I reached over and grabbed my phone off of the nightstand. Still early, 6:30 Saturday morning, so my first thought was to rollover and go back to sleep. But then I saw it. Seven messages from a client. Clearly there must be an emergency!
I bolted upright in bed and scrolled through each message with the impending doom feeling in the pit of my stomach. By the time I got to the end of the messages, the doom had turned to rage. At first, I was grateful and relieved that everything was fine, but then I was so angry that this client clearly had no respect for my time and no professional boundaries.
The same client had also tried to phone me the Friday evening before, as well as sending an email. And now 7 messages asking me to meet that day. None of what he wanted to talk about was critical in any way, it was a holiday long weekend AND we already had a meeting scheduled for Tuesday!
I work from home. Sometimes people think that means I sit around eating popcorn and binge-watching Netflix all day. They imagine that I have all the time in the world and that because I don’t go to an office that they are free to contact me anytime, day or night. Over the past 20 years, I have had calls from clients every day of the year – of course evenings and weekends, but also Easter Sunday and yes, even Christmas Day.
I realized that if I was going to grow my business and stay sane, I was going to have to start implementing some boundaries in my business.
Sanity And Productivity Suffers
I had started to burn out from never taking a full day off, and my productivity had gone down because I wasn’t getting enough sleep. My response to everything was nearly immediate and I got sidetracked easily. I knew I could not keep going much longer and my business would implode.
Humans are not machines. They cannot function on a few hours of sleep. I had deluded myself into thinking that I needed to have my phone beside my bed “in case of emergency”. I also told myself that 5 to 6 hours of sleep was enough. Productivity studies show that lack of sleep can put people into the same category as being impaired by drugs or alcohol.
These days, although I still have my phone in the bedroom, I have it on silent. In addition to that, I’ve turned on the night time feature, which means that I don’t get any notifications during the night.
Fear Of Missing Out
As a Digital Marketing Consultant, I have clients around the world so I need to be available for different time zones. What I realized was that I had this fear that my clients would leave me if I wasn’t available around the clock. I resisted putting boundaries on my time for these reasons and also because I actually don’t mind working odd hours.
However, there’s a difference in me doing work during evenings and weekends and taking client meetings outside of “office” hours. When I’m writing or doing any kind of work that requires concentration, interruptions can kill the creativity.
It became critical in my business to separate my work time from my client meeting time by implementing a schedule that allowed me enough time to get my work done, while still being available enough hours for my clients.
Once I made the decision to implement a work schedule for myself and a meeting schedule for my clients, not only did I start feeling better, but my business changed too. Most clients respected the schedule immediately and those that didn’t, did not last much longer on my client roster.
Customer Service Is Terrible
Although it seems counter-intuitive, being available less can actually create a better customer service experience. When I was available all the time and responded to every single message or phone call immediately, I may not have always provided the best advice. This type of response is typically reactionary. In some cases a quick answer could be fine, but many times a longer, more carefully worded response would have served the client better.
Most clients would prefer a more professional response rather than hurried, casual feedback. Even when a company has people handling customer service duties, and are available longer hours, sometimes a better response is to acknowledge the client and let them know that their request will be fulfilled shortly. This gives the customer service rep to research and return better information to the client.
Even in this age of immediate online information, most people don’t expect 24-hour response. It’s unrealistic in many cases and unsustainable.
Some companies use autoresponders to respond to email, while others are using Facebook Messenger bots to communicate immediately. I love the instant response these tech solutions provide, while at the same time allowing the business to get back to the customer during their regular business hours.
Companies that put boundaries in place have a much better chance at longevity. Growing a company is hard work and without implementing any framework for their time, it could result in the company not surviving.