To start this off, I’m going to be completely real with you.
I’ve had trouble with this topic for years! Struggling with the work from home life when it comes to scheduling, setting boundaries for my time and my efforts, and even saying no to people when they ask me to take some time out of my day for them.
BUT that absolutely did not get me any further ahead. In fact, it definitely held me back in my potential.
Now, let me guess. Since you’re here, I assume you are having one, or all, of the same issues I experienced for far too long.
I’m first going to tell you something super important… it’s okay, it’s normal and it’s perfectly understandable that you feel lost or confused or guilty saying no to somebody (especially if it’s someone you love).
However, it’s not okay if you let it continue.
Now that you’re aware of your behavior and the importance of setting boundaries and saying no, it’s time to work on changing for the better. So that you can focus on being productive all hours of your work day, so that you can say no to more opportunities that don’t resonate with your vision, and so that you can say yes to opportunities that do extend your voice.
Let’s jump right into it.
Set Boundaries Based on Your Goals
What do I mean by “setting boundaries”?
Well, it could mean a lot of things. It could include setting a daily schedule that you stick to. Setting goals and writing down the steps to reach those goals. Determining the things you need to focus more on in your business AND the things that you seem to find yourself doing that do not move the needle and shouldn’t hold so much of your attention.
Ask yourself the following questions, and write down your answers!
That’s right, take a pen and paper or your favorite organizational app, and physically write down your responses. This will help guide you to the boundaries you need to put in place.
- What are your main goals right now? (Do you need to get more products up? Connect with your customers on a deeper level? Finish building your website? Complete daily projects for your clients?)
- For each of your goals, what steps do you need to take in order to get there? (Break each goal down into smaller, doable tasks that you can check off.)
- Based on the steps you’ve determined, what tasks or areas should you be focusing most of your time on?
- What tasks or areas should you NOT be focusing your time on? What (or who) gets in the way of your work? What needs to be put on the back burner in order to help accelerate your progress?
- What time of day do you find yourself putting in the best work and being the most productive? (Early mornings, late afternoons, evenings, etc.)
- How long can you work on one task or project for, before you start fading, drifting off, moving slower or subconsciously looking for distractions?
Once you’re done answering these questions in as much detail as you can, move onto the next set of questions below. Then we’ll talk about them together, as a whole.
Saying “No” Unapologetically and Confidently
Keep in mind just because you say no to someone, it doesn’t mean you don’t care or don’t love them. It means you are putting yourself and your business first.
There’s plenty of time after you put away your work for the day to connect with these people, but you don’t want to let them take up your whole day with their distractions.
You’ll never progress in business by letting other people get in your way.
You only have so much time and you should be investing most of it in yourself.
So, with that in mind, ask yourself the following questions. I encourage you to answer objectively and don’t let your emotions get in the way of being honest.
- Is there anybody in your life that is around you often during your work day, providing many interruptions? (This could include people who live with you, text, email, message you on social media or call you frequently, even daily.)
- Is there anything that you are working on right now because somebody asked you to? Or are you working on something that you started in the past and know deep down you aren’t excited to continue (but you feel pressured to follow through with an old promise)?
- Is there anything that you’re working on that isn’t extending your vision or your voice?
Great! Now that you’ve answered all of these questions, we can evaluate and figure out how exactly you can set proper boundaries and structure your day.
Putting it All Together
As hard as it may be, the first step is to cut out all unhealthy distractions and unfulfilling projects.
How do you do this?
If this involves people that don’t respect your time during the work day (for example, maybe they think you have all this free time because you “work from home”), tell each individual that you can no longer answer phone calls or messages during the day while you’re working. You have a new system in place and you’re sticking to it and to please respect your time.
If the people live with you, try to set up a home office or office nook (see my blog post on how to do this) in a quiet area of your home, away from others. If necessary, invest in a pair of noise cancelling headphones so that you can cut out the background noise.
Do you check your email as it comes in, have a News app on your phone that sends notifications or find yourself scrolling through Instagram way too often?
CUT. IT. OUT.
You heard me. Cut it out! Distractions KILL productivity to the point where it’s nonexistent.
Turn off your email sounds, social media notifications and anything else that pops up on your phone or computer throughout the day. If it’s really bad, try putting your phone in a different room while you’re working, just until you train yourself to have some restraint.
It can be difficult to practice self control while you’re at home because there’s soo many potential distractions, but it’s a necessary part of the learning curve as an entrepreneur.
What about unfulfilling projects you’re no longer interested in?
Before you do anything, get rid of the guilt. I know it’s there. I know you hate thinking that you’re “quitting” and not following through on something.
But you know what? None of that is true anymore.
