Reader: I am a children’s director at a small church. The contract I signed gave me Fridays and Saturdays for my personal use and rejuvenation, but I often find myself working on weekends as well. Fridays are good for special meetings or finishing up the week’s work, and Saturdays are perfect for special events. I also stay late during the week to meet with congregants who have standard 9-to-5 jobs.

This was not a problem when I was single. I had time for my work and for myself, even if I worked every day in a week. Now, my girlfriend wants a portion of my time, and I want to give it to her. Often, though, I struggle to find as much time for us as I want. She is frustrated for me because of how much I work.

I understand boundaries. I set boundaries with children. I set boundaries with my girlfriend. I understand that my work should not take my free time. But why do I struggle to set boundaries and live by them when it comes to work?

Karla: When you struggle to maintain a boundary, it’s probably because you feel that whatever’s pushing against the boundary is more important than what the boundary is protecting. Sometimes, that feeling is correct. Emergencies happen. Duty calls. Needs outweigh wants.

But for many of us, work has become a habitual boundary-buster, more important by default than our personal lives and relationships. That turns moms and dads into distant co-parents, friends into strangers and lovers into roommates.

My guess is, you derive meaning and pleasure from supporting parishioners’ spiritual growth. But you need to make time to refill your own cup so you have more than bitter dregs to share with your loved ones.


(Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Some tips on how to shake up your habits and firm up your boundaries: Rethink your schedule. If Fridays and Saturdays let you offer more bang for the buck, can you make them part of your regular five-day workweek? That may be at odds with your girlfriend’s schedule, but having odd days off is better than having your scheduled leisure time nibbled away by a meeting here and an event there. Schedule one or two “late shift” days a week — and only those days — to accommodate the 9-to-5ers.

Use technology to disconnect. Set auto-responders on your email and voice mail to say you’ll respond to parishioners’ messages within 24 business hours. Learn how to use your smartphone’s “do not disturb” setting to mute calls and alerts during your downtime. Commit to finishing work during work hours. If you give yourself a hard stop at 5 p.m., you may be surprised at how much more efficient you become.

Finally, accept that work is never “finished.” There will always be one more call, one more email, one more meeting you can schedule — and it will still be there tomorrow.

PRO TIP:
For a deeper exploration, make time in your schedule to read “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time” by former Washington Post writer Brigid Schulte.