At the recent World Administrators Summit in Frankfurt, the delegates talked a lot about the challenges we face in the role, which were, of course, shared by all of the representatives from different parts of the world. What struck me as really interesting was the extent that so many challenges could be resolved with setting boundaries and respecting yourself. Take, for example, the fact we are now connected with our Executive’s 24/7 through technology. How do we make sure that we are not working crazy hours or are expected to answer every email, every phone call? We set boundaries. That is easier said than done though right?
We all get told that setting boundaries between your personal and professional life are essential, that we need a balance and shouldn’t be taken advantage of when our wages certainly don’t reflect the hours we work. And of course, those boundaries can easily slip when your Executive travels extensively, or works long hours and needs your support. It is beyond tough.
I’ve found over the years, and particularly since I’ve become self-employed that getting the balance between work and life is never quite going to work out, instead I’ve decided that a mixture of the two over the course of the day is a good thing. So work long hours, sure, but during those hours take some time out, have a long lunch break, meet up with friends for a coffee say at 3pm, do the school run, get your kids to bed and then open up the laptop once you’ve caught up on your favourite TV over dinner. A blend, I’ve found is much better than a balance. But saying that, sometimes, so that you don’t get taken advantage of, you have to start with the boundaries so here are a few ideas to get your work/life blend into some sort of shape!
How to set boundaries between your personal and professional life
My first point is this. You can’t be all things to all people. You can’t be a super amazing Assistant, who lives and breathes your job and offers 100% support as and when it is required without it affecting your personal life – be that your family at home, or seeing your friends. Something has to give, and decisions have to be made around what you want your life to look like. But know this, life is pretty difficult to juggle and you won’t always have the right balance and that is okay. We are not after 100% perfection here!
I’ve done it myself, tried to be an amazing career woman while raising a young family, still having a social life, keeping in touch with friends and seeing the inside of a gym on occasion. The routine didn’t last long, and I was failing at all of it. So I had to set boundaries. It was the only way at that time to get any sanity and not feel constantly guilty that I was letting everyone down. It started by not being so hard on myself and then allocating time to each part of my life. Now, sure sometimes I will check my emails while my kids are having dinner, but that is part of the blend because I know that I spent two solid hours with him at some point during the day that was just our time with no distractions.
What are your priorities?
This has to be something that is personal to you. Your priorities will change over time, and you should adapt your boundaries accordingly. It is okay if you have been a 24/7 Assistant that wants to be at home more because you have other responsibilities. That’s okay. Make sure you check in with yourself on a regular basis and note if anything is slipping that is important to you and then give yourself a nudge back in the right direction.
Work week by week and make adjustments
I’ve found over the years that the best balance comes when I plan my week and know what I have coming up and where my time and focus will be needed. Visualise how you want your week to look and write that down! Schedule your day, if you want to finish at 6 put that in the diary. Have to pick up your kid from school? Make that spin class? Put it in your diary and share your schedule with those that need to know where you are and what you need to do. Let people see what you have to do. Then they will know you have a life outside of work and a busy schedule at work.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Communication is key. You need to communicate your boundaries with your boss, your friends, your family. Tell colleagues you are leaving at 6 pm for whatever you need to do so that you don’t get that death stare when you up and leave before they do! Let your Executive know you aren’t going to be online this evening, but you’ll check in early tomorrow. Communicate your boundaries and then try hard to stick to them. Yes, there are times that emergencies will occur and you will need to be flexible and adapt, but this should be the exception, not the norm.