On Setting Boundaries (and sticking to them)
Working for yourself is a huge privilege. There’s no doubt about it; running a business, or working freelance, gives you flexibility and the control you need to create a lifestyle that works for you.
But that privilege goes hand in hand with a very common problem: zero boundaries. There’s no defined work day when you are your own boss. You don’t clock out and switch off, and the line between work and leisure time is perpetually blurred.
You answer emails with one hand while washing your child’s face with the other. You write up marketing materials while you’re lying in bed (even if there’s someone else lying right there next to you). You respond to client demands at 3 in the morning. Basically, you say YES when what you really need to do is say NO; or at least, not right now.
If you work from home it’s even more complicated — because family stuff gets mixed up with work stuff. Your mother-in-law pops over unannounced and, just like that, an afternoon of work slips through your fingers. Your friends use you as a delivery office because they know you’ll be home all the time — so you spend half the morning answering the door and signing for packages, and never quite get into your workflow.
One of the greatest challenges of running your own business is setting boundaries.
Real ones. Ones that you truly respect. Because if you don’t respect them, no one else will.
So my challenge to you today is to set some clear boundaries that address some of the issues you’re struggling with right now. Write them down. And make a commitment to stick to them, and to communicate them clearly to those who need to know.
If you do work from home, setting work hours or days is a good place to start. Get clearer about scheduling work, and let the people in your life know that although you’re at home, those hours are work hours. You’re not free to chat or to pick up your brother’s dog from the vet’s. Your work hours are as non-negotiable as they would be if you were working 9-5 in an office.
This isn’t possible for everyone — sometimes, our work hours just have to change from week to week. If that’s the case, you can still have boundaries; just be clear that you’ll let the relevant people know at the start of the week what your schedule looks like.
Another useful boundary to put in place is what you’re willing (and not willing) to do for free. Freelancers and entrepreneurs are often inundated with questions from friends, friends-of-friends, and friends-of-friends-of-friends about how they got started and what advice they can give to someone wanting to work for themselves.
You don’t have to say yes to every coffee meeting, phone call, or respond in great length to every curious email. Your time is valuable. If you’re frequently dealing with these kinds of requests, consider writing blog posts that answer all the common questions that come your way — then you can warmly direct every inquirer to that handy article. You could even consider offering a consulting service; so you can begin to diversify your income stream by arranging meetings or calls, at a cost, with those who’d like to benefit from your experience.
Those are just a couple of examples of boundaries that might be useful for your work-life balance. But think personal. What are your biggest obstacles to work? What kind of questions are you asked all the time? What kinds of expectations and pressures do you struggle with the most?
Use those insights as starting points for your own boundary-setting practice. You’re a businessperson; knowledgable, insightful, and increasingly confident. You are building your work and lifestyle on your own terms.