Today’s tip is all about setting good boundaries for your business. More specifically, I’m talking about determining parameters for things that have the potential to eat up your time like social media, emails, and appointments. Especially if you’re in a position where you work from home, there is no one there to tell you when to clock in and clock out each day. It’s totally possible to end up working all night and waking up the next morning completely exhausted. I’ve actually been in that position many a night, which is why I strongly rely on my office hours to keep the time I’ve allotted for work separate from the time that belongs to my family.
Now I know this sounds ridiculously basic to those of y’all who have been in business for years, but I cannot stress enough how drastically setting solid office hours and adhering to them has changed my life! In many ways, I feel like I was able to take back hours of my day I used to spend worrying about a project or working late.
I spent the first six months with b is for bonnie working whenever I could, day or night. After my husband and I got married and moved to South Carolina, I spent many nights working on project proposals or logo mockups on the couch while he watched a movie. I’m also ashamed to admit that I was that crazy workaholic business owner who lay in bed at night thinking of a client’s branding project or a new print design to add to the shop. It also wasn’t out of character for me to hop out of bed in the dead of night to answer emails that were weighing on my mind. Can you imagine how insane my clients must’ve thought I was when they woke up to an email from me sent at 3 AM the night before?
I knew in the back of my mind that this routine could not keep up for long. When you’re working too doggedly, too hard or losing sleep over a project, it will inevitably catch up with you and negatively affect your work. My mornings in the studio would start off groggily as I tried to recover from a primarily sleepless night and I simply wasn’t being the best version of myself. It wasn’t fair to my clients, my husband or myself to work late into the night or spend weekends catching up on my workload.
Enter office hours. I first posted them on my business Facebook page and truly took them to heart. Instead of working myself into the ground around the clock, I now had a specific set of hours each day to work my hardest, throw my heart into what stood in front me, and then rest. From 9 AM to 4:30 PM EST Monday through Friday, you can find me in the studio working hard, answering emails or chatting with clients. From about 4:30 to 5:00 PM, I sign out of my email and prepare blog content or promotional materials for our social media channels. Then it’s off to walk the dog or start getting dinner ready as I catch up with my husband!
Want to get your evenings back and return to a semi-normal sleep schedule? Here’s my advice: set office hours, make them visible and stick to them. Personally, being an 8-5 gal doesn’t work for my schedule, so I adapted a set of office hours that fits into my daily routine easily. Find a time frame that is realistic and sustainable for you and then make it known!
Post those office hours on your business’s Facebook page, include them in your email signature, or even print them on your business cards. Some of your existing clients may fight you on them at first, but do you really want to work with someone who does not respect your boundaries? In the end, clients will appreciate knowing when they can expect to hear from you. A reliable and dependable person is someone I’d certainly want to work with, so why would I not strive to be that same sort of person in my own life?
Sticking to them may not be as easy as it sounds for you. If not, give yourself grace but hold firm to the truth that if you work hard, you deserve time off. You deserve to have time for fun, for family and for rest, so fight for it! Say no to checking your email after your business hours, and return that business phone call when you’re back in the office tomorrow. Likewise, don’t make a habit of taking meetings after your set business hours. If people think they can command your time once you’re out the office, they will continue to do so and it will wear you out.
One way I can especially help myself stick to my own business hours is by simply staying away from my phone after 5 PM! For as much as I love my iPhone, it drives me nuts knowing an email has hit my inbox and I really shouldn’t read it until tomorrow. I used to hear that little email notification sound, check one email and tell myself that it’s okay to draft a quick response. And if I could stop at just one email it probably wouldn’t be so bad, but then I’d see another email from someone who I really should get back to and before I know it, it’s 10 PM and I’ve just lost my entire evening. Friends, if you have a smart phone disable your push notifications, disconnect your email after your office hours, or just ditch your phone entirely. Those emails really can wait!
The same philosophy applies to Facebook messages, tweets or Etsy notifications. I’ve actually disabled those push notifications on my phone so I am not tempted to check every message that comes in at 11 PM on a Friday night. It’s not that I don’t value my customer’s inquiries or I don’t want to respond to my branding clients, but if I do not give myself the freedom to have a little down time, no one will. If I don’t protect the time I have with my family, my friends or even the time I have to sleep, then I open myself up to succumbing to a vicious cycle of non-stop work, and I just don’t want that for my life.
“A lack of boundaries invites a lack of respect,” so set the strongest foundation you can for your business and your home life by making the distinction between work time and personal time. Trust me when I say that people really will respect you for it and, more importantly, your family will be so grateful to see your face emerge from behind that computer screen!
New to this series? Check out previous posts:
Navigating Entrepreneurship Intro
Navigating Entrepreneurship: Start Strong – Part I