We all want to be successful at work. So why are some people high achievers in the office while others never seem to get anything done? You have two options in order to find success at work: Stumble upon an ancient lamp with a genie, or set some real boundaries to avoid having way too much on your to-do list.

Let's leave the genie option to Walt Disney, and give you some tools to help you be happier and more productive.

1. Their Crisis Is Not Your Emergency

Have you noticed how some people will do their best to suck you into their project dilemmas at work? When you make someone else's problem your problem, you are not helping them. You are enabling them. Once your co-workers learn about your "problem-solving skills," they will inundate your inbox and to-do list. You must be proactive and not divert these crisis creators in the heat of the moment. Clearly let people know in advance what you can and cannot take on, and leave their problems in their care. Think about all of the time you will save at work, and all of the emotional energy you will have to spend with your family when the workday is over. Refuse to take on other people's problems-you have enough of your own.

2. Name Your Deal Breakers

Some people may not be able to clearly define a boundary they need to set. Here is a tool that might help. Think of the person who is constantly dragging you away from your work to waste time dealing with their issues. Make a quick list of "deal breakers"-the activities you are no longer going to engage in unless they somehow overlap. These are the things that create even a twinge of anxiety when you are asked to do them. If you cannot define your own boundaries, how can you expect anyone else to know what they are? This activity will help you be ready to turn down the requests of others.

Take this one step further: Prepare a quick and kind no to their requests. For instance, "Thanks for the opportunity to help with your project, but I am already committed to a couple of important priorities of my own. You'll need to come back when my project is finished." If your manager wants to drop a deal breaker in your inbox, you can say something like this: "I would be happy to take on that priority. Which one of my other projects would you like me to deprioritize?" You will earn the respect of colleagues and your boss when they see you offer a kind, but firm no. You will no longer be over committed to extra work items and will have the time to enjoy the other relationships in your life more fully.

3. Make a Social Contract

The best boundaries are clearly defined and set in advance. Create an understanding with your co-workers on what you would like to achieve, or what a successful completion of a project looks like. You have to do this in advance. Begin the conversation by saying, "Here are the things most important to me," and then lay them out on the table. Ask your colleagues for the same information. Unspoken and unmet expectations usually lead to huge confrontations. In this scenario, you can commit to a healthy work-life balance up front by stating, "My time with my family and friends is very important to me, and I expect to meet the demands of this project and my demands at home." Of course, no one can plan for every obstacle, but all expectations are spoken right at the outset, and people are able to balance all of their priorities without any surprises.

Set boundaries. You will begin to see they are the key to freedom and success. Undisciplined people look for a magical solution (like a genie in a bottle) to find work-life balance, but without boundaries, you will always be a slave to other people's agendas and unspoken expectations.

How have you set boundaries at the office, and how has it helped? Please take a moment to share this article and your comments with others.

See Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown for more about boundaries.

Please share on social media if you found this post helpful. Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.

Published on: Oct 22, 2015
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.