How to Draw Boundaries With People Who Take Advantage of You

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Most of us have a full plate on a day-to-day basis. Just keeping up with the demands of a full-time job or home and family can leave us wishing we had more hours during the day. Then there are times when we try to go above and beyond what’s expected of us and bend backward to accommodate a friend or colleague.

While these constant requests of our time and attention may make us feel wanted and flattered, the reality is they can also seriously tax our energy and focus. We can’t always agree with everything that people in our lives want us to do.

The key to maintaining a sense of sanity while keeping up with all the demands at work and home is to set clear boundaries. This helps us make smart decisions about our time and energy allows us to get stuff done.

Understand that your needs are important

Often, we avoid building boundaries because we’re afraid to hurt others or want to please everyone, even if that comes at the cost of our own happiness or doing things we enjoy. Remember if family members or coworkers make you feel guilty for prioritizing your own needs, they may not have your best interest at heart.

Know your values

Understanding your values helps you figure out where you’d like to set boundaries. For instance, if you are committed to volunteering, then it’s important to take the time to do so. Whether that means leaving the office at 5 pm twice a week or not responding to emails over the weekend, you need to set boundaries that allow you to make time for projects that align with your values and passion.

Communicate clearly

It’s not only important to set boundaries but also communicate them clearly. For instance, if you don’t want your co-workers to contact you at odd hours, let them know when you can be available during off-hours should there be urgent needs. That also means figuring out what constitutes as an “emergency,” and communicate that as well.

Keep your expectations realistic

It may not be realistic to expect an enjoyable Thanksgiving dinner at Aunt Peggy’s house when you know she’ll find ways to belittle you at every opportunity. Set boundaries by politely declining that invite or limiting the time you spend at that dinner and preparing for how to handle that conversation.

Create a structure

A key way to set boundaries, especially at work, is to create structure. For example, avoid aimless meetings by having a clear agenda and expected outcomes in place. Include start and end times and enforce them strictly to prioritize conversations. If your boss tends to stop by for a “quick chat” at the end of the day, then preempt that by setting up regular check-ins and make a compelling case for how that’s important – efficiency, time management, productivity, etc.

Be willing to compromise

No one likes to hear “no”—especially if they’re used to hearing “yes.” Look for ways to compromise so no one loses, including you. If your friend who lives in the burbs expects you to drive up to meet up every single time you want to have a “girls’ night out,” have her meet you halfway. Alternate the location so she can come to town or meet somewhere midway that’s convenient for both.

Unplug regularly

In today’s tech-driven world, it may feel impossible to achieve work-life balance, and finding ways to unplug from technology becomes all the more important. Avoid checking Instagram or emails first thing when you wake up. Create “unplug” time for the family when everyone sets aside their smartphones and plays a board game or takes a nature walk or connects through a shared family activity.

No one can set boundaries for you at work or at home. With preparation, clear communication and plenty of practice, you can set boundaries and reclaim your time, space and energy.

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