You’re justified in using a network tool if you can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything you might possibly miss out on if you don’t use it – [Deep Work]
This extends far past social networks though. The **Any-Benefit** mindset is one that permeates the thinking of business owners. If any opportunity might maybe have some benefit, they want to dive in. This is how you get to 6 networking events in 5 nights.
This is how you take every call at all hours just in case there is some deal that might possibly turn into a sale. This is how you take on projects that really aren’t your specialty. You just can’t say no. If you want to run a successful and sane business, and still have a life outside of that work, you need to start putting boundaries up.
Why boundaries are helpful
Recently my wife had a board meeting on short notice on the same night I had committed to speak somewhere locally. One of our boundaries is that if I’m going out in the evenings for business is that we don’t hire a babysitter. With my wife having a meeting now, we had to hire a babysitter if I was going to speak.
But that’s not what happened. I cancelled the speaking engagement much to the anger of the organizer. They called me a bunch of terrible names, and I’m happy I stuck to my boundaries. Having this boundary in place meant I didn’t need to think about keeping the speaking engagement. It was against ‘the rules’ so it got cancelled.
Every day, we have a well of decisions to draw on. Each decision we make means we draw from the well. The lower the well gets the more likely we are to make poor decisions. If you can choose not to eat a bunch of cookies at 10am, you’re much less likely to be able to do the same thing at 10pm. This idea is called decision fatigue and we all deal with it.
By establishing rules/boundaries, we can take so many decisions out of the day. This preserves our mental energy for the tough decisions we should be making.
Change your thinking
While it’s easy for me to tell you that you need to set boundaries, it can take a fairly large mindset shift to feel comfortable with enforcing boundaries. For most of our lives we’ve been trained to take on the troubles of others as our own troubles. When your kid says they can’t find their shoes or their coat, you jump into action and fix the problem.
But it’s not actually your problem if they go outside and get a bit wet in the rain. It’s their problem and they should put their coat away properly. This same idea goes for anyone that reaches out to you. If their site is broken, that’s not your problem. If it got hacked, it’s not your problem unless you have a contract with them to fix issues with their site.
Prospects become clients when they give you money to make it your problem. It’s not your problem until you have accepted them as a client.
Even clients you’ve worked with in the past fall into this. If you did a project 6 months ago and there is a problem now, it’s not your problem. It’s their problem. Recognizing who has a problem and who does not, frees you up to stick with your boundaries.
It means when that 6 month old client emails you on Friday at 4pm demanding that you work on the weekend, you can say no. It’s not your problem, it’s their problem. It means that when a prospect says they can’t make it to any of your available meeting times, it’s their problem.
It doesn’t matter how much they need you and may plead with you to take a call outside of your ideal times, you stick to your boundaries and work with clients that will make the time to work with you because they view you as the expert. If you’re on board with setting boundaries, here are some suggestions to get started.
No Phone in the Bedroom or Office
We’ve all done a poor job at being an adult as we stay up way too late looking at things that don’t matter. Combat this, by not taking your phone or tablet into the bedroom. Better yet, put it in a drawer when you’re at home and leave it there unless you need it.
My phone doesn’t sit on my desk. I sits in that drawer under my TV all day. That’s the same place it sits all night. Since I work at home the only person that really has an emergency I need to deal with is downstairs with our kids. She can simply call up the stairs or send our six year old to get me.
If they are out, I put the phone in my backpack in my office. It’s not out where I’m tempted to dip in to Instagram instead of doing the work I should be doing. No one else has an emergency that warrants interrupting my focused work time.
Limit your call times
Interruptions are the bane of thoughtful creative work. You get rolling on some code or a design and…you have to stop to take a call. Maybe you try to get focused again quickly, but it takes you about 25 minutes to get back on task.
In fact as that call comes up you know you can’t dig into the hard creative work you thrive on so you don’t bother. Instead you dip into email or Twitter. If you figure 2 calls a day then you can probably figure 2 hours of not being at your maximum creative potential. Every single day.
By batching your calls in to a single day of the week you can only focus on those calls. I do new prospect calls on Tuesday’s and coaching calls on Friday’s. I even only check email those 2 days so that I have 3 days a week where I can only focus on the creative work I need to produce. Pick a day for calls and don’t take calls on other days.
Set a project minimum
Not every sale is a good sale because not every project is profitable. For many web projects you need to set up FTP, site access, and the client on your project management system. These are all costs that are incurred against the project which means doing a small project, of say less than $100, is not worth the investment it takes to set the project up.
And we didn’t even count the time it took you to sell the project in the first place which should be counted against the profitability of the work. Remember, just because someone has a problem doesn’t mean that it’s your problem. My project minimum for new clients is $1500.
Existing clients I enjoyed working with get a much lower minimum, but that’s only because I know how easy it was to work with them and I’m already set up to work on their site. In general you should be looking at your projects every quarter to identify what the most profitable ones are and then doing more of those projects.
You should be cutting the projects that aren’t producing as much profit in your business. While your project minimum may not go up every quarter, you should be looking at it as a way to evaluate which clients and which projects you’re willing to work on.
As you work boundaries into your life, remember that you’re doing it so you can provide your best work to your clients. You’re not being difficult just to be difficult. You want to do good work and sticking to your boundaries allows you to provide that good work to clients.
The clients that recognize this, will happily conform to your boundaries. Those that get angry about a limited number of calls have only identified themselves as people that are not your ideal client.