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 your dedicated working-from-home time.
If the above scenarios are sources of stress for you, then by all means, you can set some boundaries there. But these are the obvious antagonists. What we usually forget are the less obvious threats to our time and energy…
If you’re a business owner, chances are high that the lines between work and life blur on occasion. Your business “scope creeps” on your personal life. And, if you’re like me, you may realize that you are part of the problem. The good news is that you can be an equally active part of the solution.
Below, I’m sharing 7 boundaries that have already changed the way I live, feel, and function every day…
Designers, I know this sounds scary, but if there is any way to take your work inbox(es) off your phone, make. it. HAPPEN. Removing my, not one, not two, but THREE work inboxes has been the single greatest thing I’ve done for my sanity. Ever. Not exaggerating. And that was two years ago!!
More recently, I also added an auto-responder that you’re more than welcome to copy:
Thank you so much for your email. In an effort to optimize productivity, creativity, and thoughtful responses, I reply to emails on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings.
For more immediate assistance or project-related queries, please contact our Project Manager at [insert email address].
Thank you for your patience, and I look forward to getting in touch with you soon.
Do you know how many compliments I’ve gotten on this auto-responder?! Several, all from other business owners who see the potential for getting out of the inbox madness and back to being in control of their time.
I’ve also noticed that I receive fewer emails in general, since clients are now reaching out to our designated Project Manager instead. (And new clients no longer have my personal email.) This is just one way I am protecting my time to ensure that my BEST work is being done for myself, my team, and our clients.
Note: If you do have potential emergencies coming in via email, give those particular people your phone number, along with clear guidelines for using it. (Such as contractors, etc.)
This one is not for everyone but has also made a huge difference in my life. I took Facebook and Pinterest off my phone 2 years ago and have not once been tempted to go back. I haven’t removed Instagram yet, but as soon as I outsource it, it’s getting the boot, too.
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 create boundaries that are right for you.
O&B is now a team of 7 (including myself), and we use Asana and Slack to communicate. Asana is a project management software where we have step of our project workflows broken down by person. All of our communication is documented per project, so we aren’t losing things in our inboxes. 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, and it lets us communicate in real-time, which is perfect for a digital team in… 5 time zones. On the rare occasion that we have a matter to discuss that is easier to speak versus type out, we meet on Zoom.
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 in the U.S. (because I live in Switzerland and that’s afternoon my time), they won’t even see it until they log on for the day around 9am. And vice versa.
If you are managing several projects, it’s likely that you use an internal studio, such as MyDoma, for client communication. I can’t recommend this approach 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. (See my auto-responder recommendation in #1, which is helping!)
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, my business, and most of our clients are in the U.S., love took me to central Switzerland, where I don’t speak the native language (Swiss German) and it’s been hard to make friends — though I do have a few!
But naturally, what do I spend all my time doing? Working. 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 I’m a workaholic with few distractions. (Lol.) 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, the poor guy!
So, in an attempt to diversify my life, I’ve taken a no-work-talk approach my free time at home. Or at least, very-little-work-talk. 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 with our awesome Thermomix (seriously, get one)… in other words, living my life. Groundbreaking.
O&B was a solo outfit for my first two years in business. In 2020, we made our first hire and have grown by 1-2 people every year since. Safe to say, it has taken me equally as long to grow as a leader. And by that, I mean learning how to train, uplift, inspire, and LET GO.
How did I do it? I took time off. It was only when I stepped away from my desk for a week or two at a time (for trips, my wedding, etc.) that I have realized a remarkable thing — my team is 100% capable of managing without me! And I am similarly capable of trusting them and letting go.
Because even if something goes wrong and needs damage control, which has literally never happened, 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. And we have been fortunate (and intentional) about attracting clients who are evolving business owners, too. They get it.
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 a project you don’t really have the bandwidth for mean saying “no” to weekends enjoying family time?
Only you know the answers to that.
What I can tell you is that flexing your “no” muscles takes a lot of practice, especially if you’re a recovering people-pleaser like me. But instead, why not flip the question. What are you excited to say “YES” to? Write those things down so that when they show up, you’ll see them, recognize them, and be able to make them part of the future you’re really trying to build.
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 joyful partners in business. 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.
Guide & Checklist
Guide & Checklist