We all know boundaries make us more effective and allow us the time we need to do all the things we need to. But what do healthy boundaries look like on a day-to-day basis? What are some good rules to follow as you go about your life? Below are 3 different ways a boundary problem at work can show up and some easy action steps you can take for each.
1. If you’re exhausted all the time, you might have a boundary problem at work.
How’s your energy level? If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’re driven and keep yourself busy. But it’s not natural to keep that pace for long without a break. If you work from home, you’re probably working weekends, too. Add to that the pressure of everyday life in a pandemic.
We all the have added weight of relationships. You’re a partner, parent, friend, pet mom or dad. And have to keep yourself fed, your home somewhat clean, and your clothes washed. I’m tired just typing the list, let alone living it.
All that to say, if you find yourself tired, there’s a reason. If you feel overwhelmed, find it difficult to get excited about much of anything, or hear yourself impatient and irritable with loved ones or clients, you’re ready for some better boundaries.
Make sure you’re leaving work at a reasonable time. Establish some personal space. This will increase your patience, make you more creative, and actually look forward to getting back to work. Because we all know you can’t “get back” to something you never leave. Science says time away is vital.
- Set a firm end-of-work time and don’t work more than 5 minutes past it.
- Schedule down time throughout the week.
- Reconnect with hobbies and people you love.
- Don’t check email on the weekends.
PS: If it’s holiday time, check out this post on surviving holiday exhaustion.
2. If you feel obligated to do more than required, you may have boundaries getting crossed.
Sometimes a client will reach out during the evening to request a edit. Or inquire about a “can you do this really quick? I have a meeting tomorrow…” or something similar. How often have you jumped to meet the need? How often have you answered that 8p client text?
(I would say after work hours but many entrepreneurs don’t have a shutoff so there are no “after hours” because you can’t quit working. Amiright?)
The best way to handle these requests is to establish some work hours. Maybe it’s 11a to 6p. For me, I’m more of a 5:30a to 3p person with an hour lunch break to tend the garden.
Learn to shut down your work brain. (I know, this is soooo haarrrddd for us!) At least commit to not answering emails or texts after a certain time of the day. And never on your weekend, whether it’s Saturday to Sunday or another set of days during the week.
Once you’ve decided on these hours, inform your clients. For your established clients, let them know you’re adjusting to take better care of them and to create better work, and will no longer be available after your official work hours each day. Moving forward, cover your work hours in your onboarding process.
Not gonna lie, this was a really scary step for me — the what-ifs got pretty loud in my head.
Then comes the hardest part of all: STICK TO IT.
The first few times a client reached out after hours, I struggled. All the excuses like, “Oh, it’s such a quick little thing…” and “I’m not really doing anything else this evening…” clamored for attention.
Here’s what I learned: The first time you get that late email or text, your fingers will likely itch to respond. Even if it’s just a “Thanks, I’ll take a closer look in the morning.” Don’t do it.
Wrap your fingers in duct tape and take a walk if you need to. Stick to your boundaries and connect when your office hours begin again. This will get easier with practice.
You’ll soon be wondering why you ever thought you had to answer. You’ll be better rested, more creative, and much, much happier after you learn to step away.
Sometimes you end up loving a client. This happens All.The.Time for me. They quickly become someone you love working with. This is the point where boundaries often get muddled. You want to please them. You want to deliver your best. So you put in the extra time and effort to make things perfect.
Before you know it, your time commitment is far greater than your scoped work. (And by the time you realize it, you may feel guilty charging for the time you actually spent, especially if this has become an ongoing problem.)
Is any of the client’s fault? In instances like this, no. It’s on you and your perfectionist, pleaser nature. (Which also means you’re a really nice person and probably a great nurturer to many others in your life. Kudos!)
- Affirmation on Repeat: My time and talent are worth paying for.
- Add your work hours to your onboarding material to set proper expectations with new clients.
- Send out an email to all current clients to let them know your availability is shifting, and provide your new hours.
- Use a timer when you work on projects. (I use this one.) Even if you work on a project basis, this will let you see if you’re scoping your projects realistically.
3. Your spidey sense says something’s off but you proceed anyway. It might be a boundary problem.
I had a prospective client contact me about a fantastic sounding job. It lined up perfectly with my talents. And I had time on my calendar.
But during our discovery call, I felt uncomfortable. Could I put my finger on it? No. Could I logically justify walking away? No. Was the money attractive? Yes.
I’m embarrassed to say it took me a full week to email him and decline his project. I dreaded it. I felt like I was letting him down. And actually felt guilty for saying no without a logical explanation. But my spidey sense told me he wasn’t a good fit.
A few months later, I happened to have a conversation with someone who was working with him and she was overwhelmed, stressed out, and exhausted. I felt like I dodged a bullet, but it was a great reminder to me to trust my gut.
The biggest lesson in all this for me has been to pursue the jobs that are intellectually and emotionally right for me. The intellectual part is probably one of the easiest things to scope. Emotionally? Not so much.
But the minute your emotional health in a client relationship starts to take a toll on your physical health, something needs to change. Personal boundaries can help your mental health.
- Say: “No.”
- Say: “I don’t think we’re a good fit.” And if possible, supply them with a referral or two.
- Establish new rules: “I’m no longer willing to do that.”
Keep learning to set boundaries when you’re working with clients. Establish clear expectations so you can spend time every day away from work. Give yourself time to explore life with the people and things you love.
Keep your spidey antenna up and listen to your gut instincts. Determine to improve on your boundary. You’ll find yourself with more time and energy. You’ll be healthier, gain more satisfaction from your work, and your life outside of work will feed all the things you need to succeed in your work.
For some more tangible tips on what to do in the moment, whether it’s about work life balance or something else all together, check out this post on Your Next Five Steps.