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Exhausted and overwhelmed? CEO Tiffany Dufu says setting clear boundaries (at work and at home) is the key to reducing stress 

July 12, 2022, 9:45 AM UTC
Tiffany Dufu, founder and CEO of The Cru
Courtesy of Tiffany Dufu

Tiffany Dufu is founder and CEO of The Cru. Its algorithm matches circles of women who collaborate to meet their personal and professional goals. She’s also the author of the bestselling book Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less. Named to Entrepreneur’s 100 Powerful Women and Fast Company’s League of Extraordinary Women, Dufu has raised nearly $20 million toward the cause of women and girls. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

Between a global pandemic, skyrocketing inflation, and the assault on our reproductive freedom with the Supreme Court’s recent overturn of Roe v. Wade, American women are feeling overwhelmed. In a recent study by CVS, nearly half of women reported feeling more stress than a year ago. 

Developing strategies to manage the pressure we’re all feeling is particularly important for women as we’re 50% more likely to develop an anxiety disorder. As an entrepreneur, author, public speaker, nonprofit volunteer, wife, and mom to two school-age kids, I’m feeling the onslaught, too. Here are my top tips on setting boundaries and carving out more time for you.

Set clear boundaries.

Since family caregiving responsibility falls mostly on women, and we are simultaneously caring for bosses, work colleagues, and our communities, there is little time to focus on our own well-being. Communicating to others our availability and capabilities is key to carving out space for ourselves. The process begins at home. 

In my book, Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less, I write about my own journey of getting my husband to increase his share of domestic labor. Regardless of who you live with, drafting a document to establish who will do everything from sorting the mail to taking out the recycling is key. We call ours “MEL” (short for Management Excel List). The rows are populated with household tasks, and the top of each column includes the names of each family member. The most important column is the “no one” column where we agree on which tasks no one will fulfill for a period of time. We update our MEL every six to eight months. 

You also need strategies to help manage expectations on a day-to-day basis. One of my biggest challenges when I began working from my apartment was signaling to my family that even though I was physically present, I wasn’t available in the way that they were used to. I now change my footwear to communicate to my family the role I’m occupying. One pair of slippers is “Founder and CEO” and another is “Wife and Mom.” This way they can just look at my feet and know who they’re talking to.

At work, the most important person to set boundaries with is your manager. As soon as possible, schedule a conversation with your boss centered around your own productivity. Be sure to communicate four things: 

  1. Your commitment to the company’s objectives
  2. How you can contribute to meeting them
  3. What’s holding you back
  4. How you might delegate or drop the ball to focus on what matters most

Your opening should sound something like this:

I wanted to chat with you about our Q3 target, and how I can help us hit it out of the ballpark. You know I’m great at moving clients through the pipeline when I’m front facing, but I’ve noticed that I’ve been spending more time lately on our backend CRM. I’m wondering if you’re open to a conversation about how we can reprioritize what’s on my plate to ensure we win.

Getting clear with others about what you should be focused on at home and at work will free you up from the need to do it all, giving you back more of your time.

Establish daily practices that bring you joy.

Too often I see women struggle with sustainability because their wellness plan involves drastic behavior change that’s hard to stick to when you’ve got a lot on your plate. If you can’t get to the gym or travel to a yoga retreat, that’s okay. I’m a firm believer in micro happiness habits—small experiences you can incorporate into your daily routine. Here are the seven things I do seven days a week to bring me joy, and the amount of time it takes me to do each one:

  1. Drink fruit-infused water. (10 minutes to cut the fruit and fill the bottle)
  2. Light a candle. (10 seconds)
  3. Take seven deep, slow breaths. (1.5 minutes)
  4. Pick an affirmation card. Anytime someone offers me a compliment or encouraging words I write it down on an index card. Whenever I’m having a tough moment I read one of the cards to remind myself that I’m making a positive impact. (3 minutes to make a card)
  5. Go outside, even if it’s just to walk once around the block. (12 minutes)
  6. Put on a Spotify playlist and dance. (12 minutes for a three-song jam session)
  7. Lather my hands with mint body lotion right before I go to sleep. Then I put my hands next to my head on the pillow and breathe deeply. Sweet dreams. (2 minutes)

Steal this list or develop your own. The most important considerations are selfishness, authenticity, and time. Only include experiences that are for your pleasure, that make your heart sing, and that will take you less than an hour total spread throughout your day.

Find your crew.

As founder and CEO of The Cru, I know the role that community plays in helping women to juggle the demands of their lives. Over the past decade I’ve relied on my own dedicated group of women to cry with and bounce ideas off of. I would not have managed through quarantining, virtual school, raising capital for my company, and grappling with the political and social unrest of the past two years without my crew. Curating a small circle of peers who can support one another is key to relieving the pressure. 

The most powerful crew will offer you the following:

  • Objectivity: Your crew cares about you, but they aren’t personally impacted by your decision-making, so they can offer you a nonjudgmental approach.
  • Diversity: Your crew should come from different industries and backgrounds so that they can deliver a unique and fresh perspective.
  • Accountability: Your crew should hold your feet to the fire on the commitments you make to yourself. For example, you should be able to share with them your seven happiness habits so they can ask you how you’re doing with them.

Again, you can drop the ball on organizing fancy dinners with your crew. A quick virtual call once a month and a text chat in between is all you need for your crew to help you understand the fundamental truth about women’s lives right now: You’re not going crazy—it’s the world that doesn’t make sense—and you are not alone.

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