Be Your Own Ref – Don’t Get Superbowled-over

How did you spend your Superbowl Sunday? Where you pleased with the winner?  I know that millions of fans were certainly happy that the “official” Refs were running the show vs. the replacements…am I right?

So let me ask you this – are you serving as the ref in your own game of life? OR  are you letting others in your life “make the call”?  When life feels like it’s getting out of control, don’t be afraid the “pull the plug”, like the lights-out event in the Superbowl, and regroup.

In my coaching practice, (that’s leadership coaching, NOT coaching the great game of football), I frequently hear from my clients that they need to find more balance in their life. This can mean more time NOT engaged in work activities outside the work hours or simply managing their time such that they are operating more efficiently to make the most of their workday. In either case, one key skill that can make a big difference is learning how to SET BOUNDARIES – AKA, knowing when someone is Offsides or Out-of-Bounds.

Setting boundaries is about communicating how and when you intend to conduct your work.  This can be done by verbal communication but is reinforced by your behaviors. Your behaviors/actions are what puts the meaning behind the words and lets people know you’re serious about your boundaries.

So how do you go about doing it? Here are some proven practices you may want to consider:

Use technology to aid in your productivity – don’t allow IT (no pun intended) control YOU. 

Let go of the “answer/respond” reflex. What is it about that “ding” sound or inbox message flash that sends us into action to quickly check to see who it is or what is happening? Many of us react like Pavlov’s dog …like we must get our morsel of food or else we’ll perish!  Who knows when the next morsel will come? Let me tell you – it will come again in about 30 seconds so calm down.

When in meetings, show some self-discipline and put your phone on silent and put out of sight so you are less tempted to check it.

It’s not like the message will be lost – you clearly have a record of any call/text missed or email that has come in so don’t worry about “missing something”. We waste so much time (ours and others) by these distractions. Instead of grabbing your phone or shifting your gaze to your email, stay focused on the task at hand or the person in front of you. Since when did we lose such sensitivities in basic manners that we simply ignore the person we are with so we can interact with a machine? We are becoming more like robots ourselves than human beings…and that feels really creepy to me. Remember if you are driving, that driving machine is bigger and can cause some real physical harm if make interacting with the phone the bigger priority.  Believe me…it can wait. As long as you follow up with people after your scheduled appointment, or arrived at your destination, they’ll learn that while they may not be able to connect with you immediately, you will get back to them.

Leverage the auto-response feature to let people know when you are not available for a portion of the day, the full day or weeks (while you’re on that well-deserved vacation).

It’s a simple and efficient way to let people know that you received their message and will respond as soon as you are able. You can also offer another option to connecting with someone else in case of emergency. How perfect is that?

If you work on the weekends or evenings, people will learn to expect that…always!

If you consistently do work during the non-work hours, people will see that pattern of behavior and think it’s the norm for you. They won’t hesitate sending you something at the end of the day on Friday and ask to have a response by Monday morning because you’ve established a pattern of working over the weekend.  It will become a common expectation vs. an exception. If this is currently a pattern for you, you will need to go back and set expectations with people to ensure they understand you are beginning to work differently.  It’s not about say “no”, it’s about setting expectations about “when” you can have it back to them.

If you do have to do some work via email in the evenings, early mornings or weekends, think about using the Delay Delivery option so you can set it to be sent at a later time/day.

People notice when you send emails and you could inadvertently be setting expectations about your work hours and those of your direct reports when you are emailing during those “off hours”.

Do some self-reflection about what is really important to you so you know exactly how to set your boundaries.  Here are a few questions to consider when determining where to draw the line:

  • What is most/least fulfilling about my work?
  • What types of activities bring me enjoyment? What brings you happiness, satisfaction, a sense of well-being…doing something for yourself? 
  • Is there someone I’ve observed that does boundary-setting well? How do they do it? Go ask them.
  • What is the cost of NOT doing a better job at setting boundaries?

There’s no better time than now to make sure YOU have the whistle around your neck and are ready to call a penalty on those who seem to “move off-sides” or “step out-of-bounds”.


Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults.  Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect with her by email at