This is a guest post by Eileen McDargh

When Robert Frost penned, “Good fences make good neighbors,” he was thinking of sheep wandering into a neighbor’s garden. Today, crafting fences (not walls) in our work and personal lives is a solid technique for conserving energy and staying focused.

Let me explain.

In studying the causes of burnout, being a say-yes bobblehead is a practice sure to ignite exhaustion. Nodding “yes” to every request is a sure-fire way to expend unnecessary energy and take a potential project away from someone who could benefit.

Case in point: Jan was an administrator with an escrow company. Her caseload was piling up, and she found herself working until 10 at night to stay caught up.

“I’m just fried,” she confessed in a coaching session.

“So, what will happen if you do not draw a line in the sand that says you’re going home at 5 p.m.?” I asked.

“I might die,” responded Jan. The potential of getting fired seemed almost like a pleasure.

Sure, this sounds dramatic, but it took this stark realization for Jan to gather up her courage and inform her manager that there was a limit to the hours she could work in a day.

Jan didn’t get fired. In fact, she got a raise. The manager had no idea how long each of Jan’s escrow cases took nor how many hours Jan was working. Plus, by turning over some of the caseload to another employee, that person gained additional skills as they learned a different part of the escrow process.


You don’t have to be Wonder Woman or Superman

Now, I’m not promising anyone a raise, but here’s the point: If you’re very good at what you do, you’ll be given more and more. Our ego gets hooked into believing that we are Wonder Woman or Superman. There’s almost a diabolic pleasure in being that can-do, give-it-to-me person. Yet, as we saw with Jan, there’s a price to be paid.


Saying ‘no’ is a gift to everyone

The ability to say “no” or “not now” is a gift not only to yourself but also to others. It’s true that there are things that you and only you could, should, and can do. For instance, turning over the writing of a critical proposal to a new employee with little experience would be foolhardy. However, turning over parts of it could be an educational opportunity and ultimately develop a new skill for that team member.

Listen up, leaders: Few people want to disappoint the manager. It might be difficult for employees to draw a line with you. Share your concern about how many hours someone is working. Create literal time-outs for employees, and require them to take time off. You have a toxic work environment if overwork is a badge of honor. And you’ll lose your best and brightest.


Rethinking your boundaries at home

Boundary setting also extends into your personal life. There’s no written law (other than guilt and misplaced affection) that says Mom has to do all the household chores or Dad is the gardener. By sharing duties around the household, we create a community feeling that says, “I’m not a guest—I belong here.” Besides, by not setting boundaries and sharing duties, members of the household are prevented from learning the basics of household management and upkeep.

Were Robert Frost alive today, he might change his statement to: “Good boundary setting makes good companies and good families.” And that’s something we all want.


About the Guest Post Author

Eileen McDargh is CEO (chief energy officer) at the Resiliency Group, where she draws on practical business know-how, life experience, and years of international consulting to help others survive and thrive in an upside-down world. Her new book is Burnout to Breakthrough: Building Resilience to Refuel, Recharge, and Reclaim What MattersLearn more at