How to Set Personal Boundaries When You Work From Home

Do you crave a balance between your work and your personal life?

Most freelancers do, but the challenges of working from home can sometimes make life/work balance seem unattainable. You may feel like you are constantly being pulled towards both family and work commitments–a bit like being in the middle of a tug-of-war.

One answer that can help you achieve better balance between your work and personal life is boundaries. In this post, I’ll explain how boundaries help freelancers. I’ll also list some of the areas where you should consider establishing boundaries in your own freelancing business.

Why Boundaries Help

All of us have many personal and professional responsibilities. While sometimes the two can be handled simultaneously, often they cannot.

For most freelancers, boundaries can help maintain a semblance of order in their lives. When you set up a boundary, you are creating a separation between your work and personal life. Or, you are limiting the scope of your professional life so that it doesn’t affect your personal life. While some freelancers may not wish for such a division, most find it helpful.

Setting boundaries also helps protect freelancers from burnout. Without boundaries and with an office in your home, it can be just too tempting to work all of the time. But, overwork is a sure path to stress and ultimate burnout.

7 Areas Where Boundaries Can Help

Where should you set your boundaries? Every freelancer will have a different answer. Some may wish for a quiet environment, while others can happily work in the midst of a commotion. You will have to decide which boundaries will help you the most.

Here are some common boundaries that many freelancers set. You may find that one or more of these also works for you:

  1. Space boundaries. Many freelancers benefit from having a specific space dedicated to work in their home. This can be an actual home office with a door (think: spare bedroom) or an unused corner of a much larger room. Designating a particular space for work tells others in your home that the space is off-limits for other uses. Be sure to enforce your boundaries. If another family member wants to use your space, tell them that it is not available.
  2. Privacy boundaries. Often freelancers seek to keep personal information (such as their home phone number or the names of family members) separate from professional information. This can be accomplished with a dedicated business line. This keeps clients (and others) from calling you on your home phone at all hours of the night and day. Many freelancers also dedicate one social media platform (often Facebook) to sharing with friends and family only.
  3. Limiting interruptions. Interruptions can really throw a freelancer off. That’s why many freelancers develop a boundary that helps limit those interruptions. For physical interruptions, an office with a door helps. For telephone interruptions, requiring an appointment for calls (and otherwise using voice mail) can keep interruptions to a minimum. Some freelancers designate certain hours during the day as the “office hours” and only answer calls during those times.
  4. Managing expectations. It’s important to have happy clients. Surprisingly, one of the best ways get happy clients is by not promising too much initially and then exceeding expectations. If you fail to set a boundary of reasonable expectations with your client and promise too much, your clients will expect you to live up to your promises. Worse yet, they will have unreasonable expectations in future dealings with you as well.
  5. Limiting distractions. Distractions are everywhere. If they’re not managed carefully, distractions can really cut into a freelancer’s time. Who hasn’t lost track of time while surfing the Web? Fortunately, there are now many online tools to help you eliminate distractions. A good schedule can also help. If you plan how you are going to spend your day, you are less likely to fritter time away.
  6. Protecting your daily schedule. Limiting distractions and interruptions is just one way of protecting your time, but it is important to have boundaries in place to make sure that you get the most out of your day. Unfortunately, freelancers who work from home are often perceived as being “available.” Friends and family members come out of the woodwork to ask for favors. Make it clear that you work too. Refuse time-consuming tasks by stating unapologetically, “I’m sorry, I have to work.”
  7. Protecting personal time. As a freelancer, I’ve been tempted to work right through weekends and holidays, haven’t you? However, it’s important to take time off if you’re in freelancing for the long haul. That means you have to set aside personal time. When a client asks you to work on a day that you already have scheduled as a day off, try negotiating with that client. Usually they will understand.

Your Turn

How do you set boundaries in your freelancing business? Share some of the specific boundaries you’ve set and explain why you set them in the comments.

Image by sludgeulper

Comments

  1. says

    I like to think that as a family, we respect the work – personal life boundaries agreed upon together pretty well. I think that both work and family dynamics are in a state of near constant change. Because of this, it’s important to communicate, on paper, the expected boundaries and the importance of respecting the workspace as such by all (even the office inhabitant must respect the area as a work space, nothing else). Once agreed upon, it’s important to revisit the outline and adjust it according to the changing lifestyles, goals, and activities of the family unit.

