Setting Limits: Improving Quality of Work & Life
By Karen Tidsall, Founder and Director, InterCHANGEpd
Our world is frantic, busy and fraught with crisis. Whether its natural disasters, political tumult due to volatile world leaders, or the UK navigating unchartered waters as we attempt to leave the EU, these issues whir in our minds. Doubtless, many of us are agitated. Add to the mix the pressures and demands of our daily lives, and the stimulus becomes intense.
Fight or Flight?
Everyday life including hours spent in the workplace has inevitably become more stressful. Stressful situations can trigger the ‘fight-or-flight response’ known as ‘hyperarousal’, which is an acute stress response. This physiological reaction occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival, and was first described by Walter Bradford Cannon. Today’s threats – or ‘fights’ – can take many forms: excessive busyness, frequent aggression (even if passive), bullying, lack of empathy for others, etc. – the list goes on.
As a result of day-to-day stressors, we can become trapped in an unrelenting cycle of doing everything to relieve our anxiety – specific or non-specific – leaving us no space to STOP, BREATHE and just BE. Most of us are simply exhausted. Even when we tap into social media on our phones or tablets in the evenings, we are bombarded with updates on politics and global affairs. Today’s ‘flight’ may be expressed as depression, feeling withdrawn, or low on energy. It is no wonder that more people than ever are taking an increasing amount of time off work due to stress, anxiety and depression. According to a new NHS report, 1 in 3 sick notes are handed out by GPs for those with mental health problems. So, how can we steady ourselves and be productive in a sustainable manner?
Despite being under pressure from varying sources, doing, achieving, being productive is important. However, for our efforts to be of real value, we need to set limits. This will enable us to make decisions based on careful consideration, and to offer the best of ourselves in any given situation. To sustain our achievements over the long term, we need to know our boundaries. We need to know when to pause, reflect and recharge. Plus, we need to attend to our relationships with love and respect.
For example, over the last year, I have gained enormous pleasure from creating and tending my garden. I marvel at the natural cycle of birth, blooming and quietly folding into rest as autumn approaches. We have this reminder all around us every day, if we take time to pause and look. Known as ‘mindfulness’, simple observations of nature can leave us feeling more connected to the world around us and more energised to undertake any tasks required of us. More and more organisations are increasingly respecting the importance and benefits of suitable rest and recuperation for the individual. Employees with ‘recharged batteries’ will perform better, leading to greater, more sustainable productivity.
7 helpful tips to set limits:
- Be humble, know your limits – live and work within your limits. Alert others before you reach these limits to effectively manage expectations. Then, take remedial steps to stay within your limits.
- To avoid feeling helpless in the face of global issues, ask yourself “what is in my power of influence to create change”. Focus on this, rather than feeling overwhelmed by current affairs.
- If you’re a line manager, be a good role model and encourage your people to discuss their workloads. Ask them what they need to be most effective and delegate from staff discussions. Take tasks into account and how any new tasks will impact on their schedule.
- Setting limits is not about limiting yourself; it’s about having enough resource to sustain your efforts and produce quality work. It’s also about knowing your capacity at any one time and navigating your boundaries, knowing when to stretch and challenge yourself – and when to rest.
- Prioritise – frequently re-evaluate what is important and what can wait.
- Create a self-care plan – think about how you’re going to follow it; what support do you need? What could easily throw you off course?
- Limit your intake of news – observe your reactions to watching or reading news updates. Why not experiment by going on a news ‘fast’, once in a while? This could include limiting the use of social media at certain times to protect against too much input. Technology breaks are growing in popularity, so why not try this too?
The sustainable achievement of an individual relies on effective performance management. Performance management systems set out what is important in the company, based on the goals of the organisation and its defined values. Therefore, enlightened leadership is essential: a good manager needs to set suitable limits and boundaries to ensure a sustainable level of performance by the individual. For example, this could be a set number of working hours, not sending urgent emails at 11pm on a Saturday night, etc.
Effort and achievement are directly linked to adequate support, rest and recuperation. Only then can we expect individuals to contribute their very best in the long term.
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