Boundaries in space and time

In which I endeavour to have boundaries during the school holidays…

School holidays can be a challenging time to work from home as I do. There are constant distractions, extra noise, and people underfoot…

While I am fortunate to now have teenage kids, who don’t require constant supervision (just regular reminders that a world exists beyond their screens!), it’s still a struggle to maintain my boundaries around my time and my space.

But I didn’t write the post (just) to moan…

I want to chat about how you can discover and assert your boundaries, even in trying times. And, as the title of this post suggests, I’m going to be focusing on environmental boundaries – boundaries of space and time – as these are often the simplest boundaries to identify and assert.

Why have boundaries?

We all have boundaries: we all have preferences about how we live and work. We all have limits about what behaviour we will accept and what goes too far. We can’t not have boundaries!

However, that doesn’t mean that we are all aware of our own boundaries, let alone able to explain these clearly to others.

So…

Where are your boundaries?

All too frequently, the way I discover where my boundaries lie is when people cross them and I have to try not to shout at them! I’ve learned the hard way to take heed when this happens, so I can work out what my real boundary is.

But you don’t have to wait for a boundary violation to figure your boundaries out.

Take a moment now and think about you and the things you do (whatever that may be):

  • When is your best time of day for doing these activities?
  • What kind of space do you prefer to do these in?
  • Do you like to have others around you, or not?
  • Would you rather have noise or music or silence or something else?
  • Do you need the same environment for everything you do?

All these preferences are boundaries.

You’ll likely have some flexibility in your preferences – you will cope to some degree if you can’t get exactly what you want. But there will be a point where not having your preferences met causes energetic, and even physical, discomfort. And if you are forced to endure for too long at or beyond that point, you’ll end up wanting to scream at people, or running and hiding, or both…

For myself, I need clear space and quiet to focus and write and journal – when my desk starts piling up with stuff I get antsy (ooh, just like it is now 🙄). Clutter kills my creativity. I need to have a dedicated ‘me-only’ space to work at my best. Other people’s energy is fine for mealtimes and sociable evenings, but not when I’m working, thanks. If I’m forced to work in a  crowded, cluttered space for any length of time, I’m not going to be very useful. Oh, and don’t ask me to think too hard before 10 am!

Everyone has different preferences and different boundaries.

I know folk who love working in noisy coffee shops, or in the midst of piles of paper that would kill me. And my preferences would drive them mad. Which is fine, as long as we can talk about what we need and when we need it…

How to assert your boundaries

I have to ‘fess up here and admit that I’m not yet brilliant at asserting my boundaries early in the piece, and I’m still learning to accept help gracefully (let alone ask for it). I find it much easier to state my needs only after I’ve been driven to screaming or hiding – which really is too late. So this section is what I’m trying to do (but not what I always achieve).

Tell people what you need

Nothing can change unless people know what you need and where your boundaries lie.

In an ideal world, we would all be upfront about our boundaries and willing to accommodate others with ease and grace. But we live in this world, so it’s not quite so straightforward. And, let’s face it, not everyone will be willing or able to accommodate your needs…

Tips:

  • Talk to the people who can actually make a difference: That might be your spouse (“honey, I need a dedicated work space. I’m going to take over the guest room”), your manager (“hey boss, I can’t do my best work in this noisy office. Could I work from home one day a week?”), your colleague (“please wear headphones when you’re listening to death metal”), yourself (“time to clean up your desk, Jude”), or someone else…
  • State clearly what you need: “Kids, I need you to keep the noise down for the next half hour while I make an important phone call. I won’t be available to you while I’m on the phone. Yes, you can watch TV. And don’t wind your brother up while I’m on the phone – wait until after.”

Stay ‘solution-focused’

It’s all too easy to gripe and moan and whinge (trust me, I know!) But that’s not actually likely to change anything, is it?

Once you’re clear on what you need, it’s easier to work out how you might get it.

Tips:

  • Think laterally: if you want your own home office, but you live in a tiny house, that’s probably not going to happen. How could you create that space a different way?
  • Include others (especially those directly involved): if you’re finding it hard to work around your kids, ask them for suggestions about you all might change things. If you need changes to your space at work, talk to your team mates.
  • Stay open to options: what you think now is the only way forward might not be the only way, or the best way. Do some brainstorming (on your own or with others) and see what else you can come up with. And don’t be afraid to get a little crazy with your ideas…

Keep at it

Overnight change is unlikely, so keep at it. This stuff takes practice (though I’ve heard rumours that it gets easier the more you do it)

Tips:

  • Try stuff: try some things and see how they work for you. Then try some other things and see if they work better. Keep at it.
  • Stay patient – with yourself and with others: setting boundaries and asking for what you need takes practice, and it is likely to feel uncomfortable at first. Keep at it.
  • Expect your boundaries to change over time: as you practice and try stuff, you’ll become clearer about what really matters to you. You are allowed to grow and change. You are allowed to need something different two weeks, two months and two years from now (and any time in between). You’re allowed to need something different tomorrow! It doesn’t mean you were wrong today.

Let me know how you go

I’d love to hear how your boundary-setting is going – especially if you’ve got a hot tip of what worked for you! You can get in touch with me by email or through my Facebook page.

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Some additional resources:

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