When we talk about setting boundaries, we often think about the biggest external threats to our time, energy, and mental peace. Clients texting you on the weekends. A full inbox derailing half your workday. Your very well-meaning partner or child interrupting a squeezed-in hour of working from home.
If the above scenarios are sources of stress for you, then by all means, set some boundaries there. But these are the obvious antagonists. What we usually forget are the less obvious threats to our time and energy…
Yep, if you’re a business owner and the lines between work and life are blurring, you may be part of the problem. I know I was. But the good news is that you can be equally active in the solution — and you have EVERYTHING to gain.
Below, I’m sharing 7 boundaries that have already changed the way I live, feel, and function every day. But first, a little story on how this all came to be…
If you’re like me, you may have felt your work-life boundaries slip over the past 1.5 years. Or maybe they were never really there, and the pandemic (and your kids being home from school) stepped in to make it glaringly obvious.
In my case, this manifested as working from early morning to late at night. Checking emails while watching Netflix with my husband. Stressing about work in my rare free time instead of being present in the moment. Any of these sound familiar to you, too?
It’s been a hard year emotionally for everyone, and I feel guilty even saying that, because I am SO grateful to have a flourishing business I love, but when I would check in with my health, I often felt… heavy. Tired. Stretched. I know I’m not alone in this.
However, I recently realized that it sometimes takes experiencing the opposite conditions to admit how far into the hole we’ve dug ourselves.
For me, this “opposite” experience was taking 10 full days off in August to visit my family in California. (Don’t worry, we observed all the Covid precautions.) And because I hadn’t seen my family in well over a year, I committed to a completely work-free vacation.
I created hard boundaries between myself and my business — literally against myself and my Type A tendencies. I trusted my team to hold down the fort. I almost didn’t even bring my laptop, but as my husband said, “Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.” I didn’t need it.
I was so in the moment that I rarely knew what day it was. I rarely knew what time of day it was. I laughed with my family, my mind never drifted off to work topics, and those 10 days felt like a month. It was glorious. Life-giving.
In fact, my boundaries worked so well that I’ve decided to keep them long-term. I’ve been back at our home in Switzerland for a month now, and even though I feel the post-vacation glow wearing off, I see zero reasons to remove those boundaries. Our clients are cared for. My team is cared for, and I am caring for myself. We can’t ask for more than that, can we?
So, what are these boundaries? What results have I seen after this one-month test drive? How can you try them out, too? Come take a look…
Don’t run! I know this sounds scary, but I can’t recommend it enough. Removing my, not one, not two, but THREE work inboxes has been the single greatest thing I’ve done for my sanity. Maybe ever.
For the last 3-4 years, I have looked at my emails on my phone first thing in the morning, refreshed them right before bed, and been unable to resist the urge to peek at them on weekends. Sounds like addiction, doesn’t it? I think so, too. I did it without thinking, used it to fill my spare moments, and let work emails ruin my free time with requests that were urgent only in my mind. Not healthy.
I took them off my phone for a work-free vacation, left them off for the last month, and something miraculous happened…
My energy levels are higher. My stress levels are lower. My ability to switch from work mode to fully present wife, friend, daughter, or sister is steadily improving. I can’t tell you how good it feels! I feel free and like I’m better serving our clients with a clear mind. Win-win.
Please, if you struggle with email-checking, try this out, even just for a week! It may just change your life for the better. And if you really do have potential emergencies that may come in via email, give those particular people your phone number, along with clear guidelines for using it.
This one is not for everyone but has also made a huge difference in my life. I took Facebook and Pinterest off my phone about 5-6 months ago and have not once been tempted to go back. I haven’t removed Instagram yet, but it’s coming.
We have to remember that social media apps have been created by some of the best developers and marketers in the world. They excel in the art of capturing people’s attention, and it absolutely works. Removing these apps is a boundary I set to protect myself from myself and to regain the time I was wasting in there.
Wait, what about marketing??
Schedule them in advance. Use a scheduling platform like Tailwind, Later, or Planoly, so you can essentially set it and forget it. If you like to film Stories in real-time, great, do that. If you really don’t like it, again, schedule content in advance and only hop on there when it feels right.
My personal plan is to check in only once per day via computer for about 10 minutes or so, just to stay in touch with my lovely clients and community. I genuinely enjoy seeing what they’re up to… without scrolling my life away. Your ideal plan might look different, so work to create boundaries are right for you.
O&B is now a team of 5 (including myself) and we use Asana, Slack, and Voxer to communicate. Asana is a project management software where all of our communication is documented per project, so we aren’t losing things in our inboxes or in Slack, our messaging system. We can also set dates and deadlines for ourselves and each other, which keeps everyone on the same page and each project flowing smoothly.
We use Slack for quick questions and communication that might be broader in scope than a single project, and it lets us communicate in real-time, which is perfect for a digital team in… 4 different time zones. On the rare occasion that we have a matter to discuss that is easier to speak versus type out, we’ll send over a quick Voxer message.
