Many of the 1-1 coaching conversations I have start with busy leaders telling me how overwhelmed they are feeling. They find it really hard to set boundaries at work. Maybe you feel the same. You’re juggling, trying to do more with less, and never getting to the end of the to-do list. (And you’ll never do that, BTW so make peace with it!) And often there’s that lingering feeling that you’re too much in the detail and can’t get round to the strategic.
The more you think that being ‘busy’ is just the way it is, the more you’ll stay being busy. It’s a self- fulfilling prophecy.
Trying to keep everyone happy often comes at the expense of your own time and energy. This article will help you change all that right away.
So, I’m a busy leader – how do I set boundaries at work? Firstly, let’s dig a bit deeper into what could be causing your lack of boundaries and overwhelm.
4 key reasons leaders are overwhelmed at work
- You have so much to do. You’ve lost sight of what’s most important and just do the first thing that lands in your inbox each morning.
- You put everybody’s own needs before your own (people pleasing is a boundary killer).
- You take on responsibilities rather than delegating (‘My team are busy and I don’t want to burden them’ or ‘it’s quicker to do it myself’).
- You expect people to honour your boundaries – but you’ve never set any or made them explicit.
Beliefs and fears that keep leaders overwhelmed and boundary-less at work
A belief that you SHOULD put others before yourself – always (I hear this a lot from other women in particular.)
Fear of rejection – ‘I can’t say ‘no’ because she might not like me’. ‘I don’t want them to think I’m selfish’. We fear rejection more than many other things in life. (It’s an old survival mechanism from the times when being rejected from the pack meant certain death).
’It’s just the way it is’. The assumption that things will always be that way. And they always will – until you make a decision that they won’t.
Where do these thoughts and fears come from?
✅ A lot of these beliefs and fears come from the early messages we got (explicitly or implicitly) when we were growing up.
✅ We’ve never re-examined or questioned them as adults. Do they really fit with the leader we want to become?
✅The good news is that if you’ve lost control of your own boundaries you can get it back.
Start by committing to one boundary each work day
It could be something as simple as starting your meetings on time. Don’t wait for stragglers who log on or turn up ten minutes late – They’re not valuing your time.
It could mean leaving the meeting on time. The one that always over-runs – Value your own time and your other commitments.
It could mean telling your team you are unavailable for a certain time each day. Or you are available for questions at certain times (not all times). (Valuing your time to think, focus, plan, prepare and just ‘be’).
What to say to create a new boundary at work
No-one is going to argue with this: ‘I’m focusing on my most important priorities so I am unavailable this morning/this week. Or ‘I need to start/leave on time so I can give my attention to project x’’.
Time is precious. Spend it in ways that bring joy and add value to your life and your work.
As Bronnie Ware tells us in The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – Bronnie Ware – YouTube – One of the biggest regrets of the dying is: ‘I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me’.
That’s a great message to live by and we can start to live that life one step at a time.
P.S. If you want more simple but powerful leadership strategies that work, join my Facebook group. It’s your one stop shop for all things leadership – a community of 1800+ like-minded leaders from around the world.
This article is called” I’m a busy leader – how do I set better boundaries at work?”