“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” — Dr. Brené Brown
At first glance, this quote may not seem to apply to corporate communicators. Yet Dr. Brown, speaker, writer and professor, is addressing a common work issue all communicators face. How can PR pros maintain a work/life balance while staying on top of the 24-hour news cycle.
Factoring in staffing constraints, the time it takes to learn new tools and technology and the sometimes-outlandish demands from clients and executives, communications professionals are constantly being asked to do more with less.
How can you politely and firmly say “no” to a project you don’t have time to take on? Just as important, how can you get others to respect these workload boundaries?
Here are a few ideas:
1. Make it a habit to say “no.”
This is easier said than done. I once worked for a company where the boss told us that we couldn’t say “no” to anything. This mindset led to her highly-trained communicators organizing parties and ordering refreshments along with setting up marketing launches and media events.
There is nothing wrong with saying, “We don’t set up or monitor surveys, but we can help you write the survey questions,” or “Please have someone take the picture and send it to us.”
2. Create a statement of work or a department manifesto.
Follow the lead of engineers and information technology types who fight “scope creep” every day. A statement of work outlines the exact parameters of the project and specifies dates, what’s expected and who will do what. A department manifesto describes exactly what your department does and does not do. For example: “We are not content experts, but we can help your content experts shape the message.”
3. Focus only on what is in your wheelhouse.
If no one in your department knows how to edit video, outsource it to someone who does. You might be able to find a film student who can edit footage at a reasonable price. Don’t spin your wheels and waste time on something that isn’t in your toolbox.
4. Don’t go down paths that lead nowhere.
No three words have resulted in more wasted time for a communicator that “proof of concept.”
With too many deadlines and genuine projects on your plates, you don’t have time for unproven experiments. Just say “no” if someone wants to involve you early in a project that has not yet been approved or that has little chance of being approved.
5. Ask people to do things for themselves.
Have employees submit photos rather than sending someone to take a photo. Set up self-service forms on your intranet. Convert design files or PDFs to Word documents and let others edit and make changes directly to the document. When it makes sense, turn over tasks to others.
6. Delegate outside your department.
Is there someone in another department who can take care of your routine tasks? Though this will only work in certain circumstances, it’s worth a try.
At my company, a staff member from the admin department handles all stationery orders. She has previous experience working at a print shop, and this way our graphic designer can spend her time designing, rather than ordering envelopes.
7. Make leaders prioritize.
Every six weeks, ask your client or the leader of the department you are working with what you need to be working on. Find out from the top what the priorities are. Use that to guide what you work on and what you don’t.
How do you set boundaries with clients? Share your ideas in the comments section.
3 Responses to “7 ways for communicators to set better boundaries”
Hi Marissa – I’d recommend trying to email Laura to get a more detailed answer.
My Name is Damadj Johnson and I am a communication major attending Indiana State University. I really appericate this post. Over time I have learned how to say no to people and do what was best for me. I really wish I saw this post when I was going through that change! I use to feel just as I should be an individual who needs to do everything, except some of the time I have to figure out how to state no when the errands being asked of me aren’t part of my expected set of responsibilities, or like you said “tool box” of skills.