How many of these things do you do (Be honest!):
- Answer emails at 11PM
- Return client work on Sunday afternoon
- Make every working hour available in your scheduler to make it easy for people to find a convenient time
- Check every email that comes into your inbox (even if you don’t intend to answer it right away)
- Answer every email right away
- Keep messenger notifications on so that you can respond to requests immediately
- Say yes to a client request that pops up on Facebook while you are scrolling right before bed
- Rework your whole schedule to squeeze in a client call
I used to do these things too. I thought I was providing better customer service. I thought being available all the time made me more valuable to my clients. I thought I needed to do all that to keep my business thriving.
I was so wrong.
When I set up better boundaries around my time, three things happened:
- I got more done because I wasn’t constantly interrupting myself.
- I attracted better clients who respected me more and were more respectful of my time.
- I was happier because I wasn’t trying to work all the time.
Didn’t see that coming, but I want you to see it.
Improve Your Business with Better Boundaries
It’s time to take back control of your time, and that means setting boundaries. You need to understand what you want and are willing to do—and you need to let your clients know what to expect. (And then you need to follow through, which might be the hardest part of all, but you can do it.)
Set Expectations about When You Work
Start by deciding when you want to work. And then decide when you want to be available. These two things don’t have to be the same.
[bctt tweet=”Decide when you want to work, and when you want to be available. These two things don’t have to be the same.” username=”megcasebolt”]
I tell my clients that I don’t work weekends, because I don’t want the expectation that I will work all day Saturday and Sunday. The truth is sometimes the weekend is a great time to work. If I want to meet up with another mama at the Children’s Museum on Tuesday, I might work over the weekend to hit a deadline early … but my clients don’t know I’m working and don’t expect responses.
All that work I do on Saturday or Sunday shows up in my client’s inbox on Monday. My favorite tool to do this is Boomerang, which allows me to write messages and schedule them to send during my “business hours.”
So set expectations about when you work—and when you will respond. Use an autoresponder to let clients know you only check email twice a day. And then don’t respond except after those times (or read at your leisure and use Boomerang to time your response so you maintain those boundaries).
Here’s a sample autoresponder message you can use:
Hello and thanks for reaching out. In order to maximize time with clients, I only check this inbox a few times throughout the day.
If you are a current client, please put your message in your Basecamp project. If you are a prospective client or other outreach, I will get back to you within 24 hours M-F.
If your email is time sensitive, please email [different e-mail address] and use “Urgent” in the subject line.
I look forward to connecting with you soon!
Control Your Time
I don’t juggle my schedule to meet with people. Even if they only work Sundays or from 7–9pm or are in Australia. I set aside chunks of time in my schedule when I meet with people. That’s when we meet. Period.
This decision has changed the structure of my week, opening up my schedule for more focused time. It means I move through client projects more quickly instead of task-switching. I have time to take care of administrative stuff that just needs to happen (even though it’s not my favorite). And I have time to work on my business, coming up with new ideas and making them happen.
What does this look like? I use Acuity for scheduling. So I blocked some time each week for 20-minute meetings with prospective clients. And I set up additional longer blocks of time for client meetings; I need these calls to do the work, plus people are paying me so they get more access. I let my scheduler take care of setting up the times. They sync to my calendar so nothing gets double booked. And I go about doing my “real” work until it’s meeting time.
Stick with It
Maybe the biggest part of all of this is training yourself to stick with your boundaries. It’s easy to say, “Sure I can meet on Tuesday at 5PM,” when your favorite client asks. You may feel yourself wanting to bend over backwards so a prospective client knows you really want to work with them. But really, what they learn is that you’ll do anything—and they’ll expect everything. You get to make the rules, but you need to keep them.
I recently had a prospective client ask to squeeze into my calendar earlier than my next available time because she was so excited about the project. My first instinct was, “Well maybe I can squeeze her in tomorrow afternoon ….” but then I decided to hold firm & wrote this back:
“I love your excitement! However, I intentionally keep calls to Tuesdays & Thursdays so I can block off time before & after the call to research & process. This way I can also use Monday for planning & Wednesday/Friday for deep design work without watching the clock to hop on a call. That really kills any momentum I have!
To get started this week, I’ll set a Basecamp account where you can share your files & thoughts. If you send it over by Monday, I’ll review everything before our call next week & be more prepared for you. Thanks!”
She wrote back & completely understood, sent over all her materials, and we had a great call on Tuesday afternoon to kick off the project.
And if you’re having trouble sticking with it, remember this mantra: I’ll get more done, business will improve, and I’ll be a lot happier.
What boundaries do you set around your work or personal time? How do you stick with it?