Boundaries are important. Boundaries allow us to live the heathy, balanced lives we strive for from both a work and personal relationship perspective. And while most of us like the idea of setting boundaries and understand their importance, figuring out how to set boundaries can be tough.
In a culture that values busyness, it can feel awkward to let someone know that you need space, that you don’t work on weekends, that you don’t check email after 5 p.m. — the list goes on and on. That’s why we put together this guide for setting boundaries. Get started with these eight tips.
Figure out where you need to set boundaries
The first step to boundary-setting is understanding where you need to implement them in the first place. Are late-night emails from your boss sending you into an anxious, frazzled state that hinders your sleep? Are a family member’s incessant phone calls during the day making it hard to get anything done? Are your in-laws stopping by too often to see a grandchild, making it so that you feel like you’re not getting enough alone time?
Before you put the wheels in motion to actually set boundaries, figure out what situations or people are leaving you feeling depleted. As with most things in life, it’s important to pick your battles, so it’s important to first figure out which area of your life could most benefit from boundaries.
Be direct (but kind) in communicating your boundaries
Communicating a need for boundaries is a little awkward, but being firm, direct, and kind can go a long way. Try using statements like, “I love working here, but working late into the night actually makes me worse at my job because I’m so tired. You can feel free to email me at night, but just know I won’t see it until the next day.”
Or, if you’re trying to set boundaries in a relationship, try something like “I absolutely love spending time with you, but I’m such an introvert. I really need alone time! Do you think we can limit our hangouts to once a week?”
Give them a different option
If you don’t feel comfortable with being direct — or if being direct doesn’t work — try offering up a different option that might be equally appealing to them. For example, say you have a friend who constantly wants to talk on the phone, and it’s disruptive to your work day. As an alternative, suggest a video messaging app like Marco Polo that will give you the chance to check in and catch up at times that are convenient for both of you.
Offer up windows of availability
Another way to set boundaries is to simply let people know when you’re available right off the bat. This can apply to both relationship and work situations. In a relationship situation, if a friend or family member keeps demanding a lot of your time, simply communicate your availability in a given week or month. In a work situation, if your boss is piling on too much work, try saying something like “since my work hours are between 9 and 5, I’ll complete what I can of this project during that time.”
Block off time on your calendar for yourself
Schedule a meeting with yourself! You can do this during the workday or at home. By blocking off time during the workday, you’ll give yourself the opportunity to re-energize with an activity like meditation, journaling, taking a walk, or simply eating a nutritious lunch. You can implement this same strategy at home, too — this can be especially helpful if you have kids and rarely get a moment to yourself.
Try blocking off time on your calendar for yourself.
Set boundaries early
This is a particularly helpful tip when you’re at the beginning of something. Think a new job, a move to a new city, or a new baby. Make it clear that you take lunch breaks every day, and will not eat a sad desk lunch. Let new friends know when you have time to hang out, and when you need time to yourself. Let in-laws know when it’s OK to stop by to see their grandchild, and when you need time to yourself. By setting boundaries early, you’ll avoid those tough, awkward conversations — and be a lot happier for it.
Be consistent with your boundaries
Once you’ve set a boundary, stand firm in it. While some people may be respectful and understanding, others may try to push it. If your boss invites you to a meeting when you’re not available, reminding them once or twice may be enough to stop the pattern.
Remember to set boundaries around the more subtle things
When we think of boundaries, we think of people and work situations. And often, that’s where a lot of the work around boundaries has to happen. But there are less obvious things we need to set boundaries around, too. For example, if you find yourself scrolling through Instagram or TikTok late into the night, you may need to put a boundary in place like “no screens after 9 p.m.” If you find you’re having a few too many glasses of wine every night and waking up feeling groggy and exhausted, you may need to set a boundary like “no alcohol on the weekends.”
Now that you have the tools you need, you’ll be a pro at setting boundaries in no time. And while you’re at it, read up on these 11 ways to be more present.