(This post is the second post in a three-part series on Work and Play.)

If you haven’t read the previous post on Work and Play, I suggest you read that first. In that post, I wrote about what Work and Play is and why you need to practice both consistently in order to be effective in your personal and professional endeavors in the short- and long-term.

Now that we have established the importance of Work and Play, we must talk about why it’s essential to create boundaries between them to live a fuller, richer, more meaningful life.

Why create boundaries between Work and Play? There are many reasons why you need boundaries, but here are the most important ones: defining boundaries sets you up to be your best, they manage your time, and they preserve your attention (avoiding burnout).

Boundaries are crucial to maintaining a proper Work/Play separation. The two key factors to creating this balance boil down to time and attention. Boundaries help you manage your time and attention better, and also help you guard these valuable resources from others.

The most important reason you want to set clear boundaries between Work and Play is to ensure that you spend sufficient time doing both, and that neither are at the mercy of each other. You understand that by choosing to spend your time appropriately at Work and Play, you’re ensuring that you are able to do both effectively. You’re making that choice proactively rather than letting others choose for you.

When you set boundaries, you’ve defined your priorities in life and you know (at least broadly) where your time is going. Having clear boundaries can protect your time from being hijacked and often frees you from the burden of having to say “no” to things that further others’ objectives rather than your own.

Your time and attention our finite. You can only do so much in a given day, and you need to be realistic with how much you can do in a given day/week. We often overestimate what we can accomplish in a given day/week, and underestimate what we can accomplish in a longer time frame.

It’s easy to manage your attention in a sub-optimal way and to live your daily life based on other peoples’ expectations. That is a path to burnout and stress.

Unless you manage your time and attention well and actively create those boundaries, others can (and will) suck it dry. So, managing them both well is paramount to getting the most out of your day.

It’s important to define your boundaries between Work and Play — that’s how you can keep track of how well you’re doing. Not that it’s a metric of any kind, but something to measure for your own well-being.

Only when you set limits/boundaries can you be limitless. There is this myth that boundaries are restrictive by nature, but the contrary couldn’t be truer. Having boundaries is liberating and empowering. Only when you’ve some semblance of order in your life can you have the freedom and space to create chaos; I wrote about this in Order and Chaos.

Having clear boundaries allows you to proactively eliminate the demands and obstacles from others that distract you from doing the essential work.

Unless we know our boundaries, how are we going to let others know about them? When we don’t know what’s essential to us, how can we expect others to know? How can we manage our commitments with others when we can’t even manage our agreements with ourselves?

I’ve created boundaries for Work and Play. I work during traditional business hours and play on weeknights and weekends. When I’m working, I’m truly working. I’m focusing intensely for 25 minutes at a time with no distractions. That’s part of being a pro. When I’m playing, I’m truly playing. This goes back to doing one thing because that’s all we can really do — one thing at a time, as well as being present physically and mentally.

What happens when you don’t set boundaries? When we don’t set boundaries, we’re subconsciously teaching others that it’s okay to interrupt us.

The thing is, when you don’t set boundaries between Work and Play, there aren’t any. You want to set them by design. When you do that, it eliminates the need for saying “no” to others in advance because they’ll know what to expect from you, and more importantly, what not to expect from you.

When you don’t set boundaries, you’re spreading yourself too thin, and Work will eventually cross over into Play time. You’ll end up doing neither of them effectively, thus undermining them both.

Boundaries can often come at a high price — but not pushing back can cost more. Your ability to choose comes from being proactive.

Setting boundaries can be hard these days for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes you have to say “no” to others (more on this in a later post). That means doing things that matter in life. Other times, it means managing our agreements and expectations with ourselves first before making promises to others. Remember: what you say and do now determines what others will expect of you in the future. It’s imperative that you spend time doing the essential (important and non-urgent) things. Like the oxygen-mask principle, or having what I call healthy selfishness, we can’t help others if we don’t care of ourselves first.

Another common challenge today is the expectation to be constantly connected and available. Instead, you decide when you’re going to answer emails, phone calls, etc. at your convenience, not theirs. For instance, most people are uncomfortable with the idea of letting their phones ring without answering. They just can’t ignore it. The device/tool is never the problem; it’s our behavior that is the problem. Remember, what you do now will teach others what to expect of you in the future.

Without boundaries, other people prioritize for us. For instance, use your calendar to manage your time in a way others can see. A blank calendar begs for useless meetings set by other people.

It’s not easy to set and maintain boundaries, but not doing it comes at a higher cost – be proactive.

In order to set boundaries, you must know what matters most to you and how you choose to spend your time and attention. Unless you know what’s important to you, how can you expect others to know that for you? Our ability to set boundaries cannot be given or taken away; it can only be forgotten. As you can see, creating boundaries is a crucial skill, and we’ll go into more detail on that in the next post.

In order to play well, you need to work better; in order to work better, you need to play well. The better you work, the better you’ll play. Unless you have those boundaries, you can’t do either of those well.

You need to create hard boundaries for both Work and Play. Otherwise, before you know it, your Work and Play times blur, and work seeps into your play time. It happens slowly but steadily. When you have hard times defined for both Work and Play, you’re proactively making the time for doing them both. You’re wasting less time at work and accomplishing more things. You’re focused on results and relationships, not inputs and methods.

When I’m working, I just want to work. When I’m playing, I just want to play. The better I can spend my time working, the better I can play. Work and Play both feed off of each other. Unless you decide the hours you’re going to Work and make the time for Play, you’re not doing either of them effectively.

Unless you create boundaries, you’ll never have time for things you want to do — you have to make time for things that matter to you, and that won’t happen by itself.

In the next (final) post, I talk about setting boundaries between Work and Play.

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