As an entrepreneur, it may happen that your work life and your home life become one big blur. You say you work ‘during the day’, and yet it is after dinner you see your computer over there and you decide to spend a few minutes taking care of a few things. The next thing you know, it is 11 pm and you are the only one still up and you are still in front of your computer.
Having blurred lines is common. It happens if you have a job or a business. Back when I was working on my MBA, I had a boss who presumed everyone on his team was available whenever he was conscious. Emails requesting reports at 5 am were common. And once I started my businesses, I even had a coach who said that you are your business; there is no turning off.
If you find that the business (or your job) is really creeping into your personal time and you want to define things a little more firmly, this article is for you.
What are boundaries?
Boundaries, and how you define them, depend on your values. Setting boundaries is a life skill. Boundaries are what you determine to be acceptable and not acceptable. I might have a boundary that says my evenings are for my children and husband. A single person may not share that kind of boundary. Or maybe I am working a full-time job and want to start a business on the side. A boundary could be that I will only work on my job during set hours and my business takes priority during non-work and non-sleeping hours.
What are the 5 easy steps?
Glad you asked. Here you go:
Step 1: Know Your Values and Define Your Boundaries
This is when you figure out what is in bounds and what is out of bounds. How you want to work and how you want to be treated.
Do your clients expect you to answer a query at 11 pm immediately or have you established expectations of a response during whatever you define as a responsible time frame?
How do you know you are working? Do you have a separate work area, if you work from home, or do you go to an office? Physical boundaries are part of it.
So is dressing for the part. Are you working if you are still in your pyjamas?
Step 2: Make Some Rules
This is where the fun starts. What are your hours of operation? When do you respond to emails or phone calls?
A few weeks ago, I received the following message in response to an email I sent and I respect Kristy for it:
Thank you for contacting me. To increase efficiency, I check and respond to e-mails three times daily: at 9:00 am, 12:00 pm and 4:00 pm EST.
If you require urgent assistance or to book an appointment, please contact our Operations Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-832-8958. Please note that our office hours are Monday to Friday from 9-5 pm.
Thank you for understanding. This change in our procedures allows us more time to serve you better.
CEO, Capital Home Staging & Design
That is an example of someone who is clear on her boundaries.
Maybe you are only working if you are at your desk or meeting with clients. Or you have a set time when you head to the coffee shop with your laptop. What is your work uniform?
Define the rules around your boundaries.
Step 3: Practice with Your Boundaries
Work hard when it is time to work and play (or don’t work) during your non-work time. See how things fit. Are your rules too tight? Where are you breaking your own boundaries? Keep practicing and adjusting until your boundary rules are what you can live with. Where does your self-care fit in?
Step 4: Roll Them Out
What is the point of having boundaries if people don’t know about them? It is time to tell others. Don’t do it all at once. Start with one conversation. Know what you will do or say if your boundaries are not respected.
Realize most people do not deliberately disrespect your boundaries. They are simply unaware of how their behaviour impacts you. For example, they send out an email when the thought occurs to them. You do not have to respond to that email immediately. It can wait until your regular office hours. If it is keeping you up at night, draft a reply and set up a delayed delivery. You train people how to treat you.
Step 5: Observe and Revise
Notice what works. Do more of that or keep it.
Notice what does not work. Revise it.
Setting boundaries has a learning curve with it, so don’t be too tough on yourself.