Do you get a rush from saying that you are slammed with work but always take on more responsibilities? Do you feel like an expert multitasker: sending a text here, posting an ad on social media there, responding to an email on one screen while working on a blog post on the other? Do you feel productive when you operate like this but realize later that you are drained with little to show for it? You are certainly not alone! It is a flourishing cultural phenomenon; people love to say that they are just swamped.
If you want to improve your boundaries, being busy can no longer be a part of your identity. If you want to set professional boundaries, you will have to swim upstream against the current of culture. You must recognize that being busy does not prove that you are extra hard-working or superior to other producers. In fact, it may simply prove that you are not adept at setting boundaries. Dethrone busyness.
This may not seem like a very concrete step, but I think it is the most important. If you don’t get this one down, you will fall back into old habits no matter what steps you take to set up boundaries.
Quick thing: if you are reading this post, you have probably already felt the negative consequences lacking boundaries can have. Just in case you haven’t: it can cause a lack of short-term and long-term productivity, burnout, and stress; people will take advantage of you, your personal life may ebb away, you may lose passion for your work, you may neglect friends and family, and it can certainly take psychological and physical tolls. I could go on, but you get the point. Back to fixing the problem!
Set Your Office Hours
Please note that office hours are different from work hours. Your office hours are the ones where you accept phone calls, email correspondence, and meetings. Work hours outside of your office hours are the ones where you turn your phone on airplane mode, shut down your email, and refuse to hold meetings. This time is for hardcore productivity.
Put your office hours on your website, encouraging visitors to reach out to you during those times, or expect email correspondence within two business days. And make sure your current clients get the memo too! It may be a bit awkward or daunting, but this is an actual practical step you need to take to get those boundaries built.
Follow-through is the crucial point here. It may take time for your clients to respect your boundaries, so make sure to respect them yourself. Here is a trick: if you want to send an email to a client outside of office hours, set a delay on your email. This way, they will know you are still only willing to communicate during office hours. When your needier clients see that you not only respect your office hours, but you are also getting projects done, they will begin to trust your process.
Keep an Eye on the Contract
Speaking of needy clients, another important way to set boundaries is to refuse tasks outside of the terms of your contract or require additional compensation. In your contracts, you may consider requiring clients to assign new tasks at least a week before their deadline (or something similar based on your field). Having excellent customer service does not mean turning into a doormat.
Taking on just a little more adds up! If you are nervous about losing clients because of this resolution, think about it like this: the ones who disrespect your boundaries are the ones getting more than they paid for, and that’s something you can’t afford. Dedicate your efforts to the professional clients; they will respect you more for the boundaries you establish; you will attract more of the same this way and end up actually getting paid for the work you do.
Setting boundaries starts with you! Don’t expect others to respect your personal time if you don’t respect it yourself. Prioritize mental and physical health: spend time with loved ones, eat actual meals, take walks to refresh, and give yourself time off. Things will improve if you stay dedicated. And after all, since you run your own business, I know you are capable of dedication.