Work, play and never the twain shall meet.
Today’s professional workers are much more accessible to supervisors, co-workers and clients than ever before. Email began to change that in the 1990s with smart phones hastening the shift to ’round the clock availability in recent years.
I don’t know about you, but being available well outside of normal working hours is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because you can interact with people in different time zones and get more work. It is a curse because your personal time can easily be compromised, making it difficult for you to enjoy times of refreshing. There must be a balance between work and play — there is, but only if you’re willing to set reasonable boundaries the two by employing the following tips to what you do:
Know your business hours — I am at work early in the morning, taking breaks at breakfast and soon thereafter to walk one of my children to the bus stop. By 9 a.m. eastern time, I am officially “at work” and available to my clients. That availability continues throughout the day and ends by 6 p.m. Thus, my reachable hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. I may work on Saturday mornings, but those hours are solely my own. Sundays is for church and family time.
Establish a contact preference — My regular clients typically contact me via email. I use a dedicated email address to have those messages come to my inbox. I don’t, however, have these messages forward to my smart phone, but may do so later this year when my current cell phone contract expires. I want to be reachable, but most “emergencies” can wait. It seems that I’m not the only one who deals with email-happy clients as this Freelance Switch discussion notes. Typically, I get back to email messages on the same business day, often within an hour or two.
Set your phone hours — No client likes to place a call and find you unavailable. This is why with existing clients I ask that they contact me via email first to arrange a phone meeting. If it is a true emergency, then we’ll talk within the hour, otherwise we’ll set an appointment within the next two business days. For new clients, being available is important. I attempt to have these people contact me via a contact form or email first. However, given that some clients may want a press release written and submitted that day, I will make a phone number available as well. As of this writing, I am changing my procedures by securing a toll-free number for my press release service and placing that number on a related website. Also, I will publish a four-hour window of time for people to contact me, likely 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. That will give me enough time to write and submit a press release for next-day publishing. I haven’t chosen a phone system provider yet, but Grasshopper is one of several companies I’m currently exploring.
Inform people of changes — As a writer, I certainly do not want to be tethered to email, a phone or both. My creative juices flow best when I’m not interrupted, which means that my availability to clients has to be limited. But even those hours I mentioned are subject to change if a special project up, one that takes up my time. In addition, when I’m on vacation my availability is severely curtailed if I’m available at all. This means informing my regular clients of my availability and giving out a number in the event of an emergency. I bring my laptop with me too — if a website crashes or some other mischief has been detected, I can handle it quickly on the road as long as an Internet connection is possible. I may also update a website to change my contact information temporarily, but not enough to tell people when I’m away from home and my return information — beware of crooks!
Even as I write this, I find myself questioning some of my practices, knowing that my procedures are subject to change. You may find an entirely different arrangement works for you, perhaps not minding being contacted at all hours of the day, night or weekends, grabbing “free time” on a rolling basis. If it works for you, then go with it.