Boundaries for Work: A Contract With Yourself

  • Raquel usually finds herself not present at the dinner table with her partner and children as her mind is flooded with her unfinished to-do list.
  • Pam’s frequent travel for work is a constant source of tension with her partner.
  • Levon finds it almost possible to really relax in the evenings because of the number of texts and emails that seem to need immediate attention.
  • David checks his email before getting out of bed and his mind is already racing as he drives the kids school.

Just a few generations ago, people struggled for the right to an eight-hour workday. Now, thanks to the “improvements” of technology, many people —especially organizational leaders and knowledge workers—end up working virtually around the clock. Today, we struggle with ourselves to contain our work in ways that allow us healthy relationships, healthy bodies, and an enjoyable quality of life.

Our tool, Boundaries for Work: A Contract with Yourself, can help you reclaim the balance our forebears worked so hard to make possible. This isn’t just about working less—it’s about creating a conscious balance that will enhance our work AND our life, because they are parts of a whole.

My wife and I tried growing fresh mint in our garden, but it grew out of control, squeezing out the other plants. Then we discovered that by planting it in a big pot, it still flourishes but it’s contained, allowing space for other plants to grow.

We need a container for our work: clear boundaries that support our work while creating space for the rest of life.

To meet this need, many for-profit companies have begun putting limits on overtime and after-hours emails. Reasonable limits on work often yield increases in productivity and workplace satisfaction. In the absence of having such policies imposed on us, we need to create our own boundaries—a contract with ourselves.

What does such a contract look like? How do we create healthy boundaries around work?

The boundaries we need will vary depending on the nature of our job and our lifestyle preferences. Some jobs by their nature have more predictable hours and rhythms than others. If you’re young and single, you may be content to work longer and less predictable hours than if you share your life with a partner and/or children.

However they end up, our contracts should include at least the following building blocks. If you like these ideas, download the tool to learn much more about how to make a successful contract.

Building Block #1. A cap on the maximum number of hours we work per week. In order to make space for other priorities in your life do you want to limit your work to 40 hours a week? 50? 60?

Building Block #2. An actual beginning and end to work days.
Do you really want to start the day like the 50% of office workers who check their email before getting out of bed? And do you really need to work right up until you turn in for the night? Research shows that looking at a computer or smartphone for sustained periods within an hour or two of going to bed lowers melatonin and significantly impairs restful sleep. That harms our health and our work productivity in the long run.

Building Block #3. Work-free zones
It’s critical to create inviolable, work-free zones where we (and those we love) know we’re not going to be interrupted. When do you want to be completely off-duty? Sundays? Wednesday date night? Between the time you arrive home and the time the kids go to bed?

Building Block #4. Limits on travel
Travel is disruptive of schedules, family life, and sleep. What kind of agreements can you make about the amount and timing of travel?

Let’s be real. We will likely face challenges to making and holding these boundaries.

Download our tool to learn more about these tips to make your new boundaries hold firm:

  • Flexibility and dealing with exceptions
  • Engaging others to support your choices
  • Ways to support yourself
  • Limits as a tool for prioritizing your work
  • Falling on and off the wagon
  • Dealing with “too much work”

You are a human being–not only a human doing. Take charge of your life, and download Boundaries for Work: A Contract with Yourself.