Setting boundaries at work

Andrea Murad By Andrea Murad, CA Today

27 June 2018

Doing it all doesn’t always lead to career success and a packed schedule doesn’t equate to productivity. Managing your time and setting boundaries is necessary: here are ways to achieve a balance of priorities.

“Boundaries can clarify job responsibilities, help preserve energy and reduce stress, and assist workers in striking a work/life balance,” said Rosemary Haefner, Chief Human Resources Officer at CareerBuilder. “Setting boundaries at work results in a happy, productive and engaged team.”

“Strong boundaries tell people you expect to be treated with respect,” said executive coach and career strategist Elizabeth Koraca. “Weak boundaries can leave you vulnerable and open to being taken advantage of.”

A big part of setting boundaries is how you manage your time, as well as whether or not to accept new projects. While you may be a superstar at your work, taking on too much can hurt your career.

Micromanage your schedule

“Be strategic with your time,” said career expert Vicki Salemi. Plan to work on important projects when you’re most productive, and group miscellaneous tasks, like expense reports or organizing, when you’re more unproductive or hit a slump. “Use that downtime to rejuvenate so you're not constantly go, go, go!” she added.

Don’t forget to leave room in your schedule for breaks so you avoid burnout. “When you take care of yourself, it’s a win-win for you and everyone else… you feel better, your mood is better and everyone around you is better off because of it,” said Elizabeth.

Be upfront with your manager and yourself

Figure out if you have the time to take on new work. “If the answer is no, then let your manager know you do not have the capacity to take on new work due to your other projects,” said Elizabeth.

Frame the discussion as to why you’re unable to take on the additional work: it may take away from other projects, clients and the business. Discuss when you can take on that new project, and if it’s a priority, which of your responsibilities need to be reprioritized.

“If you’re upfront and honest with your boss and teammates, saying no can be a good thing for everyone involved,” said Rosemary. “If you’re stretched too thin, you’ll put in mediocre work across all projects – something that is bad for the business bottom line.”

Go above and beyond when you have the time

Doing that extra work shows you have a strong work ethic but be sure you have the time and capacity. “Going above and beyond can show additional drive, strong work ethic, passion for the job and company and importantly, set you apart from your peers,” said Elizabeth. A strong work ethic can help show that you deserve a promotion when the time comes.

Delegate when possible

Picking up the slack on a project can be tempting, and being thorough is always a good thing, but the best thing to do is delegate a few tasks to the team so that you don’t take on everything yourself, said Vicki. “If you don't have anyone to delegate to, break the additional work down to micromanaged tasks so you don't feel so overwhelmed – even checking off two or three minor things a day can result in a sense of accomplishment.”

Don’t wait to escalate

Burnout is never a good thing, and during your regular meetings with your manager, proactively discuss your responsibilities so your manager is part of the solution. “Being straightforward and honest from the beginning is important,” said Rosemary. “Communicate your schedule and stick to it – let your boss know that you need time to recharge so you’re able to approach your work energized and refreshed.”

Know your limits

You may be struggling because you’re mismanaging your time or the job really has too many demands for one person. “Be in touch with your physical and mental health – if you are struggling, the job might not be the right fit for you,” said Rosemary. “Try talking to your boss or a trusted mentor about setting boundaries that could help you adjust, but if this does not work, start looking for a job that will allow you to thrive.”

About the author

Andrea Murad is a New York–based writer. Having worked on both Wall Street and Main Street, she now pursues her passion for words. She covers business and finance, and her work can be found on BBC Capital, Consumers Digest,, Global Finance and


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