Why you need to set office hours in your creative business

Updated 10/7/2020. Originally published on ErinFlynn.com

Do you have office hours? One of the supposed “perks” of working for yourself is the ability to work at any time. You no longer have to show up at an office and sit from 8 to 5 every day.

Instead, you can roll out of bed whenever you want, take some time to catch up on whatever series you’re watching on Netflix, and eventually settle down to work.

It sounds nice, but in reality, it’s a terrible habit to get in. Having set “office” or work hours can seem like a drag, but in reality they make running your business much easier.

Office hours let clients know when you’re available

Let’s imagine for a minute that you like to start your day by grabbing coffee at a local coffee shop. Then one day you drive over, and they’re closed. No warning, they’re just suddenly not open at the time you expect them to be. Their posted hours now say, “sporadic”. Would you chance going back? Maybe. But would you be frustrated every time you THOUGHT they were open and it turned out they weren’t? Definitely.

What if this was your website hosting companies’s support availability? If your website went down and you had no idea when support would get back to you? You’d probably change website hosts.

When you send emails at 2am on a Saturday night, you train clients to think you’re available around the clock. Clients don’t know how long they reasonably need to wait to hear from you, or when it’s appropriate to call.

This results in phone calls on a Sunday morning when you’re sleeping… or expecting responses to emails immediately on a Friday night.

No good.

Setting office hours and making your clients aware of them prevents client frustration. It’s totally okay to take nights and weekends (or whenever you want) off, as long as clients are aware and you’re consistent.

Being consistent is the main thing. If a client is trying to get in touch with you, she knows how long she needs to wait before you’ll see her messages.

But if there’s a problem with a client’s project and she has NO IDEA when you’ll be “in the office” she’s going to freak out and try every way she can think of to get in touch.

Trust me, it’s no fun to have a client blowing up your Facebook wall or publicly panic-tweeting at you.

Being inconsistent confuses your clients. Let them know when you’re available and when you’re not.

Pro tip:

You don’t have to be available to clients for your entire office hours. You can set times that are blocked for project work, and times that clients can schedule calls with you. This will keep you from being interrupted throughout your day.

For example, you might have project work from 8-10am, and allow clients to schedule calls from 10-12. Or, you might only allow clients to schedule calls on certain days of the week. This is all totally fine, as long as it’s communicated to clients and you’re consistent. You can give potential clients a heads up about your availability by telling them in your Intro Packet.

Office hours let you know when you should be working

And when you shouldn’t be. This allows you to focus on what you’re doing (or supposed to be doing) at the appropriate time.

Ever find yourself ignoring your family at dinner because you’re checking your emails? Watching Netflix when you’re supposed to be working on a client project? This kind of behavior is easy to fall into when you don’t have clearly defined office hours for yourself.

Being a small business owner your brain is always active, and you’re always thinking of things you should be doing. Being strict about the hours you’re working and the hours you’re not allows you to create an Out of Office business.

Got that after-hour inspo? Make a note and tackle it during your office hours.

Pro tip:

You can set your office hours to work with your schedule–they don’t need to be a regular 8-5. Your office hours could be 6pm-10pm, as long as you and your clients both know what they are. Again, set the expectation upfront in your Intro Packet.

Office hours make you more productive

When you don’t have an end to your workday, it’s easy to mess around on social media, watch some Netflix, and otherwise get distracted.

But when you have a set cut-off time for your work day, you are able to focus and get more done. That looming deadline of the end of work motivates you to keep moving and accomplish more.

This is called Parkinson’s Law, and it’s the idea that work expands to fill the time available for completion.

Without set work hours and just items you need to get done “at some point” during the day, you lack motivation. And then you mess around on Facebook, in your email, and on Pinterest, which all distract you. Instead of getting done what you had intended, you get sidetracked and end up accomplishing less. You end up answering emails, and doing a million small things, instead of the big important tasks you had planned.

Instead of reacting to projects and life as they come up, having office hours lets you fit things in your schedule where they make sense and keeps you in control. When you’re in control you’re able to be more productive, and actually work less.

Pro tip:

If you know you’re more productive or have more energy at certain times of the day, schedule your day that way. For example, if you’re most productive in the morning, schedule your project work for the morning. If you’re least productive in the afternoon, use the afternoon for client calls or work that doesn’t require a lot of focus.

What are your office hours hours?

Just reading this post doesn’t make a difference. You need to actually sit down and figure out your office hours.

You don’t have to make them a regular 8-5, your hours can be whatever works best for you. But you must communicate them to your clients, and stay consistent.

Once you have your office hours figured out, the next step is announcing them. Put your office hours in your Intro Packet. Add them to your email signature and/or autoresponder and on your website. Make it crystal-clear when you’re working and when you’re not.

And stick to them!!!

Take a few minutes and figure out your office hours–you’ll be happy you did!

get your systems checklist!