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Charlie Collins
Charlie Collins

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Setting boundaries

Over the past eight months (following a heart attack) I have learned a vital lesson that I should have learned years ago, as a software developer / project manager and business owner. I always wanted to please people, always wanted to say "Yes", always wanted to impress ... It was part of my make up, but have come to realise, I was the master of my own destiny and was destined to burn out or worse!

I recall returning to work last August, after seven weeks recuperation with the cardiac nurse's words ring in my head: "You need to make changes to your life style, otherwise you'll die within two years!"

It has taken time to make those changes, but setting good boundaries was an essential part of the process and has allowed me to be more productive, focused and profitable. Boundaries are essential for a good work / life balance and reducing stress within the work place. The pay off for individual's and / or management are huge and can reduce work place mental health issues.

Set boundaries from the off

Setting boundaries during the initial stages of setting up a business or starting a new role can be challenging as your main focus is building relationships and credibility, but this is where not setting them can shape your career or business; it's taken 18 years and a heart attack for me to realise this truism!

Boundaries evolve as you go through life; at the beginning you repositioning them, compromising your stance to get more work or a higher salary. It will not feel right and there's always a price to pay. Until you understand your own worth and have the confidence to not only set boundaries, but also hold firm to them, you'll be put in positions you don't like and have a negative effect on your professional and personal life.

Setting boundaries is about setting expectations and ensuring they are clear to the recipients (be they clients, project managers or employees). They in turn will respect them even more, so will want to work with you. Without boundaries, you are opening opportunity to be taken advantage of, so be consistent and the right people will come to you!

Some great techniques

Here's some great techniques for getting started.

  • Surround yourself with mentors. This allows you to remind yourself that others are going through the same challenges and helps ground you.
  • Exercise regularly and eat healthy food. I love hill walking, but getting out into nature, even if it is just to walk the dog, helps you get some space and thinking time. Exercise, be it on a tread mill or outside is a fantastic stress management tool, never under estimate it! And don't forget, fueling your body with healthy food will help you function better.
  • Create a mental divide between work and home. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day routine and to feel attached to your smartphone / laptop, so set boundaries by unplugging and focus on self care.

If you don’t set clear boundaries, no one is sure when they are crossing them. If someone asks you to do something that is outside the scope of your remit, let them know (politely). Most people are considerate and appreciate the clear lines, just as children do and as any parent will know, if you give them an inch they'll take you a mile!

Remember being busy is not the same as being profitable. If you don’t respect your time, no one else will either. Setting boundaries can make your more efficient, making better use of your time, whilst protecting your work / life balance.

Learn to say "No"

Saying "No" is health – the people you work with will kill you, if you let them. Having healthy boundaries and know that saying no is a good thing. Don’t sweat the small stuff, keep focused on your goals and know that team members will come, and others will go.

Respect your time

I could have headed this section: schedule, schedule, schedule (and stick to the darned things)!

Software development (and business) doesn't always run smoothly, no matter how much the project management team want to to. Clear communication is essential, don't be scared to let people know that something has slipped.

Several years ago a business coach told me a story about arriving at a restaurant. The maître d greeted him and apologised as the previous guests were delayed vacating their table. Ten minutes later, he returned to let him know that he had a quiet word with the table and they were leaving in five minutes. he was happy to wait at the bar with his partner and enjoy a prediner drink, but if he had been made to wait fifteen minutes and not been updated, he said he would have been getting annoyed.

The lesson learned, is that if you keep everyone informed, it avoids frustration building up. Delays are inevitable, so own them and don't hide behind a cloak of darkness and silence. You will be exposed and at that stage wish you had said something earlier.


Setting boundaries will help you and the people around you ad doesn't mean been rude. You need to clearly state your line in the sand and have the confidence to defend. If you can't defend it, you probably have set a boundary that is unrealistic, but tread with care as there are those that will constant seek to undermine your boundaries for their own ends!

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