A Fool Needs Boundaries

by Rachael on August 24, 2010

Tuesdays at The Variegated Life: a look at how I’m making this working-at-home-while-mothering thing work. Or how I’m trying to make it work, anyway …

And now for the ugly truth about our vacation, which is that I spent a good chunk of it finishing up my contribution to a project that was (is) reaching its conclusion. Yes, I worked during my vacation. I blame myself: not only did I seriously underestimate the time it would take me to complete the task to my satisfaction, but (foolishly thinking that I could somehow finish up more quickly than I originally estimated — because when do I ever do that?) I also accepted a schedule that included a few days’ overlap with my vacation.

Freelancers require the discipline to boss themselves around: to get themselves to their desks and get the work done. Freelancers also need boundaries. If home is where you work, then work can easily take over your life at home. For me, mustering up the self-discipline required to do my paid work is not the challenge. Establishing boundaries is. And I’ve found that establishing boundaries demands more than just sticking to a schedule and learning to say “No.”

  • Maintain a budget. As long as I’m keeping track of how much we need, how much we’re bringing in, and how much we’re spending, then I find it much, much easier to say “No.” If we don’t need the money, then I don’t need the job.
  • Be reasonable. Or, in other words, don’t lie to yourself. Don’t tell yourself that you can squeeze in this one leetle job into your already packed schedule. Don’t tell yourself that the job won’t take so long when clearly it will. And certainly don’t tell yourself that you can stay up until 2 a.m. night after night after night. But alas, I lie to myself all the time, and I’m such a sucker, too (see above).
  • Focus on the work when you’re doing the work. The more quickly you can get it done, the sooner you’ll have time for other things. Facebook can wait.
  • Rely on routines as well as schedules. For example, the Critter and I go out every morning. Every morning! Can’t work when I’ve gotta take the Critter to the park!
  • Include some slack in your schedule … especially if there’s a little Critter who needs you. There have been nights when the Critter was restless and Beckett unable to console him, and I’ve been relieved to be able to drop my work and take our little guy to bed for cuddles and milk.

Actually, not only is the Critter among the best reasons for me to establish boundaries around my work, he is often the best enforcer of the boundaries I’m striving to set up and maintain. How can I possibly check my e-mail (which too often and too quickly can drift from necessary, work-related e-mail checking to unnecessary, time-wasting e-mail checking) when he is standing by the door, pleading, “Go ousside! Go ousside!” OK, kiddo, let’s go outside!

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