Setting boundaries at work

How can you strike a healthy balance between completing your projects and developing professional work relationships? The answer, in a word, is "boundaries."

There’s a fine line between being too social and too focused at work. You may think never leaving your desk is how to impress your boss, but being too much of a busy bee can prevent you from a task essential to career success: networking with your colleagues.

How can you strike a healthy balance between completing your projects and developing professional work relationships? The answer, in a word, is “boundaries.” By setting reasonable goals for personal productivity, you’ll create opportunities to project a social presence that helps you build friendships at the office.

[See: The Most Important Allies to Make at Work.]

Here are some targeted strategies to help you in setting boundaries at work so that you can meet your deadlines while still being an active participant with others.

Setting boundaries at work requires:

— Visual cues to circumvent chatter.

— Moving to spaces set aside for focusing.

— Communicating about everyone’s deadlines.

— Maximizing “quiet hours” for work to be able to participate later.

— Carving out set times to turn off work and engage with others.

— Attending the office happy hour.

Use visual cues to circumvent chatter.

Most workplaces are social by nature. If you work with colleagues in an office, there are company culture expectations that you’ll chat at different points throughout the day, whether it’s upon your arrival or when walking down the hall by co-workers’ desks. Such connection is important professionally and personally, since it can afford opportunities to hear important news or office gossip, build alliances that may help you secure a leadership position and inspire colleagues to give you stronger references in the future.

While it’s important to foster team camaraderie by getting to know your co-workers, socializing can be taken too far if it keeps you from getting your job done. To help set a boundary that protects the time you need for work tasks, post a sign on the back of your chair, cubicle entrance or office door that lets people know you are busy and need to keep your head down right now. You can also use headphones or earbuds to send a visual cue to others that you’re working — even if you don’t use them to listen to any music.

Take work that requires focus to an appropriate space.

Many work environments are designed with an open concept, with teammates sitting side by side at a table or in cubicles without much privacy. This is great for fostering team spirit but can cramp your style when you actually need to work.

To avoid finding yourself in an all-day conversation, create a boundary by temporarily relocating to a conference room or other neutral area away from the daily fray. Let your boss and team know where they can find you while you work on your project.

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Communicate about everyone’s deadlines.

While your colleagues may love talking to you, they undoubtedly sometimes need to focus and concentrate, just as you do. The problem that many employees encounter, though, is that co-workers need peace and quiet at different times.

Teams can create boundaries to protect their workspaces by being transparent about what needs to get done when. Consider collaborating with people situated closest to you by creating a simple document or calendar that shares each person’s daily and weekly busy times, so that there are no surprises or hurt feelings when someone declines conversation.

Maximize ‘quiet hours’ to participate later.

If you work in an office, you know that certain times of day are generally more conducive to doing work than others. These “quiet hours” might include the hour before most people arrive in the morning and times when others are regularly in meetings.

Make a point to discover which times of day allow for the most focused work in your office and commit to concentrating on your projects during those times. While these quiet hours won’t fulfill your entire need for focused work time, they can make a big difference in helping you reach your goals without the usual distractions. And that way, when people want to chat with you at other times, you’ll be able to create a boundary around your work and join in.

[See: The 25 Best Jobs That Don’t Require a College Degree.]

Use your lunch break to turn off work and engage with others.

If you’re wondering how to make friends at work, take advantage of natural pauses like coffee and lunch breaks to turn off your productivity mode for a set amount of time. Rather than eat a sad desk lunch by yourself, get up from your workstation and invite others to join you for a snack, drink or meal.

Say yes to the office happy hour.

If you’ve followed the steps above to create the social boundaries you need at key times to plow through your workload, then you deserve a break. The office happy hour provides a perfect answer to the question of how to be more social at work. Remind yourself of the “all work and no play” saying and take advantage of organized workplace functions to nurture co-worker relationships and enjoy some downtime away from your deadlines.

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Setting Boundaries at Work originally appeared on usnews.com