Most people work in teams with other people. They also have obligations to their families and friends. As a result of these, we have to contend with the fact that:
- It is necessary not to isolate others.
- It is also necessary not to let others take advantage of you by dumping their work on you.
- It is ethical that you also not try to take advantage of others by dumping your work on them.
Regardless if it’s a boss or co-worker, you need to set boundaries on when and how they can interrupt you. Picture this scenario, you have blocked two hours this morning to work on a really important task. Your co-worker breezes in and asks for your help. They need some figures urgently for a report and were hoping you could supply them. If you say “yes”, you would have to stop what you were doing, dig up that information for them and make sure it’s in a format they can use. This might cost you an hour of time. That’s one hour during which someone else’s emergency has intruded on your productivity. Deep down, you know your co-worker should have asked for that information a few days ago if they knew they needed it for a report. What would you do?
A second scenario. If you work with clients, some of them will try to reach you during unsocial hours. You might think it’s good for your business but if your business matters start intruding upon your personal time with your family, there will be problems down the line. Do you intend to allow every client call you at 1am in the morning to request a tweak to the latest version of the product you sent them?
The solution in both scenarios above is you need to set boundaries. To your co-worker, you can politely let them know you are working on another more important task but will supply them the information once you are done. For your clients, stop answering your phone or replying emails after work hours. If you create an impression that it is acceptable to call you 24/7, people will call you 24/7. When you don’t set boundaries, you are letting people know you are available all the time. Once it becomes clear that you are not going to respond to official business after office hours, people get used to it and adjust their expectations accordingly to accommodate your boundaries.
A caveat. This article does not imply you should be rude or resort to violence to eject people from your presence. Be culturally sensitive when responding to unreasonable requests. Also be careful of the power dynamics. If you told your boss to go find it himself, you may find yourself out of a job quicker than you can say “productivity.”