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When you’re overwhelmed and realize there’s too much on your plate, you need to prevent more things from getting on our list, by setting boundaries.

Having healthy boundaries means you won’t be trying to do it all. You won’t crack under the pressure of unrealistic deadlines and mountains of work. You won’t be utterly exhausted, irritable, crying at work (or after work.) You’ll have time for your health, your morning yoga, lunchtime jog, after-work acupuncture/ massage/ dinner date. And, since you’ll have the time for adequate rest and replenishment, when you get back to your work, the work itself will be more fulfilling, you’ll be more pleasant, and actually do better work.

Setting a boundary at work could look like:

  • asking for more time, or
  • suggesting that someone else is better suited for the task, or
  • actually saying no to a request. (GULP! The hardest one, with the biggest payoff.)

When you first try this, you might feel selfish, like you’re not doing your job, or that you’re not performing at your highest level possible. If you are used to being the “go to” person for everything, you’re a helper at heart. It’s also a bit of an ego boost when everyone needs you, because it shows they trust you and think you’re THAT good. It’s one form of recognition in a world where we often get so little formal appreciation. So, it feels good at first, and gives us some job security, right?

But the problem is that this “doing it all” role is not sustainable, and won’t get you where you want to go. Taking too much on means the quality of your work must decline, or the hours in your day must increase. And, since you tend to be a perfectionist, it’s more likely that you’ll extend your own hours and sacrifice your life balance, sleep and health. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Here’s a truth I know.

The more you can trust your own skills and abilities and value your time above all else, (which means saying “no” more often,) the better work you will do, with more ease and joy. It’s an upward spiral.

Envisioning someone else you know who does this well, and mimicking their behaviors can be an easy place to start. I call this “wearing the hat” of that next level leader you’re trying to be. You can do this temporarily, for a week, a day, or even part of a day. Practice channelling this “Future Self” as you use the “Pause, Breathe, and then answer” tool for setting boundaries. As you step into the new role in your mind, you’ll start to embody this version of yourself. Over time, you’ll get more comfortable with her attitudes, behaviors and mindset, so you can actually become her. 

At the deepest root of this practice is self compassion. When you truly honor yourself and know your own worth, you’re less likely to martyr yourself for the approval of others. Practice this and become the leader of your own life, first and foremost. Then watch the benefits extend to those you lead, at work and at home.

Stay tuned next week for more on how to cultivate the deep self compassion needed for this balanced “Whole Life Leadership.”