The holidays! A season marked by traditions, celebration, and time spent with family and friends. I eagerly anticipate it every year, and yet the start of December always gives me a bit of anticipatory overwhelm, too.

So many gifts, so many social engagements, a splash of end-of-year reporting and business meetings, and a few family traditions that may not really hit the mark. If I’m not careful, I can end December exhausted. And as I’m continually learning, the best cure for holiday burnout?

Boundaries.

Reflecting on these feelings of overwhelm, I’ve realized a parallel between the holiday season and my own work life: a lack of boundaries, or more truly, a lack of boundary enforcement.

A holiday example we just discussed on our team: accepting the individual family holiday gift-giving tradition instead of lobbying for a white elephant or name drawing for gifts (what do I get my brother’s wife’s stepmom?!

But the deal is: our inability to set and stick to boundaries at work doesn’t just create one season of overwhelm - we end up behind and burned out all year. Even though we’re big believers in reimagining the workday so we can maintain healthy work-life boundaries, our MatchPace team still struggles with “busyness creep.”

We warn clients of the perils of being constantly available (or expecting it of others), but we end up scheduling meetings during time blocked out for deep work or answering emails late at night that can easily wait until morning. All in the name of responsiveness, or trying to stave off overwhelm in the next day. Suddenly, we find ourselves constantly available to our clients, even when it doesn’t serve us or them well.

We love to hustle and strive to exceed our clients’ expectations! But we all know that not properly setting and enforcing boundaries leads to overwhelm, burnout, and the inability to perform at our very best. And no one benefits if we aren’t firing on all cylinders.

So how can you set - and more importantly, stick to - boundaries at work? Well, just like you would set those family boundaries around the holidays. Here are a few ideas to try:

Communicate clearly up front, in a way that respects your team. Boundaries are no use if they’re not communicated properly, and they are easier to enforce when your team is clear on their purpose. If you’re hoping to set and enforce a new boundary, like no meetings before 10am so you can focus on deep work early in the day, make sure you explain why it is important to set and maintain this boundary. Your colleagues will only take you seriously if they understand the reason behind the boundary, and then see you consistently enforce it.

Practice makes perfect. Enforcing boundaries takes discipline, and it takes time to strengthen those discipline muscles. Just like it gets easier to hit the gym the more consistently you show up, enforcing boundaries becomes second nature the longer you’re at it. So don’t give up, and keep setting, communicating, enforcing and reevaluating until your boundaries become so ingrained in your workday you don’t even have to think about them!

Be aware of what you’re trying to accomplish, and constantly evaluate if your boundaries are helping. Reevaluate boundaries that you can’t seem to enforce, and decide if it’s truly accomplishing what you hoped. Enforcing boundaries can be hard, but if it feels impossible, it might not be the right boundary. If you are searching for focus time but you just can’t stay away from meetings before 10am, maybe there is a better way to achieve that. Try blocking out time in the afternoon instead and see if that fits your own workflow or your organization better.  And even if you do set and enforce a boundary consistently over time, make sure to reevaluate those boundaries at least quarterly to ensure they are still serving you and your team well.

This is a great opportunity to think ahead to 2019 and the boundaries you may need to set or enforce to achieve your goals. Are there any areas you struggle to set and maintain boundaries? We’d love to hear your strategies for boundary-setting or what you hope to do differently in 2019! Leave us a comment or shoot us an email at elizabeth@matchpace.net and we’ll keep the conversation going!