Personal Boundaries: How to Stay Sane & Work Better

Personal Boundaries: How to Stay Sane & Work Better

January 26, 2015 by

Making a living in the 1920s was a hard business. Life was centered on earning enough to feed a family, and that required a 60-hour workweek to pay the bills. It was common for employees to put in 10-hour days, six days a week. Bosses were demanding. Life was grueling. And families suffered.

Managers pushed for progress no matter how much it hurt the people who worked for them. Jobs were scarce, and business owners believed the more hours a worker put in, the more progress they would deliver. People needed to be pushed for a company to be successful. But not everyone held this view.

Edsel Ford, the son of Henry Ford, pioneered the idea that less could produce more. He believed people would deliver superior progress if they had more time off work. He once said, “Every man needs more than one day a week for rest and recreation.” This belief led Ford to reduce his workers schedules from six to five days a week. He also shortened the workday from 10 to eight hours. And then he raised the hourly wage to make sure no one received a reduction in pay. He believed employees who had more time to spend with their family would produce more when they were at work. And they did. Production went up.

We sometimes fall into a habit of allowing the work to control us instead of us controlling the work.

More Hours Does Not Equal More Accomplished

This basic principle of human nature is still true today. Working more does not necessarily result in greater progress. More hours at work does not mean more work gets done. If you are reporting to a manager who believes it does, you need to have a conversation. If your manager expects you to give whatever time they need whenever they want it, you will consistently find yourself with less time for yourself and your family.

Expectations that regularly encroach on your evenings and weekends are unhealthy. But unhealthy expectations can shift toward right-sized expectations when we implement personal boundaries. Keep in mind that expectations are not only one-way, top down. They are also bottom up. It is right for you to have expectations of those to whom you answer.

Whether you work for a manager who interrupts your evenings or weekends with cell phone calls, text messages or emails, or you have a hard time leaving your work at the office, here are two suggestions on how implement boundaries to create personal space.

1. Define Your Schedule

Your time after hours is yours.

How much are you willing to give? Were you hired for 40 hours per week but find you’ve been given a workload that demands 50 or more hours per week? If so, it is time to talk with your manager and get the expectations defined on paper. When it is written, you can go back to the paper as a reminder of what has been agreed upon.

A common quandary involves figuring out how to handle a regular workload while also accommodating urgent last-minute surprise requests. There will always be another urgent need. And either you must be permitted to say no to the urgent requests, or have the authority to move a deadline for other projects to a later date. If your manager will not give you that authority, then you should be allowed to bring the options to their attention for consideration. It is then their responsibility to set the priority and communicate what will be accomplished and what will be delayed. Defining your schedule, even if you are a salaried employee, establishes a personal boundary that protects your personal space when you are with your family after hours.

2. Give Yourself Permission

The work will be there when you come back.

Working long hours is not always the result of a manager who requires them. Often we place unhealthy expectations on ourselves. We sometimes fall into a habit of allowing the work to control us instead of us controlling the work. Whether we work late into the evening or regularly take our work home, we have to learn how to give ourselves permission to come back to it at a later time.

I remember a recent conversation with a team member who said to me, “You probably don’t know this, but last week I worked 70 hours.” He knew the value we placed on rest and family and that we prohibit anyone from working a 70-hour workweek. Still, he chose to work way too many hours. The more we talked, the more he realized that he should have either given himself permission to come back to his work later or asked for help to get the job done. He eventually came to appreciate that the work would have been there waiting for him when he returned the next week. What he felt was urgent really wasn’t.

Personal Boundaries Benefit Everyone

Edsel Ford believed employees would get more done in less time if they had rest and plenty of time with their family. I agree. Long hours at work lead to a long list of regrets. Defining personal boundaries for ourselves and our managers ensures we have the rest we need to be mentally prepared to meet future needs. It also helps force us to prioritize what is most important for us to do. Setting right-sized personal boundaries benefits everyone.


We do important work—sharing the gospel—but that doesn’t mean we can work ourselves to death. Learn more about how to fight church communicator burnout.

Photo by Lefteris Heretakis.
Post By:

Gerry True

Gerry True serves as the communication arts pastor at Oak Hills Church where he currently leads four teams of artists who use their creativity in communication, production, worship and technical arts. He lives in San Antonio, Texas, with his beautiful wife Karen and two delightful leaders-in-the-making kids, and you can follow him on Twitter at @GerryTrue.
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