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Keeping Your True Self Intact with Boundaries (and Trust)

By March 25, 2014Mack's Musings

I’ve recently learned that when your kid starts lying it’s a sign of intelligence. A big cognitive advance worth embracing. My son must be really smart. He most certainly would fail a polygraph at three and a half.

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This is Easton. He’s cute for a reason.

 

Teaching Easton what it means to be trustworthy has been an interesting journey. How do you explain the concept of honesty to someone who still wears a pull-up at night? This is one of those phases we’re supposed to chalk up to “normal childhood development” and hope he re-calibrates before he ends up in a correctional facility.

When you’re teaching your kid why it’s important not to lie, you start to think about whether you’re a shining example yourself. After some slight self-reflection I’m afraid I fall a tad short of perfection.

It’s not like I’m a compulsive liar. In fact, I’m pretty much tipped a little too far on the transparency side of the scale and could probably learn to be a bit more discrete. It’s more the little white lies side that are concerning. It’s the equivalent to the seemingly harmless “I washed my hands with soap mom! I’m telling the truth!” fabrications. For me, it’s the tiny commitments I’m continually breaking with myself that are starting to take a toll.

Admitting there’s a problem

A couple weeks back, I had lunch with my husband (who is undeniably and unconditionally my biggest supporter) and he made a casual comment that he can’t tell the difference between when I’m working and when I’m texting with friends or looking something up online. It was a subtle wake-up call that there really isn’t much of a difference in my life these days. I’ve been working all the time.

I tell myself these little lies about how it’s just the stage we’re in as a company. It’s just because we’re short-handed on the team right now. I’m just writing this one email so that I’m not obsessing about it all night (or all weekend). I’m just jotting down a few thoughts in Evernote real quick. I’m just going to schedule this one more meeting even though I’m already overloaded this week.

Every single one of these small exceptions ends up in a teetering stack at the top of a very slippery slope that eventually collapses into absolutely no separation between “life” and work. No breaks. No downtime. No room to breathe. No space. Which ultimately results in less and less time for me to fully be present, in the moment, and enjoy some sort of life outside of work.

For two years it’s been time to re-introduce some boundaries. Setting them isn’t the hard part. It’s trusting myself to stick to them.

Making some space

A few months ago I hired a personal assistant. I wrestled with this decision for quite some time. When you’re a small (but mighty) team and you have limited resources, spending the money on a personal assistant just doesn’t seem like the best use of our cash. I’m extremely glad I took the plunge.

Her first priority was to help me introduce some boundaries into my schedule. So we put the no meetings block rule into place. This meant that my “work day” would be made up of two time chunks: 9 am to 1 pm and 2 pm to 5 pm.

If a meeting gets booked into the first block of the day, then immediately the second block gets closed. All meetings would then be stacked on top of each other in that first block so that I could get them out of the way. Then, once that block of time passed, my schedule would open up and I’d be free to work on the things that I needed to get done during real, actual work hours so that I could bring less work home and allow myself that gift of space.

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At home my boundaries started with cutting off easy access to my phone. I put it away so that I’m not tempted to breeze by and pick it up. If I need to make a note about something for work I use my shit list.

No, really:

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I’ve cut down tremendously on how much I work at night and the time I spend on email (both at work and at home). When I leave work, I quit all email. I go to bed sooner and I get up thirty minutes earlier so that I can go through emails in the morning before the kids are up and before the team needs my feedback.

I’ve been adjusting to these new parameters and doing all of this good stuff at work and home for more than two weeks now. At first I was allowing meetings to creep into my no meetings blocks so I had to get that under control (and now my assistant fully controls my schedule so that I don’t even have to say no). It also took a few days to adjust to being away from my phone at night (I felt like a crack addict for at least three days). The shocker is that the work isn’t really piling up. No one’s dying. Everything is getting handled.

And for the first time in a long time I feel like I can breathe.

Looking out for myself

There’s a heaviness I feel when I’ve disregarded the boundaries I’ve put into place. When I’ve said yes too much. When I’ve given every ounce of energy away along with all of my empathy, patience, and compassion. When I’ve left nothing for my family and certainly not myself.

I’ve been learning that setting boundaries and being strong enough to keep them is a reflection of how much you care about yourself. I need to care enough about my well being that I’m willing to say no to a client, a colleague, or even a team member who requests a meeting during a no meetings block. I need to be able to trust that I will put my phone away at home and get in that play room — fully present — with my kids, just like I promised I would.

I’ve been learning to better recognize the intense cycles of this job as an entrepreneur. The extreme mental demand at all hours of the day. Apparently there’s a big disregard for personal space when you’re running a business which is why you’ve got to set boundaries and defend them like your life depended on it. These boundaries come in the form of small promises that you make to yourself and when you continually allow them to be broken, you quickly realize that you’re not only overwhelmed and headed for a nervous breakdown, but you’re cheating your family, your team, and chipping away at your best self.

I’ve got a lot to teach those two little nuggets of mine. I want their memories of me to be playing with them, laughing, and snuggling (I LOVE to snuggle) instead of working on my laptop, being glued to my phone, or always needing to get something done. And even if I didn’t have kids, prioritizing me above my work and keeping my commitments to myself gives me purpose and meaning. It reminds me that not everything that makes me feel alive, happy, and satisfied has to come from my work. Because it doesn’t.

So I’m setting some limits and cautiously standing guard. I need to be able to trust that I can actually have a life outside of Mack Web and keep my commitment to honor and take care of myself. When I actually do it, I prove to myself that I can, it feels really good, and I trust that as things shift (again) around here, I’ll be able keep myself in tact.

