One of the greatest challenges of small business owners, myself included, is setting boundaries. This is in large part due to advances in technology. We can work from ANYWHERE! Oh look, I can go to the beach on Wednesday as long as I have my blackberry. But, in reality, we don’t go to the beach on Wednesday. We work… and continue to work into the night. Work is only a small 3×4 keypad away.
Our definition of work has also changed in the last 30 years. In some ways work has become more fun with all this gadgetry so we don’t mind “working”. Work has also become undefined and never-ending. In David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done” he talks about how work no longer has clear boundaries:
“A major factor in the mounting stress level is that the actual nature of our jobs has changed much more dramatically and rapidly than have our training for and our ability to deal with work. In just the last half of the twentieth century, what constituted “work” in the industrialized world was transformed from assembly-line, make-it and move-it kinds of activity to what Peter Drucker has so aptly termed “knowledge work.”
In the old days, work was self-evident. Fields were to be plowed, machines tooled, boxes packed, cows milked, widgets cranked. You knew what work had to be done—you could see it. It was clear when the work was finished, or not finished. Now, for many of us, there are no edges to most of our projects. Most people I know have at least half a dozen things they’re trying to achieve right now, and even if they had the rest of their lives to try, they wouldn’t be able to finish these to perfection.”
Today, I’m going to give you 5 tips for defining boundaries:
- Get Organized
The “Getting Things Done” methodology of organization and project management is wildly popular. I highly recommend reading David Allen’s book if you are seeking a better organization method and better way to streamline your work. In it he discusses how all of “the stuff” in our lives affects how we work. Stacks of papers on your desk may seem innocent. (I’m the first one to say that I have “organized mess”.) The reality is that these stacks pull our attention away from focusing on what needs to be done. Just the fact that the stack is there represents something “a bit off”. Yesterday, Kelly Simants talked about feng shui for the office. A box of “unfinished business” or a “pile of denial” needs to be dealt with first. It’ll bring you peace of mind and focus for your work.
- 30 Minutes a Day
I talk a lot abut spending 30 minutes a day on a challenging project. Use 30 minutes a day to organize your office. I recently moved cross-country. I was able to purge a lot before leaving Seattle. But, if you’ve moved anywhere in the last 5 years, you’ll know that there are still some “skeletons” that make their way into your new home: files you didn’t get to filter through, clothing you thought you needed and wanted, things that just don’t make sense or fit in your new house or office. My to-do list every day includes “30 minutes clean computer or paper files”. I’d love to take off a whole week to get my office organized, but that’s unrealistic for me. It’s amazing what you can do in 30 minutes without interruptions. I set the timer and go.
- Break up your work into projects
David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” methodology includes clearly defining your work into projects. This is very important in defining boundaries. We do so many things as small business owners. And, these things seem to have no edges. By creating projects, we define the edges. Within each of these projects there are steps to accomplish them. There are also endings to projects. This also goes beyond our client management, which generally, we already break into “projects by wedding”. It also relates to our other internal projects.
- Spend 15-30 minutes at the end of the day clearing your head and your desk
Ideally we’d set a time to finish our work day at 5:30pm and be done with it. This is a great boundary to set, if you can. But often times 5:30 turns to 6 turns to 7. While I still think you should strive to have a hard ending to your day, it’s equally as important to spend the last half hour of the day getting things off of your mind and off of your desk. It does no good to finish your work day at 5:30 if you are going to spend the rest of the night thinking of everything you didn’t get done. It’s better to finish “clear-minded”. When you are closing your day, turn off your email and your alerts, and your phone. Spend 15-30 minutes writing EVERYTHING down… everything on your mind, everything you *still* have to do (there’s always tomorrow), everything that is outstanding. And, clear off your desk. How can you focus on your family and friends when you are still thinking about work?
- Take a break
I feel like the greatest obstacle to creating boundaries can be the fact that sometimes I’m just overworked. When you are tired and burned out, you have no perspective. If you need a refresher on taking a break, read my 10 tips on finding balance.
What are your tips for defining boundaries?