I’ve been working full-time as a creative freelancer for more than a year now. Working from home and setting my own schedule is pretty great, but believe it or not, there are some downsides to not having a boss to tell you what to do. There’s no rulebook when it comes to working for yourself, so you spend a lot of time wondering, Am I doing this right? Is there a better way to do this? Hello? Anyone?
I’ve been lucky in that I’ve found an amazing creative community here in Toronto, and that I am now able to work exclusively for incredible companies and individuals. Both of these groups of people teach me something new almost every single day and continually challenge my thinking on so many ideas around work, productivity, balance, and happiness.
That said, a lot of my work habits and routines are a weird mishmash of tidbits I’ve found on podcasts, a whole lot of trial and error, and asking myself good, thoughtful questions.
One of my favourite questions to ask lately is:
Is this the expectation I want to be setting?
Put differently: Is the action I’m taking right now what I want to teach people to expect from me going forward?
It’s amazing how much this one little question clarifies things for me and helps me set boundaries without needing to have a “tough conversation” with someone, either in a professional or personal context. Whether or not you work for yourself, this question can be helpful in all kinds of different settings.
Here are some examples where I’ve recently let this question inform my choices:
I try to never answer a work email after “quitting time”. Whether or not I’m working that night on other projects or at my computer, I don’t want to set the expectation that you can expect a response from me outside of work hours. I also turn off Slack notifications after work, and close the app entirely during periods of the work day when I want to get down to business and not be distracted. Responding more slowly means that people won’t constantly expect you to respond right away! It’s like magic. It goes without saying that you can’t totally drop the ball and expect to keep your job, but pacing your responses is something we can all do, within reason. I’d go so far as to say it’s something that we all have to do, in order to keep our sanity.
For a few months, there were days when I’d find myself having long text conversations with friends and family during my work hours. Yes, I set my own schedule, but the truth is that I know what my productive hours are and messages pinging in all day makes it really hard to stick to them! I now try to respond later in the day, for example on my lunch break, to avoid the “instant-messaging” type of conversations during hours that are crucial to my productivity. Putting my phone and computer on Do Not Disturb mode helps with this immensely so that I don’t have to resist temptation: I don’t even know the messages are coming in until I’m in a better place to respond to them.
When I first moved to the city, I was so desperate to hang out with my friends that I would always offer to come to their homes or locations that were convenient to them. This would sometimes mean that I was going an hour and a half out of my way for a short visit. Of course, I don’t regret any of these meet ups – I love my friends and have been so happy to live in a city where I’m nearby so many of them. What I do regret is setting the expectation that it will always be me who will travel out of my way to meet up. Balance is important in any relationship, and it is up to me to communicate my expectations by suggesting places closer to a halfway point or in my own neighbourhood.
In all of these cases my choices reflect my own values and are specific to my life. That’s why the question is so open-ended! Maybe you want to set different expectations from me, and that’s great too: the point is to be intentional about your actions. For you, maybe it’s about re-assessing how often you organize events for your friends, or how much money you’re charging clients, or how often you’re cleaning up after your roommate. How we speak, act, and respond to people teaches them how to treat us in ways both big and small. Clarifying what we desire or require from others in any given situation, and then acting accordingly, is a way of being more proactive about our lives.
Let me know some ways you try to be mindful about the expectations you set for others in the comments! I’m always hoping to be inspired to put great ideas into action in my own life.