The pressing need for boundaries…

By now, we all know that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many of us to work from home. A new saga has inevitably emerged and it is not going anywhere. 

In fact, companies are looking to extend the work-from-home situation into a hybrid model where employees will be working part time at home and part time in the office. The so-called “best of both worlds”. In fact, according to the Harvard Law review, global research has revealed that “72% of corporate leaders plan to offer a hybrid model”

And that may sound encouraging, but there is a saying that continuously pops up – “if it’s too good to be true, it usually is”. 

A silver lining or a storm cloud waiting to burst?

We have set up home offices in our spare bedrooms or on our dining room tables and have made the most out of our new situations, often forcing ourselves to find the silver-lining of it all. 

So we have focused on the positives by relishing in the flexibility our work-from-home lives have afforded us. Many of us have even become more productive, resulting in an almost new-found “extra time” on our hands. Who knew you could get so much done in one day by simply staying put? 

But the article on Business News Daily, Working From Home Increases Productivity, supports this theory by revealing that “remote employees work 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts, resulting in more than three additional weeks of work per year”.

And again, that seems encouraging. 

But… is that too good to be true?

Despite this flexibility and productiveness, our work-from-home situation has made the separation between our work-lives and home-lives extremely difficult. A single door is often not enough to keep the family noise at bay. The inevitable result? The lines between work and home have become extremely blurred.

And for many of us who have been striving for the comfortable equilibrium that is work-life balance (or work-life blend as the millennials call it), it seems like all our efforts have gone up in smoke. Is work-life balance/blend even possible anymore?

Let’s be honest, the pandemic has changed the way we feel about prioritising our responsibilities. With all this flexibility and new-found ”extra” time on our hands (due to being “so productive”), a lot of us (especially those of us with our own small start-up businesses) have inevitably started saying “yes” more often than we should be. 

We say yes to please other people, to be team players, to seem more capable, more reliable, more trust worthy and ultimately to help others at our own expense. We say yes because we need the work and the money. Times are tough. So we are resorting to “making hay while the sun shines”.  At the cost of our own mental health. 

Our theme song has changed from Freedom by Pharrell Williams where we were once shouting our “first name is Free, last name is Dom” to Roy Orbison’s You Got it – 

“Anything you want, you got it.

Anything you need, you got it.

Anything at all, you got it”. 

“You got it” is not a bad song, it’s just not what we should be saying. All. The. Time.

Because while we might want to say “yes” to everything and “no” to nothing, we need to realise that that is simply not possible.

And whilst we continue looking for our silver linings, it kind of feels like storm clouds are rolling in. And waiting to burst. Because with all the “Yesses” being thrown around, something has got to give

It’s raining, it’s pouring!

The storm clouds have indeed burst and your ”Yesses” are falling to the earth amidst thunder and lightning, drenching the ground all around you with your unfulfilled promises. 

You are feeling overwhelmed (understandably) with all the things that you have said yes to. Work is mounting up and the possibility is increasing that in fact, you won’t have any extra time on your hands to get all the work done, that you may miss deadlines and that you may let people down. 

After all, life is full of trade-offs. 

Saying yes to everything, means you are automatically saying no to everything else. And your priorities will start to suffer. And so will your work and your family commitments. 

Are you asking yourself the right questions here? Are you saying yes to the things you really want to say yes to? Or are you saying yes because you don’t know how to say no? Or do not know when it is ok to say no?

Lolly Daskal believes that saying “no is one of the most important skills you can cultivate. Done right, “no” can help you build better relationships and free you up to do the things that are important to you”

Overextending yourself by over-promising and under-delivering, will inevitably get you trapped in the viscous cycle that is stress, anxiety and possible depression because you will, inevitably, burn out. Do not repeat the mistakes of our pre-work-from-home lifestyles. We should have learnt better by now… 

After all, World Mental Health Day (which was on Sunday the 10th of October this year), reminds us that our mental health is as important as our physical health. Sometimes even more so. And we need to be aware that spreading ourselves too thin has consequences that often result in our mental health suffering. 

And that is just not ok. Not anymore. Not when we do actually know better.

Perhaps it is about time that we learn to say no instead of saying yes!

Let’s change our narrative!

Perhaps the first way to combat the possibilities of continuously saying yes when we should be saying no is by changing the idea that work-life balance (at the moment) may not be as attainable as it once was (when we were working at our respective offices). And that perhaps our focus should be more on the balance between saying yes and saying no

An article titled How saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ could revolutionize your work/life balance states that we need to “learn to say “no” in order to be able to say “yes” when it matters most”. 

And that is crucial – remember in life there are always trade-offs. So make sure you are choosing the right ones. 

In addition – 

“When you know your priorities and values – what you want time and energy to say yes to – saying no becomes much simpler” – How to say ‘No’ so you can say ‘Yes’.

And that again, is not only crucial but is the crux of doing away with this “Roy Orbisonism” of “Anything you want, you got it” mentality. 

Because you need to learn what your priorities are so that when it comes time to say no, you are actually able to. The answer will be easy because your goals will be clear. 

