I was on a conference call the other day when my iMessage app popped open with a text from my son. “Mom, practice ended early. Can you please pick me up at school now?” So, I hopped in the car – still on the conference call – and drove to school, only to discover that my son got a ride home in the seven minutes it took me to get there. Once again, I found myself trying to do two things at once – and not doing either one very effectively. It was no big deal, really… but it gave me an opportunity to fix a few things that were broken in my routine. Namely, my boundaries.
Whose fault was that little misunderstanding? What should I have done differently? Should I have told my son to find a ride because I was on a call? Or should I have ended the call because my son needed me and it was already 4 pm, which is typically the end of my workday?
It’s difficult to answer that question if I don’t have a clear understanding of my own boundaries. I’ve written before about how to set better boundaries when you work from home. But before you can set boundaries, you really need to define what those boundaries look like – for you personally. Because MY boundaries won’t work for YOU. You have to figure out what works best in your life. And then – here’s the important part – you actually have to tell people your boundaries!
“If you can’t articulate these (boundaries) to yourself and others, it may be unrealistic to expect others to respect them or even figure them out.” -Essentialism
So, what are your boundaries? Use these eight questions as a guide for defining your own personal boundaries:
- What are your work hours? I know you probably love a flexible schedule, but establishing regular work hours gives you the structure you need to separate business from personal. Are there days you do not work at all? Are there days you reserve for a specific type of work? Spell it all out. You can always make exceptions to your hours – but you have to establish them first.
- Where is your workspace? Personally, I work in my office. I don’t take my laptop to another room or the back porch for a change of scenery. My family knows that if I’m in the office, I’m working. Do not disturb. But some people like to be mobile; they like working in Starbucks one day and on a park bench the next. It doesn’t matter what your ideal work environment is, as long as you can define it for yourself. That’s what helps you avoid checking Facebook while you’re working – or returning business emails during family time.
- How do you want people to make appointments with you? I know it sounds silly but it’s important to have a process for scheduling an appointment with you. Otherwise we get lost in a never-ending chain of emails, texts and phone calls and it takes more time to schedule the meeting than necessary. Not everyone has an administrative assistant to manage this. So we have to be creative. Try a scheduling app like Timetrade or Doodle. And try to schedule recurring meetings for several months or a year at a time.
- What are your email policies? Even if you are a solo-business, you should have a policy around email. (If you currently have more than 50 emails in your inbox, then you will love having an email policy!) Technology has blurred the lines between work and family – and it’s up to you to protect those lines. Do you read and respond to emails after business hours? Do you check email throughout the day or only at certain times? Do you have a system for acting on important emails and removing the clutter from your inbox? Do you have separate email addresses for business and personal use?
- What are your phone policies? It would be nice if someone would answer our phones for us, but technology is a good substitute for most home-based businesses. Personally, I don’t have my ringer turned on (my phone doesn’t even vibrate). So I don’t ever answer the phone unless it’s a call I’m expecting (or I happen to randomly see the incoming call and I can tell who it is and want to talk!). I let my voicemail serve as the first screen for both business and personal messages. Usually, I can respond via text or email later. Your situation might be different and you may need or want to answer your phone. So what are your boundaries around that? How quickly do you respond to phone messages? Do you use a separate phone for business and personal? Do you give clients or employees your cell phone number?
- What are your rules around texting? Or social media? I got a text from a professional colleague one day that read “Please call me.” I thought it must have been urgent. But no, he just wanted to talk about something that could easily have been handled via email or waited until our next meeting. I also received a text from someone who offered unsolicited business advice. It was not a conversation that was appropriate for texting. In fact, I shouldn’t have even responded to it, but I did. I’ve let texting get a bit out of control and I need to draw better boundaries with it. The same goes for social media – I’m finding that people expect that I see everything they post on social media, especially if they tag me or invite me to an event. The truth is, I don’t see everything because I don’t feel compelled to read every notification I get. If that means I miss a party, I guess that’s the price I pay for protecting my own time. So what are your rules related to texting or social media?
- What about lunch dates or coffee dates? If you are a solo-business owner, you probably enjoy the socialization of a lunch or coffee date every once in a while. I know I do! But I am very selective about how often I schedule these dates. I’m also particular about who I meet with and what the agenda is. Sometimes it’s just a chance to catch up over a meal – which is great! Or a chance to network or get to know a new friend, which I love to do on a limited basis. But if I feel like the other person has an agenda or wants to pick my brain or wants to ask for my support on something, I try to get clear on that before we meet. So I know what to expect and can decide if that’s the best use of my time. Do you accept lunch or coffee dates? If so, what are your personal rules or boundaries around them?
- What are the rules you have with your children so their crisis doesn’t become your crisis? I tell my kids they have to give me 48 hours notice when they need supplies for a school project or food for a class party or bake sale. And I’ve been trying to train them to give me advance notice when they need a ride to school early or other unusual requests for rides. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a start.
What other rules do you have in place to protect your time or stay focused on your priorities? I have several personal “rules” that I don’t really tell people but they help me make better decisions. For example, I don’t accept invitations to direct sales parties. I don’t even look at my calendar to see if I’m available. If I really want some new jewelry or a skin care product, I know who to call. I don’t need to sit through a demonstration in order to make the purchase. And I don’t make plans on Sundays unless they involve my whole family. I’ve made exceptions to my rules on occasion but they are still guidelines I use to keep my priorities in check.
What is one of your personal rules or boundaries? I’d love for you to share it here!