Setting Boundaries and the Concept of Fun at Work

My first  job was at a start up. I was 17 years old then and very high on excitement. I don’t think the excitement part has changed too much but I do like to think of myself as having matured…. (don’t we all??)

I remember my excitement at having been given a company email account. I immediately went about emailing every one I knew and shared the joy. And, very soon, my work email account became my ‘go to’ email account. I loved it. I used to even have a signature that said ‘Services Manager,’. To a 17 year old kid who was just growing up and ‘feeling big’, all this was a big deal.

Now, this job was more than a job. It became my life for 3 years. There were many months when I only had a Sunday evening to relax. We worked some absurd hours and there were no boundaries. All was well.

Well, not really. We all realized that we were more productive when we set a time to go home. In my case, it meant less procrastination and getting stuff done. The other big problem was having all my personal email amidst my work email. As a kid learning to be disciplined, I hardly ever drew the line. Clearing email was now a mix of both lives.

I learnt a lot from that experience.

When I started working post graduation, I actively made sure that I had 0 personal emails on my work account. My work account is the only mail I receive via the Mail app on my phone. And things have worked much better.

As far as timings go, I have worked on setting boundaries whenever possible. Setting boundaries involve pushing back and the best time to do that is when accepting a new engagement. Once you say yes and commit, you keep up your word and deliver. It’s not the easiest thing to do when you’re a junior because part of your value comes from the fact that you are likely to say yes and just do it. As with most things, it’s fine when done in moderation. When there’s relatively less to do, my routines have made sure I get out as early as I can and move on to other things.

And the ‘move on to other things’ part has been one of my biggest learnings. It matters that I have ‘other things’ to do. For most senior folk, this is their family and it ensures they prioritize and be clinical with their time. For me, it’s meant continuing my start up life’s many initiatives and not compromising in my expectations of myself to deliver on them as well. I’ve also learnt to give sleep top priority.

Essentially, the big learning here has been to set boundaries in what’s becoming an increasingly boundary-less world. We live in a world where we have a stream of in-flow at all times. We could be clearing email all night if we didn’t learn to say no. That wouldn’t be effective, of course. But, if we’re in the habit of doing so and thus, sleeping less, then we’re likely not thinking all that straight either.

A football game is fun only we mark out the pitch. If the playing area was infinite, then the game would dead boring. And, if the playing time was infinite, we would probably stop playing the game at some point.

It’s similar with our lives, especially with our work lives. It’s important we define the boundaries and the rules. Else, all we will do is keep running. It won’t be fun.

And it probably will do us good to remind ourselves that work alone needn’t be fun. Kicking a ball by yourself isn’t all that fun either. Add in a few other other players, a goal and a limited period of time and now we’re talking..

Not too different, really.