I am concentrating hard on a writing project and my office mate speaks, “We have a meeting this Friday…” “David,” I said in a friendly tone of voice, “I am off limits for the next hour.” “Oh, okay.” He said, and we both went back to work.
I notice an important email from a valued client. I want to jump to answer it. Good customer service. But this time I tell myself, “No email for the next hour,” even though I would love to answer it. It’s not an emergency, and I need to focus.
I generally keep my phone on in case there is an emergency call from school. My phone buzzes and it’s a valued colleague who is not easy to get a hold off. I let the call go to voice mail to protect my focus and energy and keep working.
I’m practicing boundary setting and it’s helping my productivity. I’m getting a lot done this morning. What is a boundary? It defines a border, sets a limit and defines what is in and what is out. Boundaries are essential for a good workday.
When I set my timer for 20 minutes of answering email, I am setting a boundary that reminds me that I have limited time. When I create a to do list I am defining tasks and goals for action. More boundaries.
For someone like me with ADHD, a very active mind, and an equally active emotional life, good boundaries need practice and reinforcement. I need to get on board with setting boundaries because I can slide through my days in a boundariless way. Then, I set boundaries in less intentional ways – answering email rather than focusing on my project, chatting too long, or when I am tired, withdrawing in a huff or disappearing in embarrassment. These are familiar but unsatisfying ways of setting boundaries.
I need to set boundaries on my goals, tasks, communications and emotional connections. As I write this, it sounds cool and unemotional, but it is actually a life saver for me. Initially, I fear the distance that setting boundaries seems to bring. But over time, learning how to create boundaries helps me live with more gusto and work with more enjoyment.
I can set emotional limits on myself as well. When I spend time resenting someone’s unpleasant communications with me I can set a boundary by talking to myself like this, “I am feeling misunderstood right now and a little powerless. I notice that I am making myself mad. Is there anything I can communicate to clarify my point of view and increase understanding? If not, how can I help myself move into a more constructive frame of mind?”
If I can’t move on in some way, I am in boundary failure and that’s a sign to go eat (just kidding…sort of.)
For those of us who are pleasers, easily distractible, or just love a good schmooze, setting boundaries can seem unfamiliar, alienating or even harsh and restrictive. Yet, over time, you’ll actually feel less restriction and a much greater sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
As you do this more and more, you’ll be able to protect time for what’s been missing for you. Time for a sport or a hobby, time to walk in nature, or meet a friend for lunch. Time for your yoga or meditation practice.
At first, notice your opportunities to set a boundary, observe if you can do it. Feel the discomfort of doing so – if there is any – and then notice the results. Are you accomplishing more in an effective way? Were you harsh and clumsy as you set your boundary? Did your energy increase? Setting boundaries is a rich area for learning and practice and the results can be powerful.