How Setting Boundaries Can Enhance Your Productivity

Written by Lauren LeMunyan on September 11, 2018

Productivity is an evaluation of how effectively you are able to get things done (or not). If you’re productive, you are able to produce, complete, show up and show out. What’s the cost of this productivity? If I am productive at work and people there think I’m a go-getter, what’s happening in my personal life? Am I taking care of myself by resting or am I a monster going back to my cave to recharge?

The perception that being busy means you’re being productive is often untrue. Busyness is viewed as a badge of honor and it deflects the obligation to take on more work. When you say, “I’m so busy”, it’s another way of saying, “Leave me alone. I have too much going on.”

When a company essentially owns your time for eight to ten hours a day, they want to maximize the space you have. If you’re the person that delivered a final product in four hours, you’ve still got four or five hours to go. The company is going to do find something else to do with your time. This culture puts the incentive on the employee to create this distraction of being busy so they don’t get overwhelmed.

From my experience with traditional associations, there is this idea that you are doing the things that need to be done, and if someone sees you not working then you’re an available resource that someone can use. If you are an association leader who sets the tone and you find yourself jumping in when someone’s not busy to fill their plate more, ask yourself: what are they working on? What is the role of this person and your expectations of them?

The biggest piece with productivity is to understand and communicate your boundaries, whether that’s by saying, “I’m working on this project”, or “I need these resources.” Overwhelm arises when we’re not able to express what we need or the extent of our availability. We assume that people will swoop in to help us or understand what we’re doing, when in reality, we need to be proactive and clear about sharing our workload.

Who and what do you want your life to be about? Maybe when the elevator doors close as you leave the office, that’s your boundary. Often we’ll leave the office and our phone is still going off with emails and texts when we’re in the car. If you decide one of your values is family time, or taking care of yourself, being healthy and having free time, that dictates the boundary that after five o’clock, you’re done until eight o’clock the next morning. It’s best to avoid any gray area, or a bleed-through happens in our boundaries, opening a can of worms that we can’t close.

We train people how to treat us. If you are the manager or director who’s emailing your team at nine pm, that’s leaking into their boundaries. They feel anxiety about whether or not they should respond. Does not responding make them not a productive worker?

Managers have so much going on that when they have an idea, they don’t want to lose it, and this can lead to them emailing their team at all times of day and night. If this sounds familiar to any managers reading, why not try another tactic? Write that idea down, put it in your notes section, hold onto it and harness some patience. It can almost definitely wait until the morning. Indicate that process to your team and let them know you’ll only get in touch outside of working hours if it’s urgent (it’s up to you to discern what falls into that category).

The circumstances that create this pressure to respond to a manager at all times is where burnout happens. At first, it might seem like a great opportunity to prove that you’re a team player. But once that expectation is created, people are pushed further and further until they have nothing left to offer.

In the immortal words of Guns N’ Roses, “All you need is just a little patience.” Before you jump to begin or assign a new project, reflect on whether it is necessary. Is it doable for me and my team? Can it be delegated to another department? What would you have to give up to have time to make the best of this idea? Deploy patience as your secret weapon.

Not all of us have the autonomy to create our own culture and choose our own hours, but I will leave you with this piece of advice: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.