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Dr Happy Tim Sharp on how to set boundaries around work, and stick to them

Dr Tim Sharp, AKA Dr Happy from the the Happiness Institute, shares his top four tips for setting and sticking to boundaries at work – helping to improve your to your professional performance and overall happiness.

Professional life has been defined by a paradox in 2020. Most of us are spending more time at home due to COVID-19 restrictions, and yet we’re finding it more difficult than ever to switch off from work.

I’ve never liked the concept of work-life balance because it suggests that these are two completely separate domains. Now more than ever, there’s a great deal of fluidity between time spent doing paid activities and being a husband or wife, a mother or father, a friend, a footy player or a musician.

This is why it makes more sense to just think of everything we do as life.

This is one of the central ideas in my Audible Original podcast, Habits for Happiness at Work. In it I suggest that work should be enjoyed as much as possible because it contributes to other parts of life in a number of very positive ways. It provides structure and stimulation, social interaction and satisfaction, meaning and purpose.

Research has shown that those who love what they do are more effective at work. They’re more engaged and exert more discretionary effort. They’re more innovative, creative and able to solve problems. They’re more resilient and collaborative. They have better relationships with colleagues and customers.

But the most effective people at work also find time for the non-work elements of life that are so important in keeping us healthy and happy. They’re able to set boundaries and stick to them. These fall into four categories….

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Take time to rest

Productive and effective working requires productive and effective recovery. There are times when you need to push hard for short-term gain, but performance invariably drops off if you maintain that effort for too long. You’ll become tired and start making mistakes. This leads to frustration and has a negative impact on your mood.

Professional athletes spend more time resting and recovering than they do training. It’s helpful to apply the same thinking to work. Rest has developed a negative association with laziness and time wasting, but it’s a vital component of health and wellbeing.

Completely checking out from work on a regular basis reduces the risk of heart disease, and improves the function of your immune system. A University of Illinois study found that ‘all work and no play’ reduces focus and productivity, while regular time off has the opposite effects.

The trick here is make time for rest, very deliberately, until it becomes a habit. Think about what checking out looks like for you and build it into your day. Give meditation and mindfulness a try.

Get more sleep

There’s mounting evidence to suggest that a good night’s sleep seriously boosts productivity. It improves concentration, helps to recover more quickly from distraction, improves decision making and puts you in a better mood.

A lack of sleep has a negative impact. Productivity falls, and being in a bad mood hurts your ability to collaborate effectively. It’s really hard to be positive and engaged when you feel exhausted. All of which means that you might need to work less if you want to achieve more.

Exercise regularly

Rest and sleep are not the only ways to re-energise. Although it’s another form of activity, and in some cases a vigorous one, exercise is also a wonderful way to recharge your batteries. Sports are even more fun, especially in team settings that combine physical activity with social interaction.

While most people are well aware of the physical benefits, they’re less aware of the psychological boost that comes from being physically fit. This includes happiness at work. This is because being fit and healthy enhances your work performance, and performing better at work makes you feel good.

A Bristol University study asked 200 employees across three organisations to evaluate themselves on two different days – one when they had exercised and another when they didn’t. People reported being much more motivated to work (41 per cent), they were more likely to finish work on time (22 per cent), and they enjoyed higher levels of concentration (21 per cent) on their exercise days.

Find a hobby

It’s easy to say that life is too busy and you just don’t have time for hobbies, but these are just excuses. In Habits for Happiness at Work, I note that the CEO of Goldman Sachs is a DJ in his spare time. The NASDAQ’s CEO practices Taekwondo.

As an executive coach, I’ve always found that the best functioning leaders always make time for a passion away from work. If you don’t have a hobby, find one. This might mean reconnecting with something you loved when you were younger, learning another language or picking up a new skill. Whatever it is, you’ll feel better for doing it.

Dr Tim Sharp is a clinical and consulting psychologist with three degrees in psychology and a distinguished career over several decades. He’s Australia’s very own ‘Dr Happy’ and the founder of The Happiness Institute. His Audible Original podcast, Habits for Happiness at Work is available now .