Setting Boundaries for Success!

This article appeared in the May 2006 issue of Spirited Solutions’ E-Newsletter.
In one of his most famous poems, “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Frost was known to be a bit of a curmudgeon, a somewhat difficult person, but his line points to the vital importance of setting firm boundaries with others, both personally and professionally.

Boundaries are essential because they demonstrate how much we value ourselves and how much we value others. In business, a boundary takes the form of a contract, cancellation policies, customer care standards, a written release, an invoice, a mission statement, etc. It solidifies what we will do and what we will not do and makes the business agreement clear to both parties.

In our personal lives, boundaries may take the form of expressing when we feel hurt, taking responsibility for our feelings, reserving time just for ourselves, and letting our families know when we are overwhelmed and need help. A boundary doesn’t keep other people out; it simply clarifies who we are in a relationship and helps us articulate our needs, expectations, and responsibilities.

In my work with individuals and groups, I often hear that they feel overloaded, overworked, overtired, over-everything! Their plates are not only full but the china is cracking under the weight of so much to do!

May I suggest that boundaries are the key to regaining your energy, your peace of mind, and your productivity? Think about it. If you’re going in a million directions at once, will you ever reach even ONE destination? You’ll drive around in circles or a zigzag pattern, but you certainly won’t get anywhere.

It’s time that we get clear in our lives and align everything we choose to do or not to do with our mission. You’ve heard me talk over and over about the importance of a mission statement but have you written one? Do you have a clear, concise statement of your mission at work? at home? in the community?

One framework you can use is “I help people ___________________ by/through/with __________________” or “I commit to ___________________ by/through/with __________________.” For example, my work mission is “I help people create lives and work they love through motivational speaking, coaching, and seminars.” This mission serves as my zippy intro at networking events, my reason for being, and a powerful intent that attracts the resources I need to accomplish it. It’s the torch that guides me and the proverbial fire under my behind.

What is guiding your life? Who’s in charge? What boundaries do you need to set with yourself and others to do the work that is yours to do and become the person you want to be? What changes do you need to make now?

Let me suggest a few boundaries you can set that will free you up for success:

  1. Shut everyone and everything out for just a few minutes each morning. Develop a daily practice of listening, a time alone in which you check in with yourself, review your mission, and ask, “What is the best, most valuable use of my time right now and today?” Use this practice for your personal and professional life.
  2. When you are working, close the door, put up a “Do not disturb” sign, or in some way demarcate your work space as yours. If someone intrudes, let them know you can speak with them at a particular time. One manager I coached had great success reserving a particular hour early in the morning for her team to consult her about problems they were having with their work. Instead of doing her team’s work for them all day long, this savvy manager set a boundary and therefore empowered them to find viable solutions while she completed her own tasks.
  3. Delegate, hire, barter, or refer out what you can’t or won’t do. I routinely have clients ask me for additional services such as web design or technological training that are out of my areas of expertise and interest. This gives me the opportunity to refer them to a qualified professional, someone who will take care of these needs skillfully. If you’re not the right person for the job or it truly doesn’t interest you, don’t do it.
  4. Make written agreements with your clients and even your kids. One of the most powerful actions any manager, supervisor, or parent can do is to hold a group meeting and create a list of “House Rules.” Whether we’re talking about a work team, focus group, or family, everyone needs to feel invested in these rules of conduct. When people have helped create a rule, they are far more likely to adhere to it.
  5. Be clear with yourself. If you feel that someone has overstepped boundaries and not valued you or your work, take time to comprehend exactly what you think and feel about the situation. What is your part in it? What can you and the other party do to resolve the situation? Then figure out a way to politely approach them to express your thoughts and suggest a course of action.

When we have clear boundaries, both parties benefit and misunderstandings (“missed understandings”) can be avoided or transformed into something positive. Good fences make good neighbors but only when we leave a gate open, communicating responsibly and respectfully with the goal of strengthening our business and personal relationships.

“The same fence that shuts others out shuts you in.” Bill Copeland