Having a life, not just a business
I have to confess, when I first became a business owner I was really terrible at setting boundaries.
Truth be told, I was pretty poor at it before too but it got much worse when I started working for myself. I found myself saying Yes to pretty much everything, however unreasonable. Jump on a call on a Saturday evening? Sure. Rearrange our appointment at 5 minutes notice? No problem. Squeeze another coaching session into an already full schedule? Absolutely. Whatever you want…
FOMO was definitely rampant, coupled with a generous serving of low confidence and fear of failure. I grabbed every opportunity that came my way, whether it was right or not and tied myself up in knots to accommodate everyone else without a thought to what it was doing to me.
No great surprise, after 12 months of doing that I was exhausted — and to be honest, my business wasn’t really benefiting either. Only I didn’t realize it at the time. It was only when I happened across the notebook I’d used when I’d been reading Tim Ferris’ 4 Hour Work Week that the penny dropped.
I was reminded one of the reasons I’d moved from employed to business owner was to get more control over my own schedule. And it was patently clear that wasn’t happening — not even close.
I’d love to be able to say I changed things overnight. I didn’t, it took a while and it’s still a Work In Progress. But I realized that how it was didn’t need to be how it stayed, and that it would only change if I took some positive action to change things.
So what did I do?
In no particular order:
- I started setting my own ‘personal policies’ — as in, I have a personal policy of not responding to complicated business emails at the weekend, I have a personal policy of letting voicemail pick up my calls after 8pm, I have a personal policy not to reschedule catch ups with friends just because a client wants to shift an appointment.
[Footnote: As with all ‘rules’, I make exceptions. But I choose to make them intentionally]
- I made a list of what was important for me to have in my life (every day, every week, every month, at least once) and consciously scheduled time for those things — running 3 times a week, volunteering, cooking meals for my family, things that I know bring me joy.
- I make active use of scheduling tools (I use Calendly) and let it make the scheduling decisions for me based on the set of rules I set for it. Hours when I will take calls or schedule meetings, limits on numbers of calls/meetings each day, buffers between events. When computer says No, that’s it.
[Footnote 2: Obviously I make exceptions, but again it’s because I choose to make them rather than allowing myself to fall into them]
- I make lists of what needs to be done — personal as well as professional — & then use technology to help me manage them. This means I’m not using headspace trying to remember everything. For me it’s as simple as using reminders on my calendar and snoozing emails until they need to be dealt with.
[Footnote 3: Emails — and indeed any requests — that can be resolved in 30 seconds or less are best dealt with there & then. Putting them off just doubles the effort in my experience. And there’s nothing more exhausting than the prospect of a full to bursting email inbox!]
- On which point, I decided to stop being a slave to emails, texts & notifications. They invariably do not have to be answered or looked at immediately. Choose when to look at them. Every time we switch attention, we lose momentum. If you can drive, walk or shower without looking at your phone, you can choose to do it at other times too.
- And still on the same point, have a good filing system — real, digital & in your emails. It really does make life easier & less overwhelming in so many ways.
- With the To Do lists, I now choose intentional priorities for each day and each week — things that will keep me moving forwards when I achieve them. It’s not about clearing the To Do list, but knowing which are more important and focusing on them. As Stephen Covey said, scheduling our priorities not prioritizing our schedules.
[Footnote 4: If there’s something that never makes it to the Priority tasks and doesn’t get done otherwise, my first question is always What difference will doing this make? And then, What happens if I don’t? If the benefits & also the consequences are both small, then it comes off the list. If it’s the other way round, I force myself to put it on the Priority List the next day and just do it!]
- I’ve also set a policy of saying Yes to friends, family & social events instead of putting them off ‘just in case’ someone needs me in the business. In other words, I work my business round my life and not the other way round. The same goes for making space for ‘me-time’ — things I love doing and that bring me joy. Making sure to have something like that every day fills my well & rebuilds my resilience.
- I learned that some things can just wait, and the world (or my business) will not fall apart if they’re not done immediately.
- Equally, I learned that I’m not necessarily the best person to do everything — I may be able to do something but is it the best way to use my time or is there something more productive/profitable that I should be doing instead? Knowing what to keep, what to outsource and what not to do at all has been liberating.
- Finally, I accepted that the recommendations about sleep, exercise & diet are there for a reason and I should pay attention to them. I’m not always perfect, but I am conscious & intentional.
I’m not suggesting that these will work for everyone. Nor am I saying that they are all necessary.
What I am saying, however, is that setting boundaries & finding strategies to maintain them are essential parts of being successful in business & in life. Without them we drive ourselves into the ground and end up being no use to anyone.
Hustle is all very well, but life is for living and we should be as intentional about it as we are about our businesses.