    Do we always make it through until the quarterly adjustment meeting? No. But, we respect each other enough to understand that life just happens sometimes and it doesn’t give a whit about our neat and tidy little plan. ;-)

  2. says

    I think, for me, number 6 and number 7 are the toughest areas. I often find my self working evenings and weekends just because I can, rather than taking the personal time I should.

  3. says

    Just the way Laura said, you have to protect your daily schedule. So often, freelancers interrupt their work days themselves with laundry, household chores, etc. If I have something that MUST go out (even if it’s a deadline I set for myself), sometimes it’s easier to honor the commitment if I do that work-related project outside the home office. Sometimes working from home means not working from home.

  4. Aru says

    Hi! This is a bit unconventional and not very serious but… I dunno, I wanted to see what you guys think. I’ve been working at home for about eight months and at some point it all kind of turned into “working all day in my pajamas”. Is it like that for you too? Is it a normal phase or is it just me? Or I don’t know, does it have to do with the fact that I just got out of college? Haha ;)
    Thanks a lot for your tips, I’ll let you know how it goes :D
    Cheers!

  5. says

    Thank you so much for this, Laura! I’ve read a few books that touch on the subject of ‘space’ when it comes to business but they only claim it’s necessary and don’t tell you really how to accomplish it. I love the practical solutions to these problems, and they definitely are problems for me, and I’m sure for most work-from-home freelancers!

  6. Jason says

    @Aru, some will say to dress in work clothes, but if you feel more comfortable in nothing at all, casual clothes, a blanket? and still manage to be productive then who cares? it’s just what works best for you personally. If you find yourself not being productive while wearing casual clothes then it’s time to switch back to boring work clothes. It’s all about what patterns you have set yourself in.

  7. says

    I have what I call my work clothes (i.e. PJ’s) and love it.

    As far as rule #7 is concerned, I work whenever there is work and rest when all is quiet. I’m a new freelancer and I have to establish a routine so I don’t end up dying on the job.

    Living alone, well, no problem with family.

    Once you have put your finger in the problem all you have left is fix it.

    Happy freelancing.

  8. says

    I usually dedicate the morning hours to working without leaving my home office. I then use the afternoon to meet clients and expand my network. I have that schedule to be highly effective since it allows me to get work done in the morning while leaving room for interaction with others.

  9. says

    Number 3 is the big one for me… distractions. The home environment can be a minefield of distractions. Online communication & social media can also be a killer when it comes to distractions. I’ve found that going completely offline (including email) for a couple of hours each day can make a noticeable difference to my productivity levels.

  10. Grace says

    You are right about what you wrote especially about setting boundaries to eliminate distractions. You will surely be able to find more success when you get to set the limits in your business. I came across this video that tells about how you should set your boundaries when it comes to dealing with your business. http://marieforleo.com/2012/03/how-to-set-boundaries/

  11. Yves says

    Thanks for this post (I haven’t seen many others about this subject to be honest). One thing I was a bit disappointed that you didn’t mention were mobile phones and text messaging. Nowadays, employers and freelance colleagues seem to treat this in the same way email was once treated (except it’s infinitely more direct). I have major difficulties in getting clients and colleagues to understand that texting is–for me–for personal contacts and not business. The immediacy of it is disturbing (they can contact you immediately at any time). I have tried telling some colleagues straight up “The best way to reach me is email. I am quite inept with texts.” Which is only half honest… the truth is, they distract me and I find them intrusive. I have turned off the sound on my alert and then was besot by visual messages popping up on my screen at any given moment. I have now turned that off as well. But this is frustrating as I also get texts from friends I would like to speak to. What would you suggest (since in my case, telling someone once seemed to fail)?

  12. says

    Greetings! Quick question that’s totally off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My blog looks weird when viewing from my iphone4. I’m
    trying to find a theme or plugin that might be able to correct this problem.
    If you have any recommendations, please share. Thank you!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] How to Set Personal Boundaries When You Work From Home. “…the challenges of working from home can sometimes make life/work balance seem unattainable. You may feel like you are constantly being pulled towards both family and work commitments–a bit like being in the middle of a tug-of-war. One answer that can help you achieve better balance between your work and personal life is boundaries.” [...]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>