Why You Need Good Fences for your Freelance Neighbors
There’s a poem by Robert Frost that goes, “Good fences make good neighbors.” What he means is that if you see your 70-year-old neighbor climbing naked into his hot tub, you’ll probably find it more difficult to make small talk with him when you cross paths at the mailbox.
The same is true for freelancers. We sometimes don’t have very good fences between us and the people we work with – our clients, our colleagues, even our families. We often don’t have any fences, in fact.
Those unclear boundaries cause stress that you could do without. Here are some ways to create fences between you and your “neighbors” so you can get the work done.
Fences between You and Your Clients
You need to be professional around your clients. You can’t just decide to slap up any old fence, though. If your client isn’t accustomed to having a barrier between him and you, running into a nasty chain-link fence with barbed wire along the top is not going to go over well.
So let him know the fence is going up. Politely mention that in order to do a better job, you’ve decided to create some policies so that you can focus your attention on his projects. That means you’re only going to be checking your email twice a day, and he might have to wait a few hours for a response instead of the insta-reply he’s used to.
Make the fence attractive, though. If you’re going to use an auto-responder to let people know how often you check email (a smart move), then write a nice friendly one that gives people a smile instead of a terse, “I am not available right now. I will reply to all emails at 3:00 pm.”
Fences between You and Your Colleagues
If you work with other freelancers, as most of us do, you’ve probably experienced this problem: your colleague wants to hang with you often. He just starts chatting away on IM or calls you up for no reason except to shoot the breeze. Consider it the equivalent of your neighbor wandering into your house whenever he feels like it. Sure, you can tell him you’re busy, but that makes you feel awkward and rude.
The solution? A fence, of course. For IM, a good fence is setting your IM to the red “do not disturb” option. Warn your colleagues about the fence going up, just as you did your clients, but do something important as well: let your colleague know how to open the gate.
That means that if you want your colleague to ping you if he has a business matter to draw to your attention, tell him it’s okay. It’s like saying, “I put up this fence because I need to get some work done, but if it’s really important, go ahead and unlatch the gate.” This also says you have faith your colleague will only use the gate if he needs to – and most people like to prove themselves worthy of that kind of faith.
Fences between You and Your Family
These are the hardest fences to put up, because your family lives with you. You don’t want to shut them out, and you don’t want them to feel unwelcome in your back yard. You also don’t want to hurt their feelings. It’s one thing to put up a fence between you and a neighbor – it’s another to put up a fence between you and your child.
Or is it? Even when we live with people, we put up fences all the time. The closed door. The “do not disturb” sign. The polite request to leave us alone. The problem is getting your family to respect those gestures AS a fence. You need to help them recognize that it’s not okay to just hop over as though the fence wasn’t there.
Usually this means having a serious talk, often with your significant other. If your partner is the person you want to keep out, then you need to explain how important that fence is to you – and to the quality time you want to spend with that person. If it’s your kids you need to keep out, then your partner will have to be the one who stresses, over and over, that you really need them to not hop the fence whenever they please.
Freelancing isn’t easy, and it’s often essential to have peace and quiet to do a good job. When you need to communicate the message that your space to work is off-limits, a fence is a good way to do that.
Just make sure you open the gate from time to time and get out. Good fences may make good freelancers, but isolation makes bad relationships.
Your turn: Have you had to put up some fences? Any suggestions you’d like to share? Or maybe you’re frustrated that your fences aren’t working – tell us about it and see if others can’t help spark some creative ideas to help out.