You don’t have the same goals and the same vision as you used to when you first started that project. You’re not giving up on something – you’re actually making space for the new goals that are closer to your heart and that will lead you to the success you now wish to have.
Free yourself from unnecessary burdens. Promise yourself you will do whatever it takes to shape a clutter-free life so that you can enjoy every step of this new path and invest your time into something that fills you up.
Next, assign a time block to each task.
Your daily schedule should have chunks of time labeled with each important task that needs to get done that day.
Can’t work on something for longer than an hour? (This should be in one of the responses you wrote down.) Then don’t create time blocks longer than that.
You know how you work best, so use that to your advantage. If frequent breaks actually help you work smarter in those time blocks, take action to schedule breaks in between.
At the same time, if you enjoy working on certain things more than others, make sure you don’t spend all day doing the fun things and pushing aside the other less exciting, but still critical, tasks. (I found myself doing this often and quickly realized it needed to change.) This is exactly why sticking to the time blocks is essential.
Tackle the must-do tasks during your most productive hours.
Work best in the early morning? Start your day off with the number one most important thing you need to do that day. Find yourself fading fast after 2pm? Give yourself easy to-do’s during the mid to late afternoons. Maybe save the fun tasks for this time block.
Here are some examples from my own life…
Sometimes it’s easier to learn from someone and follow their examples. For that reason, I’ll mention a few boundaries I’ve recently set for myself and ways I personally say no to distractions.
I use a written planner to schedule my days.
It has a column for each day of the week, where I write down (in order) the tasks I plan to check off for the day.
I know how long it takes me to complete certain activities, so I allow myself just enough time to get it done, but not too much where I can waste time with distractions while I work.
I work best in the mornings, from 7am to 10am.
After that, I start to get tired and hungry and need a break. BUT when I first wake up, sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed if I know I have something difficult to work on right away.
So for that reason, I start off with easy tasks like social media scheduling or answering emails for a half hour or so. Then I tackle the most important stuff (or most difficult, or the stuff that requires the most concentration).
By the time my 10 o’clock break rolls around I’ve already completed a lot.
I leave the fun activities and exciting tasks for later on in the afternoon, when I start to lose motivation or can’t concentrate on things that require lots of thinking (haha). This is when I like to use my creativity for designing new products, working on my website and so on.
One issue I’ve struggled with is actually completing the crucial but boring tasks. Things that don’t light me up or necessarily make me happy.
I found myself pushing these things so far back each day that I just wouldn’t even do them at all, and instead I’d focus all my time on the fun stuff. This is why time blocking has worked for me, so that I force myself to do the important stuff that moves the needle in my business daily.
A big distraction for me is social media.
My solution? I turned off all notifications on my phone. I never see Instagram or Facebook or emails pop up, so they’re no longer in my face and tempting me to open the apps.
Another distraction? Having business partners.
In two of my businesses, I work with a partner. This means I’m constantly getting messages from those people, questions, ideas or other factors requiring attention.
If you’re in a similar situation, you might have a partner asking you to work on something for that business right then and there.
To get out of the obligation of answering my partner immediately, I tell them what time of day I’m focusing on that particular business or task. If it’s urgent, I make note of it and fit it in my day when I see an opportunity. If it can wait, I schedule it in during the proper time block sometime over the next few days.
They both know that I have other things to put my time into as well, and I’m grateful that I’m able to have understanding, flexible partners!
As for friends that want to hang out with me or call me while I’m working, I tell them I’m sorry but it will have to wait. I’m in the middle of something and I’ll get back to you at this time.
I do go out during the day sometimes, and I do schedule plans on weekdays. But I do this with caution and planning.
If I take some time off one day, I don’t take more time off during the following few days. I allow myself time to have fun but then make sure I’m putting enough time in during the rest of the week so that I can still accomplish what’s necessary.
Also, planning is essential. I let my friends know that they need to give me notice so that I can plan my work around it that day, instead of completing pushing my business aside.
If anybody gives me a hard time, all I say is “I’m learning to set boundaries in my life so that I can be more productive with my business. I hope you understand but I can’t say yes this time.”
It’s completely acceptable to live your personal life alongside your business, I actually encourage it! As long as you are setting boundaries for yourself and you understand what needs to get done and how it will get done, then everything will go smoothly for you.
With boundaries in place, you’ll know when it is and isn’t acceptable for you to say yes to an opportunity.
You’ll have a clear vision and be able to follow it confidently.
So, get your plan in place.
Write down your responses to the questions, set boundaries and make a list of things you will say YES to and things you will say NO to in your life. If it helps, stick it on your wall beside your desk or wherever you spend the most time.
Live by those boundaries and watch how good it feels to be organized, confident and unapologetic.
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