There’s an old saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.” And while I absolutely adore my neighbors, I also absolutely believe this is true. Separation between our homes means that what they do to their house doesn’t impact me, and I don’t have to care about it.
When it comes to the various obligations we have – teacher, family member, and blogger – good fences are just as important.
The problem is that time is harder to delineate. You can plan to quit working at 6pm, then you decide to just do that one thing, and suddenly it’s 7pm and your kids are starving, dirty, and permanently glued to their iPad.
But that’s not the biggest problem. In fact, overwhelm is just a symptom of the real issue; mindset.
The problem isn’t that there’s always something more we can do – there is, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that we want to do all the things. And we want to do them well, if not perfectly.
Whether it’s part of our inherent personalities as teachers, or that we’ve been conditioned to do more, more, more, the fact is that it’s up to us to set – and enforce – boundaries for ourselves.
Here are some things you can do to set clear boundaries for yourself.
Setting Boundaries at School
Let’s start with the most obvious, and most challenging boundary breaker; school.
In the world of service professionals there’s something known as scope creep. If you haven’t heard of this, it’s when a client tries to add things to the job that they hired you for – it could be extra revisions, an additional version, or “just one little thing” – without paying extra for it.
Schools are notorious for this. There’s always something more you’re being asked to do, and no money to go with it. We talked about this last week in How Teaching is Keeping You Broke, but let’s talk about how to stop it.
Stop taking work home. This may seem impossible, but it’s absolutely not. There are lots of possibilities – get to work early or stay later to complete your work – but the key is focusing on what’s most important. Angela Watson, creator of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek, has a podcast episode all about how one teacher stopped taking work home that I highly recommend if you’re looking for real-life inspiration.
If you’re unable to set down your giant, stuffed-to-the-gills teacher bag, then give yourself only a specific time to work on school stuff at home. Set alarms on your phone to remind you to stop if necessary.
Say no to unpaid work. At the end of the 2017-2018 school year I found myself on 3 committees and using my prep time to rewrite my curriculum. It had happened slowly, but somehow I had found myself in a swamp of unpaid work, no time to complete my actual job, and burning the midnight oil to work on Side Hustle Teachers.
Before the new school year started, I emailed my assistant superintendent and told him I’d no longer be able to serve on the committees I was on. I also stopped writing curriculum during my prep and started using it only to *gasp* prep for my classes. In fact, my district has curriculum stipends for teachers who write curriculum over the summer! When I applied and was told that the money was being designated for other subjects, I decided my curriculum was just fine as it was and took the summer off.
Note: If you’re in a school that requires you to serve on committees or do “volunteer” work outside of school hours, those are obviously part of your contract and therefore, are inescapable. However, you can typically choose which committees or events you “volunteer” for, so make sure that you select opportunities that have the greatest impact on you as a teacher, fit your schedule, and are most interesting to you. Get assigned to those tasks as early as possible so that you’re not assigned to something else.
Setting Boundaries at Home
Like school work, house work is never done. There is always something that needs to be cleaned, fixed, cooked, or put away.
If you have kids, the home demands only increase as now you have to keep them alive, too.
Also like school work, we often put more pressure on ourselves to keep a perfect home than is necessary.
Decide on your non-negotiables. Sadly, you can’t let all your housework go. There are some things that have to be done for the sake of your sanity and by order of the health department. So what are the things you absolutely must do? If cooking dinner each night is important to you, then make it one of your non-negotiables, but maybe you can let the bathroom go a little longer in between cleanings. Maybe you spend a lot of time in your car and need it to be a sanctuary. Keep it on your list and do the dishes every other night instead.
Get help. There’s absolutely no need for you to be the only person who handles housework. If you live with other people, they should be contributing to the care of the home equally, if not more so. Teachers tend to be people who just do what needs to be done, and that carries through to our home life. But it doesn’t need to be that way. You may need to accept that things aren’t going to be done the “right” way, but done is done. And done by someone other than you, is perfect.
You can also hire help. Yes, I know that cleaners cost money and teachers are often living paycheck to paycheck, but you can set it as a goal. When I first started my blog, paying for a bi-weekly cleaner was our first monetary goal and it was sooooo amazing to reach it.
Setting Boundaries in Your Business
Work for your business is a bit unique because you often may not see it as work. Instead, working on your blog is a relief – an escape from all the things you have to do.
Still, it’s important to set boundaries so that you don’t burn yourself out and also so that your family doesn’t become resentful that you’re spending all your free time working.
Focus on money making activities. Having limited time means that you have to prioritize what you use that time for. While you may not be in love with the design of your website, or the colors in your logo, spending time “fixing” those problems is not going to make you any money.
What is going to make you money? The answer might be slightly different for everyone, but it comes down to 3 things; growing your audience, nurturing your relationships, and refining your offers. Spend your time on those 3 things, and let the other stuff go.
Make a schedule. This is beneficial to both your family and your business. For example, you can decide that each night, after you help your kids with their homework, you get 1 hour of time to work on your blog. Or after dinner, while your husband does the dishes (because he helps with the housework now) you get to write a blog post.
A schedule is especially helpful at the beginning of your business when you’re, as they say on “Shark Tank”, pre-revenue. It’s at this stage that it’s hardest to prioritize spending time on your blog because you’re not getting a return on your time investment yet. Creating a schedule, and sticking to it, will help you build good habits and actually build your business instead of just talking about it.
Setting Boundaries for Your Business
While we’re talking about boundaries, it’s important to have some that not only protect you from working too much, but also that set expectations for what happens when you’re working.
Give yourself a dedicated space. It doesn’t have to be a big space. It doesn’t even have to be a permanent, stationary space. But providing a location or setup that is associated with your business, and that no one else touches is a great mindset hack for you and helps your family see your blog as a real business.
Teach your family how to treat your work. If you’re working, you’re working. Your family wouldn’t come in while you’re teaching to ask you to open a packet of fruit snacks (hopefully), and they shouldn’t while you’re working on your blog either.
Still, working at home, especially while your family is home, can easily wind up being one long sequence of interruptions if you don’t address it up front.
Here are some things you can try:
- Use signals. You might use signs on a door or color-coded post-its… In my house, if I’m in my office with the door open my family knows I’m working, but they can come in for quick things, like stuff they’d text me about at work. If the door is closed they should come in for emergencies only.
- Define emergencies. Especially for kids, the word emergency is flexible. If my daughter couldn’t get the tv on to watch “Lion Guard,” she thought it was an emergency. Finally we came up with a clear, easy to remember definition; fire, flood, vomit, or blood. Everything else can wait, or Dad can help you.
- Enforce your boundaries. Boundaries mean nothing if you don’t defend them. If you’ve got a work space that’s just for you, don’t let your kid use it to color. If you schedule time to work on your blog, don’t let your spouse guilt you into cleaning out the garage during that time.
Despite the name of this site and my business, I don’t think teachers need to hustle and grind in order to make money outside the classroom.
In fact, using the strategies above, you can actually live a reasonably chill life, get plenty of sleep, and still make money from your blog.
Good fences make good neighbors, but healthy boundaries make healthy, happy teachers!