4 ways a lack of boundaries is killing your career

The key to success is simple: in order to have a great career you must continuously strive to do more and work harder. Or so we’ve been told. 

In our efforts to be successful, we put in extra hours, deliver big, and lead side-initiatives. Yes becomes our middle name. If there comes a point in which we find ourselves stuck on the career ladder, we double-down on our efforts. 

This seldom works out the way that we want it to. 

The reason it doesn’t work is because we are trying to solve the wrong problem. It wasn’t that we weren’t working enough. We were taking the wrong approach. Being a yes-person only gets you so far. In order to find real success and have others see you as a leader, it’s crucial that we learn to take a step back and set healthy boundaries.

Let’s get this straight. Our lack of boundaries comes from a good place: our desire to do well. We want to excel in our careers and we do everything in our power to make it happen. However, in our quest to gain recognition, we end up sacrificing our time, mental health, creativity, and best work. In hopes that our extra efforts will pay off down the road.

As wellmeant as this is, it’s a mistake to run our business lives (or any portion of our lives) without boundariesNot only does a lack of boundaries negatively impact our personal well-being but it can damage our reputations and careers. I’ve seen this happen time and time again. Well-intentioned, hard-workers, getting the short end of the stick because they never learned the power of boundaries.

Most of us believe that boundaries are reserved for those who have already “made it”.  Not only is this untrue, but it’s dangerous; the habits we set early in our careers often persist with us throughout. Not learning how to manage your work-life early can have devastating effects on your effectiveness and and wellbeing. I’m here to tell you first hand that you can set boundaries and earn respect while doing it, in every level of your career.  

We all have the ability and the responsibility to teach people how to treat us.

In the following four points, I’ll show you how a lack of boundaries hurts our careers and how setting boundaries earns you respect and puts you in a position of leadership.


4 ways a lack of boundaries damages our career

Disappointment is inevitable

When we don’t set boundaries, we end up taking on a more-than-reasonable workload. At first, it’s not a problem. Being the yes-person feels good. We hunker down, work later, and push to get our projects done. We pride ourselves on being able to work hard and deliver fast.

The problem is: when we repeatedly overextend ourselves, that unsustainable level of output becomes the baseline. Without boundaries, the target continues to move forward. It’s no longer a fun surprise that you were able to get so much done. It’s now an unofficial part of your job description.

Of course, it’s important to strive to do better. But, we don’t want our performance measured by how much we can accomplish when we skip lunch, work until 10pm, and borrow from the future. Answering yes to everything, is a slippery slope. What starts as a way to please others, inevitably leads to disappointing someone, while depleting yourself.

Your work-quality suffers

Without boundaries, it’s easy to slip into a reactive work-mode. In modern work-places there is pressure (internally and externally) to always be available. We instantly reply to Slack messages, refresh our email every 5 minutes, and make sure that we promptly tackle whatever pops up. The problem with working in reactivity mode is: welcoming interruptions gets in the way of producing our best work. Constantly redirecting our energy prohibits us from getting into a state of flow. We might please people in the short-term, but it hurts us in the long run by impacting our work quality.

Setting boundaries doesn’t have to be rude or scary, you just have to be willing to be clear and firm.


Exercise: Protect your time

Learn how you work best, and set expectations around that. If going “away” to do your work sounds like too big of step, try this: schedule work-blocks on your calendar (you can even let people on your direct team know that you will be in focus-mode for the next hour, if that makes you feel more comfortable).

If someone pings you while you are working on something and you feel uncomfortable leaving them hanging, respond with: “Hey [name], I’m in the middle of some heads-down work right now. If it’s not urgent, I’ll get back to you when I’m finished. Or, feel free to pop some time on my calendar.”

FREE Boundary-Setting Guide

Your guide to setting boundaries that earn you respect in the workplace.

People respect you less

Setting boundaries means getting comfortable with saying “no”; an uncomfortable prospect for many of us. This might sound weird, but telling people “no” can actually improve their opinion of you. Sure, at first, they might be taken aback when you set a boundary, but when you express why, they will respect you more for it.The reason we set boundaries is so we can produce our best work. Our boundaries say: “This is how I work best. I know what I’m doing, what works for me, and I’m confident in my ability to get the job done.” This strong self-knowing inspires confidence and trust in your colleagues, clients, and higher-ups. Especially, – and this is important –  when you back it up with your work. Your boundaries show that you put thought and pride into what you produce. You make an effort to prioritize and you know how to deliver. These are the sorts of qualities that make a good leader. 

That said, you have to be able to approach these conversations with tact and reason. You can’t go in karate-chopping every request down with a fresh “no”. Be prepared to explore the true objective of a request, when you aren’t in alignment. Have open conversations in order to find what works for you and your team.

It’s bad for your mental-health 

A decade in Silicon Valley has shown me the mental-health impacts of over-extending ourselves at work. I’ve witnessed people go into a company without boundaries, and the snowball that occurs as the needs of the business swallow their personal livelihood.

A lack of boundaries is a clear course for burnout.

The less we protect our own needs, the more likely it is that we are going to experience high levels of stress, or even more severe mental-health conditions like depression or anxiety.

How to set boundaries at work

It’s easiest to set boundaries from the very beginning. But, don’t let that stop you from setting them after the fact. Even if your boundaries have already been crossed, it’s not too late to reverse the trend. 

First, you’ll need to get clear on what you need to work your best, and then communicate that in a way that engenders trust from your colleagues, clients, and management.

If you’re interested in getting started, setting boundaries at work, use the free guide below to help you get started.

In it, we will go-step by-step to identify which of your boundaries are being crossed and how to set healthy boundaries that improve your quality of work and life. 

Sometimes in life we need to reassess and adjust rather than push forward and work harder. Setting boundaries is the perfect tool for those times of stuck-ness. When we teach others how to work with us, the benefits ripple out in all areas of our life.

FREE Boundary-Setting Guide

Your guide to setting boundaries that earn you respect in the workplace.

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