Over the years, I’ve developed a reputation at work of being professional about drawing boundaries around my availability. I definitely became better at this when I returned from maternity leave after Mr. 7 year old was born because I just didn’t have the energy to sneak in extra work hours outside of the office like I used to.
How have I done it? Here’s the gist.
Live Your Goals
First, you have to know your own professional development goals, those of your teams, and those of your projects/employers. (I’m a senior manager of training design and development teams for multiple clients, so there are many stakeholders to satisfy.) I recommend playing to your strengths when crafting goals. You’ll be more motivated to work on something you’re already good at, rather than try to improve a weakness that you could potentially outsource to someone else.
Once you have your goals, live by them. Get invited to a meeting that doesn’t align with your personal goals or those of your client? Politely decline. I’m not saying you can skip every boring meeting or work task, but you can be selective about how you spend your time. (Probably more so than you think!)
Decline with Grace
I swear tactfully pushing back is a large part of the art of “managing up.” I rarely say no to my clients and managers. I provide more information instead. For example, if I’m asked to move a deadline up that isn’t feasible, I’ll state that we can do that if X conditions or concessions are made.
If I’m asked to join a committee or project that I can’t make work, I say thank you for the opportunity but I’m regretfully not available. And, here’s the key, I also provide a recommended solution, whether that’s another team member who would be a good fit or a time in my schedule when I could take on the opportunity.
I am the messenger that provides the details to help us all make better decisions, while making sure the solution will work for me and my teams.
Diversify Your Happiness
Don’t let work be the most interesting thing about you. Find other things you enjoy and add them to your life. This can be hobbies, pets, family, fitness, or volunteer work. Not only will these interests help when you have a bad day at the office and need to reset your mood, but they can be used to get you out of the office and away from work at a reasonable hour. If you commit to a hobby, be that a 8:30am fitness class three days a week or tutoring high school kids every Wednesday at 6pm, then you can block your calendar and work around it. I swear I became 10 times more efficient at my work when I knew I needed to log off each day by 3:30 to get my kids off the bus. (Remember that time when kids used to go to school in person?! The good old days….) Work tends to expand to the amount of time available.
I admit that some of these tips are easy to say and harder to do. It’s taken me some time of exploration at work, being a part of multiple teams and projects, to learn my strengths, set meaningful goals, and be comfortable pushing back on leadership. However, I think it’s important to realize that we only have this one life to live, so we better enjoy it. It’s harkens back to my motto to reflect on what you want, plan how to make it happen, and then start living and, in the famous words of Captain Picard, make it so.