How Boundaries Can Motivate You

When something is overwhelming, like, let’s say, your job as a nonprofit communicator, it’s very hard to feel like you are getting anything done or making any progress at all, no matter how dedicated you are.

We get overwhelmed, and motivation dissolves, in many aspects of our lives.

For example, this summer, my husband has been pleasantly surprised by just how much work I am doing in the garden. I’ve always liked gardening, but my motivation to keep everything alive and growing is usually long gone by now because of the unceasing Carolina heat and weeds.

But this year is different, for one reason: Boundaries. 

This spring, I spent several weekends building firm borders around several of the beds in the garden, and constructing some new ones, all with very clear boundaries.

I used a combination of plastic edging, stone walls, and pebble paths to create boundaries. What's the equivalent in your work?

I used a combination of plastic edging, stone walls, and pebble paths to create very clear boundaries. What’s the equivalent in your work?

I have drawn a very clear line between the bermuda grass and the beds, and now I can focus my energy within the bed, rather than always trying to define and defend the border and figuring out what’s in and what’s out. I know what’s in and what’s out, and I focus on the “in” and ignore the “out.”

Creating Boundaries at Work

What’s the equivalent of plastic edging, stone walls, and pebble paths at work?

Think about what governs your time and the tools that you use to manage it.

Are you calendar driven? To-do list driven? Some combination, or something else? How can you use the tools you already use every day to create boundaries?

Can you block off time on your calendar that becomes sacred for working on priorities?

Can you start each morning (or finish the day before) with setting your top three to-do for the day?

Can you give yourself some sort of visual cue — something on the wall, or your desk, or your screen saver, that reminds you what is most important?

Can you agree that you will NOT do something and get it off the to-do list (like not caring one bit about the quality of the grass in between and around all those garden beds)?

Boundaries can help you focus, provide some direction, and generally make you more productive and more happy.

How do you, or how might you, define and defend the border of your job, and figure out what’s in and what’s out on your “most important” list? Share in the comments!




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  • Megan Keane

    Thanks for the great post Kivi, as I think it’s something pretty much all of us can relate to. One tip I’ve found helpful is to come up with a “don’t do” list – so when you’re overwhelmed by an exhausting to-do list, be very clear about the things (or parts of the task) you aren’t going to try to do (or delegate to others). I find that helps me stay keep tasks more manageable and do-able in smaller chunks rather than trying to complete or solve a complex task or problem in its entirety.

  • Going home from the office on time and working in my garden is a restorative boundary to re-charge my creative energy. Your gardening posts this spring/summer reminded me that i need to spend more time in the dirt and less time running around in circles inside my own head! Thanks, Kivi!

    • You made me laugh Sarah! Lots of circle running in my head lately too!

  • agirlnamedkylie

    My husband and I work together (he’s my ED, I’m the DD), and even though (or maybe because) we get along and could live in a foxhole together, we are both prone to workaholism. One of the boundaries that I set for myself is two days off per week (harder than it sounds), and least one of which I take by myself (even more difficult! haha). I get home time with him, and I also get a day when I get to do the home management stuff that I’m reluctant to do if he’s home and I want to spend quality time with him. It’s still an uphill battle to make him take days off (!), but since I’ve made this change, life and work seem a little easier to manage.

    • Wow, not sure I could pull that off! My husband and I both work at home but in separate offices.

  • Stephanie Klamm

    I use Outlook at work so I use that calendar to block out time to work on projects and even some small tasks. That way when I’m planning and when I speak with my supervisor, I can be more realistic about what can get done and when. I still sometimes ignore the things I don’t like to do but it’s worked better for me the last few months (over making lists on lists on lists).

  • Asavari Sharma

    Every morning, I jot down my ‘tasks for the day’ in my notebook. It’s a traditional way of staying organized but this helps me in accomplishing more than I plan for the day without getting hooked to the internet! I love setting targets for myself. Doing this motivates me and keeps my productivity levels at an all time high. However, I just chill on the weekends, keeping Saturdays for cleaning my home, stacking groceries and other utilities. Planning is so much fun! 🙂

  • I actually had to create boundaries with my work colleagues. I have chunked out a 2 hour time slot at the end of the day where I can close my office door, close my email and work steadily on planning and tasks I need to accomplish. Everyone respects it and I get a lot done!