Continuing on with my series on Managing Overwhelm, today we’re looking at how to get more boundaried in your work and life. This post will help you create more time, energy and (yes!) attention. So you’ve got the juice and the space to say “yes” to much much more of the work, rest and play that makes you happy and well.
This post is for everyone who wants to become more productive and less stressed, but it is absolutely de rigeur if you are suffering from emotional exhaustion or seeing the signs of burnout in your life.
We post-milenial humans are waaay more distracted in our day-to-day lives and work than we have ever been at any point in history. Modern communication means that we are constantly available and reachable by others. We can now engage in pretty much anything, from home, from a field, up a mountain, via the internet, and the choice is overwhelming in itself. There’s a LOT asking us to say “Yes!” to every minute of the day.
Add a generous helping of ADHD or spice it up with a splash of neurodivergence and it’s a recipe for permanent Life Indigestion.
The thing is that, neurodivergent or not, you simply cannot give your attention to all the things/ people/ activities asking for your attention at any given time. In the same way that you would never order every dish on the menu, you have got to choose... And if you want a satisfying life that feels successful to you, you’re going to have to choose the things that are important to you.
This is going to mean saying no.
Here are a few ways you may need to start saying no, in order to create space, time and energy for you:
Shut off notifications on your phone.
Don’t answer calls when you’re working.
Have clear times in your day/week when you’re available for meetings/socialising (and clear times when you are NOT).
Get rid of voluntary and family commitments that are not within your zone of genius or in line with your bigger values.
Withdraw from draining relationships. (I don’t necessarily mean relationships where you are the one giving - as these can be rewarding in many ways. You just have to judge whether your overall takeaway is to feel filled-up or emptied-out).
Stop taking care of other people where doing so is undermining your long term wellbeing.
Put yourself to bed instead of being available for your friends/family.
It's one thing to realise that you need to say no, it’s quite another thing to do it in practice.
Find out what you actually want. (This can be a lifelong process). Poor boundaries start with a lack of clarity because we grew up thinking what we wanted doesn’t matter or isn’t ok. This is especially true when there is undiagnosed autism or other neurodiversity in the picture. A great practice is to ask yourself, moment-to-moment, “What would feel good right now?” and “Am I going to be glad I did this in 20 years?” You don’t have to act on it... But simply asking the question strengthens your sense that, yes, what you want matters. You have a voice.
Notice what is frightening or hard about saying no. Hint: it's usually got to do with other people’s feelings about your decision, and the inner voice which has learned to parrot other peoples’ feelings til they sound like your own). Journal, confide in a friend, swear at a friendly-looking tree, offload your feelings about your kids/boss/partner/co-worker’s impending tantrum.
Say no. Simply. Briefly. Repetitively.
If you care about the person you are saying no to, you can also explain the “yes” behind the no. What are you making space for with your no? This is optional and is a team-building strategy, not a crucial part of your boundary.
Smile and nod while the world loses their shit about your new plan. Continue with your plan anyway.
Smiling and nodding… you’re doing great!