ARA Chicago

Boundaries Every Working Mom Needs to Set Up at Work

I’m not going to say things to you, like, “Being a working mom is so hard.” This is a whine-free zone. We made a choice after having babies to head back to work, and navigating the working world is a little different once you become a mom. I don’t need to tell you this.

Like anything, especially becoming a mom—you’ll figure it out.

Here’s some of my real-world tested advice on how to set up boundaries at work to keep your sanity. I hope you find at least one little trick to make the juggle a little easier, and continue doing work you love.

I’m guessing now that you’re a mom you’re not as interested in pulling 80 hour weeks, or even 50 hour weeks. The good news? Depending on your job, you shouldn’t have to.

Get focused, get deliberate, and set up some simple, yet effective boundaries.

Email

  • Send email only during working hours, and if you can – really try not to read work emails in off hours.
  • If you must have work email on your phone, do your attention span a favor and disable notifications. Even if you check email 100 times a day, at least you’re checking it when you want.
  • If you just have to send an email after hours, use the delay delivery feature. In Outlook, go to ‘Options’ and indicate the ‘do not send before’ time. You can also use an app called Boomerang to do the same in Gmail.
  • Your inbox is not instant messenger. Use your instant messaging software for that. If you respond to emails as soon as they land in your inbox, people will expect this behavior from you. Disabling the annoying little popup that tells you a new message arrived will do wonders for your productivity.

Be Reliable

  • Consistency is key, and will set expectations for when people have your time. Arrive and leave at the same time every day.
  • Do what you say you’re going to do.
  • You probably know by now that you can’t tout multi-tasking as being a skill. Getting laser focused on the task at hand will help you do better work on the first try. Less rework = better reputation and more focus.

Find a Guru

  • Find another working mom who you you’d love to be like, then do what they do.
  • Connecting with someone who you think is winning at the work-mom thing and modeling some of the behaviors that work for them is a great way find your unfussy working mom groove.
  • You don’t need to make anything formal and call someone your mentor. You can grab coffee with a fellow mom in the morning and ask questions. Everyone loves talking about themselves – she’ll likely be flattered you care.

Take Care of Yourself First

  • Take lunch, for real. Go outside. Look up from your phone while you’re at it. Get some sun on your face.
  • Never, never, never complain about being too busy. Please, stop the glorification of being busy. We’re all busy, we get it – and there’s no prize for being the busiest, most frazzled or even the least stressed. Stop complaining about being busy. Better yet, remove the word from your vocabulary.
  • You don’t need to say yes to every work assignment (unless of course, you do – know there will be a day when you don’t need to). Say no to work assignments that don’t light you up and make you feel excited.

Trust it will take some time and a little experimentation to find your groove and set boundaries you can feel good about. Boundaries at work will help you focus your energy where it’s needed most.

Also know that your boundaries will change. An expectation you set up for yourself this month, might not work by the end of the year. Stay open to the possibility of new boundaries.

Jacqueline is an aspiring minimalist, especially when it comes to work and life. She helps busy working moms "unfuss" their lives and daily routines, and recently authored the book; Unfussy Mom: simplifying your life, staying [mostly] sane, and working like a boss. She has worked in management consulting and communications for more than a decade and writes everything from speeches for CEOs, to proposals winning billions of dollars, to articles on cooking and meditation. What does this mean? She speaks all sorts of languages, namely the one busy folks really want to learn - simplify. She currently lives just outside of Chicago, and has the support of a bearded husband, two kids, a dog, a cat (and she hates cats), no house plants, and most of her sanity.