!” But… But is it really? Right? And is it worth disrespecting someone’s boundaries for that reason? And it might be. Listen, we all know 2020, 2021, there were true emergencies in the world, in our businesses. And I think it’s about figuring out with your team, you know, is it okay if I text you if it’s a real emergency? But you also then can’t be the, you know, the boy who cried wolf on that, and do it all the time. Emergencies have to be real emergencies and… and keeping those boundaries in place the rest of the time. But I love that. And I think what she’s done well there is she’s been crystal clear about it. So that’s the other thing that can be hard about this is, well, you know, I have a boundary, but if you text me at eight o’clock at night, that’s fine. And then they start to do that, then you start to think, well, that’s okay. So it’s really about making sure that our actions truly align with our boundaries. And again, it’s a slippery slope that can be very hard to do, but people certainly respond to your actions and your behavior. That’s how you’re setting your boundaries.
Yeah. Emily has worked with me for seven years, and she has always worked under this method, and I probably have only texted her off hours or while she’s on vacation a handful of times. And so I really think twice about whether I want to interrupt her, and then if I do, I try really hard to, like, just ask her a yes or no question or something she could respond to quickly without having to get online or go to her computer. So, yeah. How can we reduce that guilt that we might have around boundaries? You know, some of the examples you just said, like I have a client or it’s a new prospect, or…?
Yeah, it’s such a good question, because we deal with guilt so often that the guilt is really what makes boundaries so challenging. We just feel so guilty saying no to someone. We’re, you know, so many of us are people pleasers and we want to say yes, we want to make everybody around us happy. But again, you can’t be as effective if you’re saying yes to everything. It’s really about helping us focus. But I think when you’re thinking about guilt, what’s important to think about is likely that person has probably already moved on. So you might be stewing in this guilt and festering and going, “oh, gosh, you know, maybe I shouldn’t have said it that way. Maybe they’re mad at me, maybe they’re never going to ask me to do anything again.” Likely, that person has already moved on, right? They have a problem that needs to be solved. They’re probably not dwelling on you saying no. They probably just moved on to the next thing, because they’ve got to solve that… that problem. So that’s one thing. The other thing I recommend people do is, again, how you deliver that message is really important. You can say no and kind of be mean about it. Or you can say, “I can’t do it right now, but here’s some things I could recommend.” You could recommend another solution. You could recommend someone else. You could recommend, again – I can’t do it this week. I could do it next week – a later timeframe. Or maybe you can do a portion of your time. I can’t sit on the board of that organization, but I’m so happy to volunteer at your next event. So there’s ways, I think. And I think we think of boundaries being black or white, yes or no, all or nothing, and there are ways that you can feel less guilty by saying, “I still can help you in this particular way.” And you don’t have to explain yourself, but if you do feel like you need to because it really helps you with that guilt, which I completely understand, it’s definitely appropriate to say “I would love to, but right now, I’m focusing on spending time with my kids before they go back to school,” or you know, “…my child before they go away to college,” or “I’m committed to writing a book right now and if I sit on your board, I’m just going to be spread too thin.” You know, share what you’re working on. People are excited to hear about that, and I think that’s a great way to reduce guilt is by sharing, hey, again, I am committed to my goals, I am doing some great things here, and I’m excited to share them with you, but that means I can’t do this other thing that you’ve asked me to. So those are those are some great ways. And then the other thing is to think about boundaries together, you know, building boundaries together. Building boundaries with your team at work, with your family. Bring people into the boundaries conversation so that we’re creating these boundaries holistically that work for the group. Again, you don’t have to create them in a silo, say “these are my boundaries,” but, you know, communicate with one another about what are the boundaries that we want to have as a group?
Oh, I love that.
So I think those ways all help reduce guilt.
Yes. Sarah, how can our listeners reach out to you if they’d like to learn more?
So my Instagram is @SO.Productive, my website is so-productive, and you can find me on LinkedIn at Sarah Ohanesian.
I love it. And we’ll include those links in our show notes, as well. Thank you so much for joining us today, and I’m going to focus on how I could set more boundaries. This was good timing for me.
And I’m gonna let go of the guilt.
So thank you. [Laughs] JoDee, our listener question today is, “What communication strategy would you recommend in educating the C-suite about the value of diversity?”
I have several thoughts on this one. Number one, I just was speaking to someone a couple of weeks ago who said, she said, “I think a lot of diversity education or comments are around what diversity is,” and she said, “I think we got it now. Like, we know what diversity is. The real question is what what are we going to do about it?” Sounds so simple, but it was kind of an “aha” moment for me, right? We keep trying to tell people what diversity is and not what’s our action plan around it. So I think if you’re educating the C-suite about this, to think about, how does it relate to your organization? What are some examples? What are some stories? What are some data points around it in your organization? And what are some of your metrics? What are some of your success stories? I’m a believer…we’ve done an earlier podcast on storytelling. And so how can you incorporate some stories into your organization about what’s working? I also, I think I mentioned earlier that the CEO of SHRM, Johnny C. Taylor, said recently that diversity is coming, whether we want it to or not. Not that we don’t need to be proactive on making sure, but that equity and inclusion are the real keys. So maybe talking about diversity and sharing some of those stories, but also quickly moving into inclusion and equity, as well.
That’s really good advice. The only other thing I might piggyback on is to say, part of your education, I think you ought to do it with building a business case. And there’s so many wonderful resources out there that can absolutely demonstrate to your leaders in a business case format why really embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion is going to help your company’s productivity and profitability. So I would definitely tap into those resources. Easy to find. I think Gallup’s been really good at it, just Google it and you’re gonna find such good data to put into a business case format that I think will really hopefully win the day.
Great advice. In our in the news section today, in a September 3, 2021 article from SHRM by Lisa Nagele-Piazza, she discusses the importance of being prepared for a Department of Labor audit. Due to all the changes in the past couple of years with minimum wage laws, COVID changes, remote work, and independent contractor rules – and believe me, there’s been a lot of those – it’s a good reminder for all of us to ensure that we are in compliance as the rules evolve. The Department of Labor investigators are not required to provide employers with advance notice of a visit, so doing ongoing internal audits on your own is a great way to stay ahead of them and ensure your employees are being paid properly. Some of the key areas to focus on are overtime calculations, shift premiums, meal breaks, and that good old proper classification of exempt versus non-exempt employees. Still lots of confusion around that that I see. So thanks for joining us today. Please tune in next time and make it a JoyPowered® day.
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