It can be tough to set boundaries at work and in your life in general. As entrepreneurs, we often feel like we have to say “yes” to every opportunity that comes our way to succeed or to please our friends and family around us. But setting boundaries at work and within your relationships is an important skill to master.
The lack of boundaries in work and your personal life can make you feel overworked, overwhelmed, and resentful of the things that used to give you joy.
Here’s how you can start regaining control of your time and energy.
Why healthy boundaries for leaders are important
Life as an entrepreneur can be hectic. But by setting healthy boundaries, you are able to create work-life balance and avoid burnout.
Setting boundaries at work also allows you to be more productive and efficient with your time. When you have healthy boundaries, you are able to say “no” to distractions and focus on what’s important.
How to know it’s time to set boundaries
You are the guardian of your energy. Others will only take as much as you let them. If you find yourself feeling resentful of your work, your employees, or clients, take a look at your own behaviors and how you react and respond to others.
Here are a few examples of signs you should look out for that could indicate you need to set boundaries:
- You feel like you are constantly working and never taking a break. This can lead to burnout and is not sustainable in the long run.
- You’re always saying yes to new opportunities, even if they’re not a good fit for you. Instead, you want to be selective and focus on the projects that are most likely to succeed.
- You feel like you’re spread too thin and trying to do everything yourself. This can lead to subpar work and ultimately undermine your own success.
- You’re not taking care of yourself physically or emotionally. This can impact your ability to make clear decisions and lead effectively.
How to Establish Boundaries at Work and In Your Personal Life
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” — Brené Brown.
When you establish strong mental, emotional, and personal boundaries, you’ll be able to create balance in your personal and work life. Here are some tips for how to get started.
Identify where you need boundaries
Start by identifying areas that require boundaries in order for you to stay focused and organized.
For example, if you find yourself responding to emails at all hours, your clients may begin to expect this from you all the time. Remind yourself that responding to 3 a.m. emails is neither helpful (you’re losing sleep) nor reasonable.
Granted, you’re an entrepreneur at least partly because of the flexibility, but consider scheduling communications instead of sending them in real time to prevent these unrealistic expectations. Or use these odd hours to complete internal (not client-facing) work.
Create processes that support your boundaries
One way to support your boundaries is to create processes that set you up for success. Having these processes in place makes it easier to stick to your boundaries and avoid burnout.
Many successful business owners use time blocking. Use your calendar to block out time each day to respond to emails. Try responding to emails only once or twice per day, rather than stopping your workflow to immediately respond every time you receive a message or email.
Enforce your boundaries
You’ve put in the effort to set boundaries. Now you want to enforce them. This may mean saying “no” more often or setting limits with clients and employees.
You also want to be consistent with your boundaries. If you find yourself making exceptions, it’s time to reevaluate your boundaries for the sake of your mental health and overall well-being.
In the example of email responses, you can try setting expectations when you first take on a new client. Explain from the beginning that you’re committed to responding to emails within 2 business days (or whatever reasonable timeline you set) and that emergency work or communication will be billed at a rush fee.
Set physical boundaries
Creating physical boundaries between your work and your personal life is essential, especially if you are doing remote work. This ensures that your personal space and workspace can be kept separate.
If you have a home office, consider keeping the door closed when you need uninterrupted work time. When using a co-working space, pop in some earbuds as a signal that you don’t want to be bothered if you find yourself chatting with others too often.
Another great example of physical boundaries in today’s digital world is to set the “Do Not Disturb” function on your personal devices, which mutes your notifications.
Set emotional boundaries
This may be the hardest trick to implement.
By setting emotional boundaries, you’re able to protect your mental health and emotional energy. This includes being mindful of the amount of time you spend on work-related tasks and setting limits for yourself when you’re not working.
You can also set boundaries with the people you work with. This may mean communicating your needs or limiting (ideally, entirely) business communication outside of normal working hours.
Set personal boundaries
A great example of a personal boundary is setting limits on the amount of time you spend talking about work with friends and family. As an entrepreneur, it may be tempting to spend your free time talking shop, but try setting a rule that work talk doesn’t happen at the dinner table or on weekends. You may find it a refreshing break from the mental load of work-related tasks.
Setting personal boundaries also means evaluating the relationships you have in your personal life. If you find that certain friends or family members leave you feeling drained after a visit or phone call, limit your interactions with those people. If your best friend doesn’t support your work or is critical of your significant other, have a discussion and agree that you’ll keep those topics off the table when you’re together.
Other examples of strong boundaries in business
- Set business hours — and respect them yourself. Taking lunch breaks and having a hard stop each day can help establish mental boundaries.
- Set a rule that you won’t answer phone calls after a certain hour or that you’ll only check email at certain times of the day.
- Establish processes around invoicing and contracts. This helps ensure that you’re getting paid for your work and are protected in case of disagreements.
- When it comes to invoicing clients, do so promptly and be clear about payment deadlines to avoid misunderstandings along the way.
- If you can’t have a separate room for an office, try to keep your work materials out of sight when you’re not using them.
Healthy boundaries mean healthy relationships
By following these tips, you’ll be on your way to creating a healthy work-life balance and strong relationships with those around you.
Remember, being patient with yourself as you establish new boundaries is important. It may take some time to get used to, but it will be worth it in the end.
If you aren’t sure how to begin or you need an accountability partner as you get started, reach out and inquire about our coaching services for entrepreneurs!