I’ve seen a lot of posts lately about ways that clients or even potential clients are infringing on personal time. Someone recently shared a client started calling when she didn’t receive a response in less than an hour.
What about the clients who send something at 8 p.m. and expect you to get it back to them by 8 the next morning?
Yesterday, I saw a post about a photography business owner wondering how to respond to a potential client who decided not to use her services because she was unresponsive. The photographer went out of town for about a week for a much-needed family vacation. She even used an out of office automatic response on her email.
Does this sound like what you’re going through? You’re not alone. It’s likely something you can change, even though it may take time.
Is it Time for Boundaries?
In all these situations, there is something missing. That something is work boundaries. If you can relate to these examples, maybe it’s time to put work boundaries in place, be more specific about your current boundaries, or start enforcing what you set as your work boundaries.
[bctt tweet=”Boundaries are good. They help reduce stress. They can even make us more productive.” username=””]
I didn’t think about the impact of boundaries until I started doing research for a book I’m writing. I talked to more than 110 professional part-time working moms and the topic of setting and maintaining boundaries came up again and again when I asked for their advice for other moms who want to be successful in their effort to transition to a part-time work role. I realized it’s not only for part-time working moms. Those work boundaries are important to everyone.
Putting them in place can be hard, though. We want to be accommodating to our clients. We want to provide customer service. We want clients to be happy – all the time. And saying “No” or “I can work on this later (meaning, I can’t work on this now),” might not make for a happy client. Or will it?
Some businesses and business owners think that not having boundaries and working all the time is the way to grow business. For some, that works. For most, it’s not sustainable. Not having work boundaries can lead to lack of sleep, loads of stress and burnout.
Why Work Boundaries are Important at Home
Boundaries are important for many reasons and they can help you in your business and at home:
- You can break up your time better so that you have time to work and time to engage with clients and potential clients. Breaking down time and creating more structure and blocks can help you be more productive in your day and help you get more done. This actually helps you get more done instead of using up mental energy switching from task to task.
- Stepping away each day can help your work product. Time away from work is as important as your work time. You let your mind recharge and get a fresh perspective. How many times do you find a mistake the next day, after working hours on a document or presentation? Or how many times do you get an idea because of something you see when it’s not work time? Your mind needs that mental break. And your body probably does too.
- Consider your stress levels. Consistent high levels of stress can impact your body and can start impacting your work product. Taking a mental and physical break each day is good for our stress levels in the long-term.
Putting Boundaries in Place Now
You get that boundaries are important, so now what? Here are some initial ideas, based on my own situation and from the interviews I did:
- No electronics at the table during meals unless there is a work emergency you already know about. Be present with family and friends and expect the same from everyone at the table (adults – young and old – and kids).
- Set the expectations upfront with clients on responding to communication, unless it’s an emergency. In my case and for many I interviewed (and moms I know), that response time is usually about 24 hours. That gives me wiggle room to work, deal with travel, attend all-day meetings, even go on a scheduled lunch date at my child’s school. And I’m specific about timelines, so that I’m not expected to communicate every day with clients.
- Start blocking time on your calendar to do email, create content, make or respond to calls, etc. Figure out all the different kinds of things you do and create blocks per day or week. A few moms I interviewed who have their own business, suggested designating days to do specific tasks (e.g., all meetings one day, all content creation one day, etc.). Figure out how you work best and make any necessary adjustments.
Tips to Help You Make Changes
- Set expectations upfront with clients on turn-around times and deliverable dates.
- If you have a needy client, be overly communicative during the process. Maybe establish a morning email summary or at the end of the day. That way you keep the client informed and anticipate their questions so they don’t keep trying to reach you.
- Make sure everyone understands what constitutes an emergency. You want everyone to be to be on the same page about what an emergency is and what steps need to be taken to deal with one instead of reaching out at 10 p.m. for something that could have waited until morning. Address this, based on client needs, but also consider each project. Your definitions and requirements might change over time.
- If you need to create boundaries with an existing client or team, consider a gradual change. Figure out what you need or want to change and what work boundaries you want to put in place. Consider an adjustment period, during which you retrain your clients, team, or manager. For example, instead of responding in 30 minutes, change that to an hour or two. And then to four. You don’t need to implement immediate change in most situation so that it’s like a light switch.
- Consider your situation and make the necessary changes to your work boundaries. And make sure you enforce the boundaries you put in place. You will likely get pushback, so stand firm.
It may take time and a few tries to get it right, but you can do it!
What work boundaries do you need to put in place? Are there work boundaries that your client is pushing back on? What elements of developing and implementing boundaries are you struggling with?
Suzanne Brown is a wife and mother to two young, active boys. She is a strategic marketing and business consultant. She recently completed more than 110 interviews of professional part-time working moms to get their insights, advice, and hear their stories, as research for a book she’s writing, due out in late 2017. Suzanne blogs weekly about topics related to being a busy working mom and thoughts on the transition to being a professional part-time working mom at www.mompowerment.com. You can follower her on Facebook and on Twitter. You can also watch her TED Talk from TEDxSMU about professional part time working moms.