When we start our businesses we’re trying to get every client and customer possible which can lead us into work situations we might not prefer. Things like working long hours, responding to client emails 8 times in one day, sending extra revisions. When we’re hustling for every dollar the rules tend to fly out the window and our boundaries become non-existent.
But boundaries are what help you stay on track, stay focused, and get those most important, money making tasks done. Boundaries are important to protect your energy (fellow introverts I’m looking at you), your stress levels, and help you get your work done in a timely manner.
Here are 3 boundaries you should set ASAP for the good of your business, your clients + customers, and YOURSELF!
Let’s talk about boundaries!
Reminder before we dive into this episode – you’re the boss so you get to make all the rules. You can adjust as you learn and set boundaries as things come up. But if there aren’t any rules at all, your clients, customers, contractors, employees, friends, and family will make them for you.
So if boundaries have been a challenge in your business, here are a few ideas.
Do you have set work hours?
This is something I avoided at the start of my business because I was so tired of being tied to my desk for specific hours and having to be there whether my work was done or not. So when I left that job to focus on freelancing I just worked whenever the hell I wanted. This was great but it also meant that I ended up working a lot of late nights. Partially because I had stuff to finish but also because I felt like I was falling behind if I stopped at a 9 to 5-ish hour.
Choosing a specific time to end my day even if I don’t have a specific start time (because I like to sleep in), is helpful to switch my brain off and make sure that I have enough time to recharge between the end of one workday in the beginning of the next.
In order to solidify that end of the day deadline I did a couple of things:
First, I take my last coaching call at 4 PM. I use Calendly for my clients to book their calls and it sets that boundary for me. So clients can book calls with me Monday through Thursday from 10am – 4pm. I can be flexible if I want to be, but I have those rules set up so there isn’t a discussion or negotiation every time I book a client.
Setting work hours will also let your clients know when they can expect a response from you so that they don’t send you a message at 4 PM and panic when they don’t get a response right away. I tell my clients that they can post in Slack any time, I keep notifications off so they know they aren’t bugging me, and I don’t work nights or weekends. This is something you can put in your contracts, on your website, or in your email footer so there isn’t any question about how long it takes you to respond.
The other thing that helps me keep my end of work boundary is to have a ritual or a habit that bridges the gap between work and personal time. I started walking at the end of the day, which gives me 45 minutes to fully step away from work, get a little exercise in, and be away from the dogs bugging me every two seconds. I have my phone with me because I’m usually listening to a podcast but I’m not checking things or responding. Which I probably would do if I just went from my desk to the couch. This has been effective to signal my mind and body that I’m done working which is especially important if you work from home.
Setting work hours is also important if you live with other people because it allows them to know specifically when you will be at work or at home even if those are the exact same place. If I had kids at home I wouldn’t be above putting work hours on the door to my office. Not that it would work, but at least it makes the boundary clear. And it saves you from having to set those boundaries again and again.
When do you check email?
This is a boundary that I totally ignored when I first started my business. I came from 7 years working in a newsroom and there are ZERO boundaries. If there’s breaking news you’d better pay attention to your email, answer your phone immediately, check the internal message system. Because the timeline is – drop everything and do it right now. So I literally had a second monitor on my desk for notifications and I had a TV as if two screens wasn’t enough.
When I left that job and started freelancing I kept that habit of leaving my email open all day. This meant that every time an email came in I stopped what I was doing to see if it needed a response.
Nine times out of 10 it’s an email from someone asking for something and that does not need an immediate response. Even now probably half of the email that comes into my inbox doesn’t need a response at all because it goes into the spam folder.
There’s a statistic that says it takes you 20 minutes to switch tasks. So if you are writing a blog post and you see a new email pop up in your browser and you go over to your inbox, there goes 20 minutes. And then you’re not just going to check your inbox, you’re going to respond to that email and then you’re gonna remember there was another one sitting in there you forgot to respond to, so you do that one too. And by then you’ve lost an hour and then you’re gonna lose another 20 minutes going back to your original task. That is an hour and 40 minutes gone unnecessarily.
