Answering client emails from your couch at midnight

It’s easy to set boundaries when you’re only accountable to yourself.

But when you have a manager, direct reports, coworkers, clients, company founders, and so on, it gets a bit more complicated.

Here are several scenarios, some of which are in the person’s control, some of which are not. See if you can spot the difference.

You would love nothing more than to make the resolution to not accept projects that have deadlines of less than three days away. But if your agency’s brand differentiator is speed of service, then your boundaries will likely get superseded by incoming client requests.

You would feel liberated to outline all the behaviors that you no longer tolerate from people you work with and take a stand for yourself. But if you’re young and hungry and you believe that saying no to new work makes you look weak, then you will likely overestimate your own bandwidth in the name of being a team player.

You are tired of clients forgetting that you’re not their employee. But if your direct manager is inversely incentivized to honor your boundaries in the name of client retention, then scope creep will continue to happen as long as invoices are paid.

You wish disconnecting at night and on the weekends was easier. But if you have a history of taking calls and answering client emails from your couch at midnight, then it’s going to be very difficult to reverse that precedent going forward.

You need to relieve the pressure to always be checking in when you’re off the clock. But if you have already convinced yourself that that’s just how it is at your company, then your boundaries will give way to the social and cultural pressure you’ve chosen to accept.

You would like to attend fewer meetings and focus on executing actual work. But if you’re allergic to letting people down and afraid of the conflict that results from saying no to new projects, then people will continue to take advantage of your willingness to help.

You would like to hold brave conversations about your boundaries before they become urgent. But if the founder of your company is a workaholic and everyone else is marching to his drum, then setting any kind of limits will probably be an uphill battle from day one.

Ever been in one of those scenarios before? Could you discern which ones were under and not under your control?

It’s hard work. Setting, managing and reinforcing your boundaries is like an unpaid second job.

But if you don’t draw the line, other people will draw it for you. Then they will continue to step over it. And it will be your fault for not setting the right precedent.

If you’re someone who’s accountable to more people than just yourself, remember the acronym byob, bring your own boundaries.

Which people in your life don’t respect your time?


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