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How to set boundaries without putting others in a pinch.

It's no secret that we, as finite humans, have limits. Setting appropriate boundaries is one frequently discussed way to achieve better work-life flow and avoid getting ourselves into a situation where we have no margin. While we may know we need to limit the number of items placed on our task list each week, it can be hard to do so as requests from teammates, managers, and clients keep coming in.

A lot of the advice out there sounds more appropriate for an adolescent drug and alcohol resistance program than for a workplace scenario. We hear "just say no" and "'No' is a complete sentence."

The problem with that well-intentioned advice? Your co-workers aren't offering you drugs. They simply need your help with a work task. And part of being a good teammate is being a helpful one. Further, part of being fruitful Christians involves sacrificing our own comfort for the good of serving others. So how do we balance the two options? For starters, we stop telling ourselves we have only two options.

You see, when someone asks us to do something at work (complete a task, join a meeting, take on a new project, etc), we often feel we are at a clearly defined fork in the road and we can choose this way or that way.

Option 1: "Yes, I can do that!"

This option can feel really good (initially) because you get that endorphin rush of saving the day. This option often makes other people very happy. The catch? If your plate is already over-flowing, your week is going to royally stink as you spend another week with no margin for family, fellowship, or time with God.

Option 2: "Nope, sorry. I can't help you."

This option certainly sets a boundary and supports an adequate margin for work-life flow. When used enough, this option might just be the key to being present at your kids' activities in the evenings and avoiding eventual burnout. However, this is also the option that may make you feel like you aren't a team player. Sometimes this option even puts someone else in a pinch because they don't have the help you could be providing.

While each of these options has its place, it's important to note that there are far more than two options. Maybe you can keep your sanity and be a good teammate.

Next time you find yourself at that fork in the road, get creative. What's in that rich space between yes and no? How can you take more of a negotiation approach as you field requests during an already busy day?

Let's look at a few examples:

  • "I can't get to that today. Is there flexibility with the deadline? Thursday afternoon is realistic."

  • "I could do that by tomorrow if I pause working on the other initiative you asked about yesterday. Which one should take priority?"

  • "Yes, I can help with that if a couple more people on the team can chip in as well. I don't have the capacity to tackle it on my own this week, but I can shoulder some of the workload."

I pray your week has enough margin that you can sincerely give a lot of your "yeses" to teammates. And, if it doesn't, try taking more of a negotiation approach as you protect your own well-being and show up well for others.


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