In fact, PsychCentral states that “A true yes — a yes that is in line with your values and best interest — you feel with your whole body. It’s easy. There is no doubt. There is no worry.

And this starts by firstly knowing that it is actually ok to say no in the first place.

No is an answer

Not only is it ok to say no but it is sometimes necessary. 

Saying no is actually a perfectly acceptable answer. 

Remember – when you say yes to one thing, you are automatically saying no to something else. And vice-versa. So your choices as to what is more important become ever more relevant. 

At this point, you may be asking – but how do I go about actually saying no? 

Well, it starts with a number of things – acknowledgements about what you can and cannot do, admissions as to what means most to you and what you are willing to sacrifice, and prioritising those things – 

Firstly, acknowledge that you are not superhuman (read: you cannot do everything) – saying yes to everything will leave you feeling trapped, drowning and struggling for air. You will have no time or energy for yourself and your own best interests will fall by the wayside. So start by choosing the things that you can genuinely do and want to say yes to. Align your life and your choices with your values, with the things that you can do and the things that bring you joy. Stop saying yes for the sake of saying yes.

Set your own personal boundaries – by setting boundaries between yourself and others you can get closer to a feeling of equilibrium (that so-called sweet spot of work-life balance). You will show others that you know your own value and are willing to stick up for it. And this starts by making sure that you are clear about what you are actually able to take on. So be clear on what is non-negotiable to you and what you are willing to consider. By having well defined desires, responsibilities and goals, you not only gain clarity over your work but also gain control over your work-life and home-life. Again defining those boundaries. And these boundaries need to be communicated to work colleagues, to clients as well as to family and other personal relationships (which are often harder to do). By doing this, you will be able to prioritise tasks more effectively and efficiently. And feel more capable and more able to do the things you genuinely say yes to.

Prioritise proactively– in order to say “No” confidently you need to understand what is important to you. Define those things. Understand them and be clear about them. By doing so, you will find yourself saying “no” more often to ensure that you can pursue the things that are most important to you and to your job. As Ester Banque puts it – by learning to proactively prioritise she has learned to “divide and conquer, making sure the right level of oversight or involvement is in place without the need for unproductive “face time.” We are also identifying non-negotiables at work and at home, managing the all-important expectations”. And managing expectations is key in prioritising your work-life and home-life. Again, when you are clear on what is most important, you will know exactly where to focus your energy.

Never compromise your integrity– as Lolly Daskal puts it  – “Your integrity sets your standards and gives you a code of morality and ethics. Use it to guide you in saying no and you’ll always make consistent choices that are grounded in your beliefs”. So ensure to keep your integrity in check – if you have to question your integrity or the morality of something, say no. Always.

Deciding on whether it is really worth it? – sometimes it is as simple as that. Maybe you find yourself in the position where you have committed to something but later find yourself doubting as to whether you can actually cope with the work. You may start to think of ways of getting out of the commitment. You may start to think up excuses, risking being caught out on a white lie. Is it worth it? The stress, the anguish and the doubt? Saying no outright may be the absolute best option. Remember – No is a perfectly acceptable answer. As Paulo Coelho said – “If it costs you your peace, it is too expensive”. So saying no should be easy.

Realise that you will not please everyonethis is a recipe for disaster, for stress, anguish and fear (of disappointing others and yourself). By saying no, you may be afraid that your boss, your client, or your family will think less of you. Truth is – they won’t. Saying no actually ensures that you are promoting self-care and are ensuring that you always operate at your best. And that can only be respected.

Simply put – you need to be able to protect yourself from burnout. You need to give yourself a break by giving yourself balance and by being ok with saying no. Understand your limits and realise that your own best interests are important too. Finding a balance between meeting your own needs and saying yes to others (and saying yes to work) should start by asking yourself –  

“What are my needs?” 

“How much of my time, energy and resources do I need to meet those needs?” 

“What can I genuinely do for others?” 

“How much can I take on?”

“How much of my time can I dedicate to others?” 

Everyone will answer these questions differently. But the important thing is to find the balance that works best for you.

To gain clarity and control over your life (and your work) may include seeking guidance from a trained professional who can guide you as you navigate saying “No” (it sometimes takes practice). Get in touch with Frieda Levycky of Braving Boundaries for a consult on getting your priorities on track. 

To close off and to illustrate the importance of saying no we turn to the quote by James Altucher from Choose yourself – 

“Every time you say yes to something you don’t want to do, this will happen: you will resent people, you will do a bad job, you will have less energy for the things you were doing a good job on, you will make less money, and yet another small percentage of your life will be used up, burned up, a smoke signal to the future saying, “I did it again.”

Don’t risk “doing it again”. Change the cycle. Change the narrative and learn that setting boundaries, managing expectations and saying no is perfectly fine.   

About the writer, Alicia Koch, Founder of The Legal Belletrist.

Alicia, an admitted attorney with over 10 years PQE, and now a legal writer and researcher, has established The Legal Belletrist to assist companies (in different sectors) to write well-researched articles that speak to each company’s core business, enabling growth and commercialism. 

Click here to visit The Legal Belletrist website.

Email: alicia@thebelletrist.com