To protect your energy, to protect your time, to set some boundaries with clients and customers, you need to pick two times during the day to check email. But a not-so-secret secret…I only check my email once a day and I have yet to be yelled at for that. I will do everything to not open my email unnecessarily. So pick a time of day and then stick to it. No peeking at your email in between. Take your email off your phone. Turn off all your notifications. I’m telling you, you will feel so much more focused and peaceful during your workday without those constant interruptions.
Now some of you are probably thinking, “I have to check my email to see if my clients need anything.”
If you are communicating with clients via email or have employees or contractors communicating via email you need to move that elsewhere. Slack and Voxer are probably the most popular options. I use Slack with my clients – I add them to my workspace and then they can DM me. But you could also use a program like Honeybook that has all of your contracts and files and communication in one spot.
This is about setting expectations with your clients and contacts. I’ve found that if you have clear boundaries and a specific space for communication, clients are more open to asking questions and sharing their stuff for feedback because they know they’re not interrupting you. Women especially tend to hold back and always feel like we’re encroaching on someone’s time by asking questions. By moving communication out of your inbox into a space that just for you and your client, that conversation flows much more easily.
If you are worried about only showing up once or twice a day to respond to emails, add your hours of operation to your website, to your email signature, or to the info on coaching and courses pages to again set that boundary and expectation for anyone who contacts you.
When do you check social media?
Along the same vein, you gotta stop checking social media every 5 minutes. Instagram is always changing, moving, and it feels like we’ll miss something if we put phone down for more than an hour.
Fun fact: if someone comments, DMs you, likes your post you do not have to respond right away. It will still be there when you come back.
I actually do something most people say to avoid – scrolling in bed in the morning. But I do it because 1. I like it – I follow a handful of people that give me that morning motivation And 2. Because answering comments and DMs in bed with two puppies is just more enjoyable.
After I’m done scrolling I hop over to my business account, respond to everyone, and then I’m ready to start my day. If someone needs something more complicated I’ll mark it as unread or ask them to DM me or email me and I’ll get back to them when I check in again toward the end of the day.
The other reason I like to go through comments and DMs in the morning is because once that task is finished I can ignore my phone for most of the day. I do have the procrastination scroll every once in a while, but if I’ve addressed all the questions and comments already then I don’t have a good reason to be checking my phone.
I schedule all of my content in advance, Planoly automates most of the posting for me, so I’m not opening Instagram to post anything either.
If you can focus on the task at hand without all those distractions you will get through your work faster and then you’ll have more time for other things.
Often we feel bad setting boundaries or like our clients or customers will be annoyed. But when you are happier with the way you communicate and the way your day runs you will be able to serve your clients and customers better and that creates better results for them. You don’t have to explain or apologize, you can simply say X boundary is going to help me serve you better so going forward this is how it will work. And if all else fails, just put it in your contract. In my experience, people don’t get bent out of shape when boundaries are outlined in a document and if they want to change a boundary you can always add an up-charge to account for your time and energy.
If it’s a boundary with your friends or family you can say something like – doing it this way helps me run my business better. Period, no explanation for apology needed. If you’re setting a boundary with your partner or kids you can say This boundary helps me run my business better so I can make more money so we can x, y, z. (go on vacation, save for a house, pay off that debt) whatever is a good incentive for them to help you keep that boundary in place.
Your task for today is to turn off notifications for EVERYTHING on your phone and remove your email.
Work email, personal email – if someone really needs to get in touch, they will call you. Everyone else will survive having to wait a few hours to get a response. And I wouldn’t be surprised if you feel relief immediately after taking those actions. And if you’re on the fence about turning everything off – try it for a week. I did that almost 10 years ago when I was on vacation and just never turned notifications back on!
I’m so curious what boundaries you’ve set for your business or what ideas for boundaries you came up with after listening to this episode. Head over to Instagram, find me @xosarahmorgan and let’s discuss! Look for the Episode 61 post in my feed.