.An unexpected challenge of running your own business is that it feel like you are NEVER on holiday. One of the most common frustrations I hear from fellow freelancers or business owners is that setting boundaries at work is hard! There is no-one else who will answer the emails, fulfil the orders, deal with client queries.
We are our business and the lack of boundaries can feel overwhelming after a while. The chances are we started working for ourselves because we want to live life on our own terms. So it can come as a bit of a shock when you still find yourself juggling between your business and your supposed downtime.
Today my kids went back to school after half-term holidays. The idea of getting any substantive work done last week in between the constant demands for food, entertainment and sibling mediation would have been laughable.
One of the reasons why I left my well paid job last year was because the boundaries between work and my private time had become too blurred. I’d book time off to be with the kids, but most of it would be spent answering “urgent” emails on my phone or typing furiously on my laptop to meet deadlines that couldn’t be moved even if I was on holiday.
Setting Boundaries At Work
So one of my non-negotiables for self-employment has been setting clear boundaries between work time and personal / family time. I was self-employed before kids so I know from experience how easily these can all merge together. The most important thing to remember is that there are reasons why we need downtime.
If we are exhausted and overworked, our dream business will become just another millstone around our neck. But blurred lines doesn’t have to be an accepted downside of self-employment.
There are ways to draw healthy boundaries AND run a successful business. Here are some suggestions which I’ve learnt over the years, to help you treat yourself with the same care you would expect if you were an employee of your business.
6 Tips For Setting Healthy Boundaries At Work
1. Give Yourself An Annual Holiday Allowance
It varies from country to country but here in the UK all full-time employees are entitled to a minimum of 28 days a year (the 8 Bank Holidays count towards this). One of the joys of being a business owner is that if you decide you want 3 months off every year, there’s no reason why not! But for most new businesses starting out, the need to generate steady income may mean that’s a faraway dream.
I would argue though that at the VERY least we should be allowing ourselves the same amount as the minimum entitlement for employees. In my last job I was entitled to 27 days plus Bank Holidays. So for me that’s my cut-off point. If I want to have greater balance than my employed role, I want at least the same number of holidays.
2. Book Your Holiday Days In Advance
I’m a bit of a spreadsheet nerd so I like to keep track of my holidays in an Excel spreadsheet. It’s no different to how I managed an entire company’s annual holidays in my previous role. So I know if it worked for keeping track of 20+ people, it can work for a business of just me. I block out time in advance when I want to take holiday, just as I would if I worked for a larger company.
Last week I blocked the full week out for half-term. Even though we weren’t going away, I knew I wanted to spend time with the kids without feeling guilty or frustrated that my work wasn’t getting completed. Keeping track in a spreadsheet allows me to schedule my work efficiently and reminds me to get organised in advance when I have holiday coming up. It also flags up if I haven’t booked enough days off and may be in need of a break.
3. Switch On Your Out Of Office
If you know you’re taking time off, communication is critical. For a products-based business you might need to place an advance notice on your website warning customers that you won’t be shipping during X period. In a service based business with clients, give them a few weeks notice that you won’t be available during that period.
Then when the time for your holiday arrives? Switch on an auto-responder email. In a larger company people receive Out of Office emails all the time. 90% of the time, most are happy to wait until the person returns. Just because you are a business of one does not mean that that you must be available 365 days a year.
And if you do lose a potential customer who isn’t willing to wait a few days? Well they probably weren’t your people anyway. It’s ok to let those customers go. I remember when I was 8 months pregnant with my first child and a client thought it was ok to ring me at midnight. Just because an idea had popped into his head and he wanted to tell me before he forgot. No it was not ok and no I didn’t work with him again.
4. Limit Work to Admin Activities Only
Sometime it won’t be possible or even necessary to book a full day off. Maybe you’ve got friends or family visiting but you know you’ll have an odd hour in the day free. In that case just don’t plan in any ‘thinking’ tasks. Limit the work to more admin based activities like emails, accounts, shipping orders. Anything that you can pick up quickly and finish in a short space of time.
For me I need to block out time to write. I need to be in the flow with complete quiet around me. If I try to write anything with my kids around I know I’ll be staring at a blank screen for a looong time. And anything I do write will be quickly deleted in the edit.
5. Create Systems To Quickly Capture Thoughts
Taking time away from work is usually a guarantee that ideas start popping into my head. Have a system in place that allows you to quickly note the idea down and then get back to your other plans. I’ve started using Evernote to both draft my content and keep my to-do list. Their app is on my phone’s home screen, right where I can see it. It takes 5 seconds to quickly jot any ideas down and then I can come back to it once my holiday time is finished.
If Evernote is too much of an overkill for you, you could use either the Notes app on your phone, a paper diary, post-it notes. Whatever works for you. The key criteria here is it should be something you have to hand, any time any place. Somewhere you can note the thought down quickly and then move on with the rest of your day.
6. Don’t Compromise
Decide what your boundaries are. And then DON’T COMPROMISE. Being self-employed is not an automatic solution to work-life balance. We must set boundaries between the two if we’re truly going to live life on our own terms. Your wonderful, exciting, exhilarating creative business can offer you so much. But above all remember: to be your own dream boss you need to lead your business, rather than your business leading you.
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