Last week I ran one of my core workshops around working smarter and managing overwhelm. As what always happens, the focus of conversation fell on how hard it is to work smarter when other people interrupt and disrupt us and that smartphones are the bane of our lives. People and technology the gateway to intrusion, interruption and frustration when we are trying our hardest to be productive.
The truth is we can point the finger of blame at others and technology, but if we truly want to manage our workloads and work smarter then we have to start by looking at ourselves. We are the main culprits of ineffective working. Therefore, we have to get clear on the behaviour, habits and thinking which get in the way of our own smarter working.
We have to set boundaries for ourselves and use these to train people on how we need to be treated to ensure effective working.
Today personal boundaries are all but disappearing in the workplace. Open plan offices make it easy for others to approach and interrupt. Technology means we are available in different ways 24/7. Fear of missing out dominates the mindset. Flatter hierarchies make things less formal, pushing the respect and flow boundaries which once streamlined communication.
But, we still have choices.
We can still choose how to respond to any situation, any person and any technology. That’s why the finger of blame lies above our own heads.
I remember working a 4 day week with Friday my day off. Without fail I would moan at the end of a Friday how much people had disturbed me, how much work I had had to do, how I was unable to focus on the children or whatever task I was doing. However, I chose to answer the phone, I chose to check emails, I chose to accept online meeting requests.
Our personal standards have slipped so that discipline, focus and respect are much lower than they use to be. But we still crave and need these for working smarter.
If we want to feel more in control of our working day and be more effective setting boundaries is fundamentally important to our success.
Boundaries say ‘I have standards’ and that ‘I am of value’. They don’t say ‘I’m difficult’ or “I’m selfish’. They say ‘I am clear on how i want to live and work’ or ‘’I am in control of my effectiveness’ and “this is how I can give & achieve my best’.
I believe we are all hard wired to help others which makes it hard to put a barrier up to anyone. That we are the victim of our own habits meaning we reach for the smartphone unconciously more often than consciously. Furthermore, we owe it to our own wellbeing to set boundaries which to all intents and purpose are personal rules we live and work by. This way we can start to correct our own poor behaviour as well as that of those around us.
When I stopped turning my phone on on a Friday and stopped accepting meeting requests, to begin with it rubbed people up the wrong way. They felt entitled to my availability because I had taught them that. Slowly I trained the people I worked with to treat me and my time differently by setting new boundaries. I audited what was working and what was not. Looked at cause and effect. It didn’t take long for them to accept the new rules I worked by, it didn’t mean i became completely inflexible and it changed others habits along the way. I noticed my team started to become more productive and effective themselves as a result of my boundaries – forward thinking what may need attention on my day off, increasing their resourcefulness and building their confidence to make their own decisions. You see there are advantages in saying No not just to you but also to others!
No is the hardest word, it makes or breaks any boundary you put in place.
It becomes easier to say No I promise when you truly connect to the reason for the boundary. For me it was about my wellbeing and the importance of connecting with my children in undisturbed moments. For a client of mine, who spent all her day in meetings having to work at night to do the bulk of her project work, it was easy to say No more often when she could explain that her quality of output was suffering. Easier for another who started to say No to working past 6.30pm because she had running club for mental health and wellbeing challenges she was facing. That powerful ‘Why’ behind the rules you set keeps a boundary firmly in place once established.
Boundaries maybe met with resistance, a little annoyance and frustration at first as you begin to train those around you. But persevere and communicate. Lead by example – treat people how you expect to be treated. Remember the end result you are aiming for is better performance and wellbeing for all.
So where can you start?
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