Today I found myself trying to discuss a complex work situation with a senior leader, at the same time as picking my kids up from school.
As I jumped in alarm when the school bell went off above my head, and the cacophony of children released from the prison of school descended upon me…I gravely realised this was not going to work. “err…sorry? did you just ask me a question?” Undeterred by the obvious background noise, my work call continued…as I masterfully negotiated the “mute” button with one hand, whilst trying to hand signal instructions to my children and guide them to their bikes for the walk home…let’s just say this resulted in two things…a frustrated work colleague who doesn’t believe I’m listening properly (..no…really…I am…)..and frustrated kids who can’t understand why I’m no longer speaking just waving my arms around like some kind of mad woman.
This is what I like to call…an establishment of BOUNDARIES ….MASSIVE FAIL!
Before I had kids, I didn’t think much about my boundaries. I guess that many of them were just ingrained so heavily I didn’t have to think about them (for example, going to the toilet was something I did on my own..strange, I know)… and then others were dictated by the people around me (for example, work told me I needed to start work at 9am and finish work at 5pm, and the workplace culture taught me that I should start work at 8am and not finish before 6pm)….
But then the kids came along, and all those boundaries started to get broken down. Suddenly, I found myself having lengthy conversations while I’m in the shower, or on the toilet (I mean seriously, does my nakedness not suggest that now is not a good time to chat about plans for the birthday party next weekend?). I also found myself trying to find quiet nooks in the house (hint:there are none) and put my head back into work mode, because I have made the mistake of answering my phone on my day off.
It took me a while to realise that in order to create some kind of calm amongst my new chaos, it was going to require taking control of my own boundaries and then learning to stick to them. I realised that it was me that needed to help guide my colleagues around my boundaries, i couldn’t expect them to remember which days I was working or whether I was picking up the kids from school.
So now I have boundaries…for example, never answer a work call in the evenings or on my days off, my answering machine tells them to send me a text message if it is urgent. If that doesn’t happen, it can wait. I pick up the kids from school twice a week, so never agree to a work call or meeting that compromises that time. No phones at dinner time. etc etc…
I do need to be flexible. So sometimes, when things are hectic, I might need to break some of these rules. Although it is a slippery slope, and once I start breaking one, I find myself breaking another.
Which is exactly what happened today. Work has lots of priorities, I’m struggling to fit them all into my day, so I’m letting them creep out…and the more I start to be “flexible’, the more I start thinking that I can push the boundaries further. To the point where I’m thinking “I can manage a work call while I get the kids? That’ll work, I’ll just put my headset into the mobile, I won’t need to talk to the kids, they know the drill”.
This is not a juggling priorities/multi tasking win. This is just a fail on all fronts. So what was the point?
Time to get back to my boundaries. It might mean sometimes I have to say “no” or not achieve something I would like to, maybe put someone else out a bit.. but that’s better than losing on both sides…right?
(Oh…and I’m still working on the toilet privacy thing…sigh)