You may not use these same tools, but whatever communication tools you do use should have defined boundaries. For example, we ALL turn off our notifications when we’re not working. That way, if I send my team a message at 3am their time (because that’s afternoon my time), they won’t even see it until they log on for the day around 9am. And vice versa.
When I was on vacation, I took this all a step further and removed all but Voxer from my iPhone. I put them back on there purely for convenience, but I have the app icons buried so that I only see them (and their little red notification numbers) when I actively look for them. This keeps my curiosity at bay!
If you are managing several projects, it’s likely that you use an internal studio, such as MyDoma for client communication, and I can’t recommend this enough. Getting lost in an inbox is not why you started a design firm.
At O&B, I have my personal work email address, and we have a Client Care email address, handled by our Business & Project Manager, Liz. I let all of our clients know that Liz handles project-related inquiries, and of course, any business-related inquiries or personal questions come to me. This keeps my inbox volume limited to what really needs my personal attention and lets us all do what we do best.
However, every now and then, I do get project-related inquiries in my own inbox, and I have a bad habit of simply shooting off a quick response instead of forwarding the email along to Liz. I’m getting better at this, but if you are making the shift from primary point of contact to secondary, it takes some getting used to.
If you haven’t made the switch yet, I highly recommend finding someone kind and qualified to manage projects and client care. It will make every area of your business and life better. I wish I had done it sooner!
Yep, another totally personal boundary I’ve set that I’m just going to throw out there in case you want to try it. Don’t talk about work.
For me, work is everything. Even though my team and business are in the U.S., I live in a foreign country where I don’t speak the native language and it’s been hard to make friends (thanks, Covid). Naturally, what do I talk about with my husband in the evenings? My workday. On weekend nature walks? My big work dreams. With my family in the U.S. when we catch up? How work is going.
Part of it is passion — I genuinely love what I do — but the other part of it is simply because it’s all I have going on right now. However, I’ve found that talking about work all. the. time. does not a work-life balance create. And let’s face it, does my husband really care about the minute details of my workday? Noop. And I don’t expect him to, poor guy!
So, in addition to not thinking or talking about work during my vacation, I’ve adopted the same principle for my free time at home. Yes, it does take some getting used to and I have to catch myself when I stray back into those old habits, but an amazing thing has happened…
Without work to talk/think about, I am forced to open up my mind and time to other things. Reading books again (LOVE), being in the moment, journaling, watching MasterClasses, cooking for fun… in other words, living my life. Groundbreaking.
O&B has been more than a team of one for about 1.5 years now, and I think it has taken me equally as long to realize that I have also been standing in their way. Hard thing to admit, but I think it’s pretty common for anyone new to leadership.
In fact, the ONE time I thought about work on my recent vacation was on the plane ride back to Europe. I started writing in my journal with every intention of chronicling the happy time with my family, but what came out on the page was, “Holy crap, I’m the one standing in the way of my team and my own mental peace — by being a total control freak!”
Harsh words. Fortunately, those 10 days showed me that my team is 100% capable and revealed that I am similarly capable of trusting and letting go. Not just in business, but in life, too.
Because even if everything is not okay — let’s say something did happen that needed damage control — I trust that we can solve that problem together with kindness and professionalism. We can apologize if we should, learn from the experience, and be better for it. Heck, isn’t that REAL LIFE?
Anyway, all of that is to say that if you have been searching for freedom and haven’t yet found it, you may be standing in your own way like I was. If that’s the case, remember that trust and room to fail are also the only ways you can ever give your team room to fly.
I have had so many conversations about the word “no” recently… with clients, with my fellow entrepreneurs, even with friends who have never heard of the interior design industry. So many of us struggle with it, but it is literally the source of all your power!
To me, power isn’t about influence. Power is about making decisions. Every “yes” and “no” is a decision that shapes our lives, and sometimes the lives of those around us.
I also strongly believe that every “yes” you say is a “no” to something else — whether you realize it at the time or not. For example, is saying “yes” to this okay-ish project going to mean you have to say “no” if your dream project comes along? Is saying “yes” to another project, even though you don’t really have the bandwidth, mean you’re saying “no” to weekends enjoying family time?
Only you know the answers to that.
What I can tell you is that it has been a long time since I flexed my “no” muscles. This may have been largely thanks to the pandemic, which filled us all with fear about the economy and our businesses, but can also be credited to my own people-pleasing tendencies. (You, too?)
Safe to say, I’ve been working on saying “no” more… and it feels amazing!
I have been SO fortunate to have attracted clients who are similarly passionate about boundaries, work-life balance, and positive leadership… and I can honestly say this is by design! These are my own values and mission, and they are wrapped into the core foundation of the Ochre & Beige brand.
You can do the same. When your brand is aligned with what’s most meaningful to you, you will attract dream clients who share your values, respect your vision, and are a joy to work with. If you’re already doing this, then you’ve seen the magic firsthand.
If your design firm is still attracting a mix — your dream clients and those who are slightly less than ideal — there may room to uplevel your brand to match where your business is headed. Feel free to take a peek at how brand strategy works or book a discovery call with me here to see if it’s right for you.
I can’t wait to see YOU create freedom and boundaries in your business… and experience all the life-affirming joy that comes with it.