As we head into the holiday season, boundaries – personal or business – are more important than ever. While this is written more for the business marketing end, I’m sure you can find ways to take the tips into other aspects of your life. I’m also still learning my own boundaries so please don’t take this as the end-all-be-all type of guide.
The importance of setting boundaries
Boundaries help you get shit done. Period. When I worked in an office, we had the trendy open office plan, which was a horror to my introverted self and also to my productivity. Even when my instant messaging status was set on “away,” I was constantly being interrupted, whether it be by phone, IM chats, in-person talks, etc. I would put in 10-hour work days at the office, take work home, and then get actual work done at home. I quit that job because I burned out one too many times.
Good boundaries clearly communicate expectations for yourself and for others. They also take a lot of consistent enforcement so people don’t ignore them and take advantage of you. Boundaries help you focus and be a better worker.
Types of boundaries
There are a few different types of boundaries in a business or marketing job. There are the expectations within a company: how quickly one would respond to an email, for example. There are expectations with customers: how fast they’ll be responded to on social media, email, phone, etc. And there are your own productivity expectations: when you get things done, uninterrupted. Creativity takes time and if you don’t set aside that time, you’ll never get that great mind space that’s needed to be your best creative self.
Clear communication is key
The best thing to do is be upfront and document it transparently. I once emailed someone and received an auto-responder that essentially read, “I receive a lot of emails and am trying to have a better work-life balance. So I am checking my email only once a day.” While I wasn’t expecting my email to be replied to within less than a day, it was still nice to know that the email not only landed in the inbox, but that they were going to get to it ASAP but maybe not today.
The above example is a little excessive but maybe it’s the right move if you receive a lot of emails. For example, an auto-responder for your customer service email could include details like confirming that the email has been received, when to expect a response, and any holiday hours that might interfere with the response.
Putting boundaries in practice
I’ve noted an example already on what an email expectation could look like for customers. For clients, I write my email response hours in my contract: M-F, 11 am–4 pm in whatever time zone I’m in (usually Pacific). I make sure that I don’t send emails outside of those hours. Of course, I’m often working outside of those hours, but it is very rare for a life-or-death situation to come across my inbox. Any emails I do write outside of the hours, I’ll schedule them to send for the next office hour available.
And because I’m trying so hard at putting that work-life boundary in place and don’t want to be tethered to my phone, I only check my email three times a day on weekdays. In place of email notifications, I set notification reminders to check my inbox. This practice gives me a few hours-blocks to work in and get shit done.
At the time of writing this, I had also made a decision to not take on any new clients or projects for the remainder of 2019. To enforce this, I’ve set up a notification bar a the top of my hire pages and I’ve blocked off the rest of the year on my calendar so no one can automatically book.
On social media, you can add customer service hours on your Twitter account, create a bot response/office time for Facebook messenger, and put hours into your Instagram bio. If you have a service page, clearly outlining expected open hours and response times with contact options is another way to get ahead.
In general, I find customers to be more empathetic when it comes to small businesses and customer service. Most expect a timely response, but not an immediate one. I personally don’t expect anyone to be monitoring the inbox on major holidays or on the weekends. As long as you clearly communicate boundaries and follow through on them, everyone’s much happier.