Can you easily prioritise the work that matters from the work than can wait? If you’re squirming in your chair a little, it’s probably because you know full well that you need to set better boundaries… and commit to them.
It’s tough though, I get it. I talk all the time about how, as a business owner, you get pulled in a million different directions every day, and that’s always going to get in the way of you doing your best work. I explored that a little in my last podcast, ‘where to focus and what to do daily in your business’. In this episode I want to go a little deeper and talk about boundaries, and the importance of setting your own.
When I talk about setting boundaries, it’s easy to think of it as just fencing off portions of time to focus on the things that are important.
We all know how crucial it is to set non-negotiable time for your business and how you need to create space for focus, consistency and working on things that will move the needle.
That’s all fantastic, but the thing is, for a happy, healthy relationship with your business, you also need to set non-negotiable time to not work on those things.
Boundaries are about more than chunks of time. They’re about thought and action. They’re lines in the sand that separate the things you’re willing to take on and think about from those that you aren’t.
Making sure you operate within those lines doesn’t just keep distractions out of your work life, it keeps your work life out of your home, family or personal life. Without them, you’re setting yourself up for exhaustion and burn out.
Now, I can’t proclaim to be an expert on this topic. If I am completely honest with you, I’ve not been the best at respecting my own boundaries. Even now, when I get stuck into a project, I can still be really bad. I can get up and start work at 5am, and then not stop until my husband screams at me to leave my desk sometime around 10pm. And that’s not good for either of us. Which has made me realise, it doesn't matter how many hours a day you work, if you’re an entrepreneur or a creator, you'll never have enough hours anyway, so why kill yourself?
Finding that work/home separation used to be a whole lot easier before Covid. You would leave the office and get on the train or ride your bike home, and that would a physical boundary, as well as some actual distance, between your work and home. This meant you could easily shift mindsets.
For me, I’d get home, have my tea and chat with my husband about the day, and then that was that. Screens off, and it was home time. I didn’t have to think about work unless I chose to.
In this new world of working at home in our yoga pants and always being available on Zoom, hangouts or whatsapp, it’s harder than ever to distinguish work time from home time, and it’s easier than ever to be and the beck and call of your business 24/7. And that’s not healthy.
Marie Forleo, one of my favourite business authors, says, “Machines are built to work 24/7, but not human beings”. That resonates with me, and it should with you too.
You shouldn’t kid yourself that being ‘on’ all the time means you’re always being productive or effective. You need time to switch off too. Setting boundaries doesn’t just protect your time, it protects your energy. It gives you permission to say no to the things that wear you down, and yes to the things that recharge your batteries, fill up your bucket, and prepare you for the next round.
Boundaries are structure. And in this weird pandemic we’re living through, structure is more important than ever – for your business success, but also for your sanity.
Over the last little while I’ve started to set some clear boundaries in my own life.
When I plan my week I have some things that are non-negotiable, like fencing off 90 minutes a day to work on a goal, and finding at least three times a week to exercise.
I have one day every week when I have absolutely NO meetings, so I have time to catch up on things, or take the day to do whatever I want. That’s the whole point of running your own business, right? You have the freedom to decide how you spend your time.
I never arrange morning meetings. I’m most productive in the mornings, so I use that time to be ‘in the zone’. That way I feel I’ve got the most from my day.
This is a small thing, but I love to have one day a week where I don’t set an alarm.
I set Sundays aside for recording this podcast. It’s quiet, there are no distractions, and I’m relaxed.
I’m also working on setting a new boundary. I’m trying switch off every day at 6pm. Laptop closed, work done for the day. I try to keep all those work thoughts out my head. I love cooking, so most evenings after 6, my husband and I spend time together doing that. I’ll make this point again… the whole of purpose of working for yourself is to create the life you want. So you shouldn’t ever be ashamed or feel guilty for doing the things you love. Setting boundaries lets you appreciate both areas of your life.
'Create before you consume'
Another boundary I’m trying to create, is around my use of social media. Something else Marie Forleo says is, ‘create before you consume’. I think that’s an awesome mantra, and it directly relates to consumption of social media.
It’s so easy to get sucked down a rabbit hole of Instagram posts or YouTube videos that can deplete all your brain juice before you’ve even accomplished anything in the day. Nowadays I save my consumption of social media until I’ve done all my creating – my work – for the day.
Actually, after reading Marie’s book Everything is figureoutable, I took a four-week social media social media hiatus, and I have never had so much clarity. It was totally insane.
My point, is that you really can do all the things you love. Boundaries protect your time and energy so you can really enjoy those things most important to you.
What those things are for you will be different to what they are for me, but to identify them, you just have to think about your ‘Why’ – the reason you’re in business in the first place.
Actually, that clarity, being super clear about why you’re doing this, will help you find a way through many of the tough decisions you have to make to make your business work for you.
My own story, is that I want to create something for myself and my husband, so that when he retires, we can live an extraordinary life in our dream home. My wonderful marriage is at the very top of my long list of ‘Whys’.
It motivates me and drives me to work hard, yes, but it also makes me aware just how important it is to take the time to enjoy what we have right here, right now.
I know making that time to enjoy or appreciate life right now, today, isn’t always easy. I mentioned earlier that, as business owners, we’re always getting pulled in a million different directions.
Which is why setting boundaries for work is just as important as setting them for life.
I had a great conversation with someone this week about delegating, and how they still find it difficult, even though they own their business. It’s funny how a little phrase like ‘I’ll just do this' or ‘let me take care of that' can easily end up in a to do list that never ends.
To stay sane, you have to protect your time. If you don’t set boundaries around what you take on, you’ll never be productive - because every new thing you agree to has a knock-on effect somewhere else.
When I’ve taken on something I probably shouldn’t have, it leaves me feeling a bit resentful and I notice myself ranting about it to my husband. That’s when I realise that I've not respected my own boundaries.
We all do it, of course. We've all gone above and beyond for a client, done a bit too much free work, or agreed to yet another coffee so someone can pick our brains for free. You just have to take note because, as I said, doing those things outside of your boundaries has a cost – often in other areas of our lives. Maybe it’s missing out on a weekend walk with family, being stroppy with your kids when they want your attention, or getting home too late to cook so you have to order a takeaway.
As entrepreneurs, there's always going to be that blurry line between what we should and shouldn’t be taking on, so it’s up to you to make those boundaries clear.
One totally weird thing I do is, when I set a meeting, it'll be for 17 minutes or 27 minutes or something like that. The specificity of that shakes people up and gives me the power to end the meeting before it starts to drift.
Another thing I watch out for, is getting sucked into other people’s priorities. Your email inbox has that written all over it – it’s full of fake urgency just waiting to throw you off schedule.
It’s easy to succumb and get overwhelmed. Or you can set boundaries around when you’re going to deal with that stuff. It’s impossible to keep everyone happy all of the time. If you try, it’s going to leave you beaten and defeated, and you’ll begin to resent your business, your staff, your clients. So set some boundaries – and don’t let other people encroach on them.
I bet people will totally understand if you say no, or push back on an unscheduled phone call or meeting. In fact, most of the times I've pushed back on other peoples' urgency, it turns out it wasn’t that urgent after all.
And I'd rather be in charge of my schedule, my flow and my productivity than end up a little ball of stress ball not getting anything worthwhile done.
Another of my heroes, Micheal Hyatt, says, "Boundaries are guard rails to our productivity"
I agree. But I’d go a step further and say that boundaries are guard rails to our sanity.
They allow you to be all the things you want to be, and not the thing that everyone else wants you to be.
I hope that helps.