 

 

Author Mack Fogelson

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Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • Mike Wilton says:

    GREAT post Mack. The work/life balance has always been a struggle for me and I’m always juggling a dozen projects. Between agency life, managing two side blogs, and my side work I too am always glued to a computer, my phone, or my tablet.

    I hit a wall when my six-year-old daughter made a statement about how I’m never home, or I’m always working. It broke my heart and it made me take a step back and realize just how much my work had become who I was.

    I didn’t have a personal or family life anymore. I was literally working on some project or another from the time I got up until the time I went to bed. I still do, to an extent, but I make a point of blocking off time for all my projects and blocking off time for my family so as not to lose sight of one or the other.

    Glad to hear someone else is benefiting from a similar system.

    • Mackenzie Fogelson says:

      It’s tough Mike but good for you that you’re doing something about it. I think it comes down to the fact that we feel like our work defines us. You start to get used to thinking that the results we produce validate who we are as people. I want my work to be meaningful and have purpose, but I don’t want it to consume all of who I am or be more important than my family or my well being.

      I read this quote the other day from an Olympic skier (can’t remember the name) who had become badly injured and he wasn’t able to compete for a while. After he recovered, he said that he made a commitment to himself not to judge his worth by his results. I like where his head’s at 🙂

  • Yes, yes, and yes. I forwarded this to my assistant and she’s going to block my days like this so I don’t have to block the entire end of the month off. I need this time, like all entrepreneurs do. I don’t have kids, but I need to shut off at night to reenergize so I can be at my best during the day. Focus on real work at work and home at home is tough, but we can do it together! Thanks for the reminder and the motivation. *high five*

    • Mackenzie Fogelson says:

      *high five* to you my friend. Unplugging each night has been an incredible break for me. It took some time to not feel anxiety about it, but at the end of the week I don’t feel as exhausted. It’s not a lot of time but it makes such a big difference.

  • Caroline says:

    Namaste to balance! Traveling a lot to “unplugged-in” destinations (like Cuba) has certainly taught me the value of mono-tasking–the way our brain really is designed to work most efficiently. Your kids are lucky to have you as their mom, and your co-workers are lucky to have you as their new shining example of balanced leadership — don’t topple!

  • Zeph Snapp says:

    Bravo Mack!

    This is something that I am struggling with right now, and it is not easy. Time with our loved ones (especially small children) is probably THE most valuable thing we can have. Nobody ever says on their deathbed, “If only I had spent more time at the office”. But we feel the pressure and responsibility of living up to others expectations. The hardest part (I think) is to learn that you aren’t as necessary as you think you are.

    Anyhow, great post, and thanks for the wake up call. Now I am going to leave the office early and go play wiffle ball!

  • ronell smith says:

    Mack,

    I can certainly empathize with you. I am horrible at setting boundaries. It took for me to realize that work was causing me to lose some of “me,” which I found reprehensible, for a change to occur.

    I’m now steadily enforcing some hard boundaries, but it’s not easy.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    RS

    • Mackenzie Fogelson says:

      It certainly isn’t easy Ronell and I think that’s why all of us struggle so much. It’s really a daily exercise that you’ve got to be strong enough to face and conquer. Sometimes I don’t but I’m working extremely hard to make it my new routine and it has helped me so much.

  • Kate Gramlich says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Mack!

  • Trevor Klein says:

    I loved this post, Mack — it takes an incredible amount of self-awareness to write something like this, and Easton is clearly a lucky little guy (because of both his mom and that cookie). =)

    I have a similar struggle (though I admit my schedule must not be nearly so hectic as yours). A lack of boundaries means that work and life bleed into one another at frequent intervals; I’ll respond to a work email while my wife leaves the dinner table for a moment and check just about every email as it comes in, and at the same time, I’ll spend 10 minutes looking for new IKEA finds while I’m at my desk. The time works out to be a wash, but that (of course) isn’t the point. There’s the near-constant context switching, but that isn’t the point either. By trying to be in two places at once all the time, I’m never fully in either place. I’m not *fully* enjoying the dinner, because I just heard the email alert go off in my pocket. I’m not as productive as I could be at work, because I’m trying to figure out what we need at Costco.

    This, of course, translates to a micro-level, too — I don’t end up giving projects my full attention because I’m constantly interrupted by emails and shoulder taps.

    Setting literal and realistic boundaries and sticking to them seems to be the solution. I love your approach of blocking the *other* half of the day when a meeting gets scheduled, keeping a long block devoted to meeting-less time. I’ve also taken the first steps toward admitting my email problem, and installed “Inbox Pause,” a Chrome plugin that literally halts incoming emails until I go in and unpause, which I’ll do at scheduled times each day.

    In any case, thanks for sharing your story and the inspiration. =)

    Trevor

    • Mackenzie Fogelson says:

      I love the premise behind that Inbox Pause feature Trevor. That certainly can help you self-regulate. I hear you loud and clear on email controlling your life. I used to be a project manager back in the day and I trained myself to be super responsive and live by my inbox. It’s taken me years to break that habit. Now that I don’t sit in my inbox I am SO MUCH MORE PRODUCTIVE and I don’t feel the anxiety or weight that I normally do at the end of the day. We put a lot of expectations and pressure on ourselves to deliver at a level that is unrealistic and it’s definitely OK to reign that in. I’ve been having some success but man, it’s hard.

      I hope this stuff helps inspire some boundaries that will help you as well.

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