Hi everyone, and happy September! I hope you’ve had a nice summer. I’ve been trying to get outside as much as possible while the weather is nice, but have also been enjoying getting back down to business. I don’t have kids in school yet, but September always still feels like a fresh start to me!
This month I thought I would talk about something that I’ve been finding more and more important as I return to work: setting boundaries. My time is at such a premium these days that I’ve had to think long and hard about what I want and need (and should) be spending it on, and setting boundaries has been extremely helpful to me.
And as always, I’ve included my tech editing availability for the coming month. As the summer winds down, knitters are reaching for their needles, making this a busy time for designers and tech editors alike. My availability is still fairly limited as I work part-time while taking care of my son. Get in touch soon if you’ve got a pattern nearly ready for editing, as my September spots are already more than half full!
As I have been slowly returning to work, I’ve been trying to find ways to save time and minimize both the amount of time wasted on administrative tasks, and the personal/family time spent distracted by work.
One thing I have realized is that when you are self-employed, and especially when your business is someone else’s hobby, people expect you to be constantly available. On all channels. They expect to be able to DM you on Instagram from their mobile phone on a Sunday afternoon and receive a response within hours. And many of us will respond because it’s convenient, and because we don’t want to let people down. The more frequently you respond to emails and DMs, the more people expect you to be constantly available.
I recently had a customer email me on a Friday night and then follow up within hours when I didn’t respond right away to their pattern support question. I do understand how it happens – they are relaxing at home on a Friday night working on a knitting project and they get stuck, so they reach out for help.
Even so, I have realized that I do not have to be constantly available on every platform to provide good customer service. I get to set the rules. And as long as these rules are clearly communicated, and I follow through and meet the expectations I set, I can still create a positive customer experience without feeling like I am always working. It also helps eliminate distractions, which makes me much more productive (and helpful!) when I am working.
Here are a few things I have done to help set boundaries and be more productive.
1. Turn off notifications for emails and DMs
I actually did this a long time ago for non-urgent emails, and it’s a great first step back from constant availability. For me, there’s nothing more distracting than having emails constantly popping up while you are either a) working on something important or b) enjoying personal or family time.
(If you’re not ready to turn off email notifications, I still recommend muting them while you are working on something that requires your full attention!)
I have actually gone one step further than this and have set up filters so that only urgent emails show up in my inbox. Everything else gets labeled and immediately moved to a folder for me to deal with during the time I set aside to answer emails.
2. Set “office hours”
I have a set time every day when I check/respond to emails. I think of it as “office hours”. The hours are listed on my website, my Ravelry designer page, and in my email auto-responder.
Do I actually check my email more than once a day? Of course. I am frequently going back and forth with designers when I am editing patterns, for example. But I try very hard to limit pattern support and responses to new inquiries to my posted office hours. This is much easier to stick to when notifications are off!
3. Set an email auto-responder
I have an email auto-responder set at all times. This may seem like overkill, but I think it’s a great way to ensure everyone who contacts me knows what to expect. During the week it looks like this:
Then on Friday afternoons, I change it to this:
I have the templates saved in a Google Doc so that on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons I can simply copy and paste the text from the Google Doc to my auto-responder to update it.
4. Specify how you wish to be contacted
Not only do you not have to be available all the time, but you also don’t have to be available via every possible method of communication. For example, it’s ok to specify that you only provide pattern support via email if that’s what works for you. I recently turned off Facebook messages for my business page and instead listed my email address in the “About” section.
Whenever I get pattern support questions on Ravelry or Instagram, I will always ask the knitter to send me an email. This not only helps me stay focused on what I am doing, but it allows me to keep track of requests and make sure nothing falls through the cracks!
5. Set up a specific email address for urgent emails
Before I went on maternity leave, I set up urgent AT kniterations DOT ca. Most people have someone else covering for them while they’re away, but when you’re self-employed you don’t have that luxury. I wanted to be sure that even though I was off, I would see any urgent messages and be able to respond to them quickly. I also wanted to take time fully “off” after my son was born, and didn’t want to feel obligated to respond to non-urgent business.
Setting up a separate “urgent” email address, with those emails forwarded to my personal inbox, gave me peace of mind that I wouldn’t let anyone down. And now that I’m working again, I’m still finding it to be a helpful tool to stay focused and avoid distraction.
It’s important to remember that it’s ok to set boundaries. As long as you set clear expectations, and follow through on what you promise, it’s a great way to avoid distraction, be more productive, and protect your precious personal/family time while still providing great customer service.
Tech Editing Availability
I have the following tech editing spots available for September:
Sept 9-13: all booked up!
- Sept 16-20: 1 spot remaining
- Sept 23-27: 2 spots available
Get in touch ASAP if you’d like to reserve a spot!