I have been in the freelance writing business for more than five years now and this past Christmas was the first time I really flexed my vacation muscles.
About a month before the holiday I included a message at the bottom of each of my outgoing emails, which outlined that my offices would be closed from December 24-January 4, for the holidays.
I admit I was scared to even write that and I held my breath when I sent my first client email with that line at the bottom. I was terrified people would be mad that I was taking time away from work. I’m serious.
I had gotten so used to jumping at clients’ every needs that I forgot that it was ok to take time for myself and my family.
And do you know what? A funny thing happened. I had sales reps and clients sending me information and asking me questions about projects saying we should get these details hammered out before the holidays so that they wouldn’t bother me on vacation.
I started to breathe a little better.
And then I realized that what I was doing was setting a boundary. If I allowed people to contact me 24 hours, 7 days a week, then that’s what they would do. It was up to me.
What started with stepping away during the holidays showed me that I could set more boundaries, with others and with myself.
I started by turning off email notifications on my phone overnight. In the past I may see a client email come through at 2 a.m. (sometimes they work late, sometimes they’re in different time zones) and I felt like I needed to take care of their question or issue right then. I lost a lot of sleep.
Once I set email boundaries, I moved on to office hours. I would be available to clients for certain hours each day. I may still be working during the other hours, but I wasn’t on call.
One way I ensured this was to be mindful of when I was sending emails. If I was awake and working at 5 a.m., I may write emails but instead of sending them, I would save them to my “drafts” folder. Then between 8 and 9 a.m. I would send them all out.
If you’re sending emails at 5 a.m., people may think they can call you at 5 a.m. True story.
Now that the boundaries have been set I am starting to relax more and more. I still probably work too much because there are always things to write and it’s a never-ending cycle, but at least now I feel like I can see more clearly what needs to be done. Now that the weather is warming up, I destress by working in the garden and digging in the dirt. I might be thinking of projects in my head on occasion, but I feel the tension leave my shoulders and that’s exactly what I need.
I think these types of realizations come with age – at least, that’s what I’ve heard.
Maybe you’ve already been doing this for years and that is awesome! What other ways do you set boundaries?