Setting and Maintaining Boundaries at Work for Your Time

February 25, 2020


Do your workdays run long on hours but short on productivity? Are you constantly searching for ways to better manage your time as an executive assistant? If you feel like you’re always getting the short end of the stick when it comes to time management, it’s time to learn the art of setting expectations and boundaries.

Setting Healthy Boundaries

The role of an executive assistant’s often indefinable, changeable from one day to the next, and extraordinarily situational. That can make it difficult to draw the line on what is and isn’t a good use of your time leading to frustration, resentment, and burnout.

Are there ways to set healthy boundaries without putting your job at risk? Yes, and doing so is good for you and those you work with.

The old saying “you teach people how to treat you” is never more true than when applied to a busy office environment. Here are 5 ways to establish healthy limits so you can work smarter.

  1. Analyze the situation. A boundary “audit” helps reach clarity on where limits need to be set. Make a list of people and stressful situations that put too many demands on your time and keep you from accomplishing your daily to-do list. This is where you need to set, reset, or better communicate boundaries.
  2. Seek advice. Ask your boss to make a list of what they expect you to accomplish on a daily basis. Compare it to your audit and, where there are discrepancies, ask for guidance on setting priorities.
  3. Learn to delegate. “If I want it done right, I’ll do it myself,” is an easy trap to fall into, but knowing when to delegate work to others is the sign of a good leader—and an important skill to have if you aspire to higher positions. Fortunately, it’s a skill that can be developed.
  4. Create structure. Do people, including your boss, have a habit of just popping their head in for a “quick” question that’s never quick at all, disrupting your workflow and pushing your schedule back? Create an agenda that puts you back in control. You might suggest set times for recaps with your boss. Co-workers can be taught to understand that, unless it’s an emergency, you’re only available at certain times of the day.
  5. Just say no. This isn’t easy, especially for executive assistants who believe their job requires making sure everyone’s happy. If you’re uncomfortable saying no, start small by saying no to non-work related things like a lunch invitation. Then start saying no to tasks or requests that fall outside your job description. Be direct and don’t apologize or give reasons. Remember: your worth isn’t measured by how much you say yes to others.

You can also impose limits on yourself. For example, stop checking work email early in the morning, late at night, or when you’re on vacation. In Germany, it’s against the law for employers to call or email staff out of office hours! If your job description calls for always being on call, talk to your boss or HR about how to get a better handle on it.

Reclaiming Your Time

In a world where technology allows us to lead 24/7 work lives with virtually no break, it’s more important than ever to learn how to set and maintain boundaries. Prepare yourself for some pushback as others adjust to the new you and when a boundary is violated, address it immediately. Over time, you’ll discover people respect you for placing your needs first and you’ll find yourself feeling more confident, peaceful, and in control.

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