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Email boundaries: How well defined are yours?

By Natasha Johnson

October 7, 2020

emailing wedding couples

I’m sure like me you love and appreciate just how much technology makes it easy for people to get in touch with us. Not just friends and family of course, but potential couples, clients and work colleagues. Anyone and everyone!

I love that I can send these weekly posts out to thousands of celebrants with very little effort. I love that directly from my inbox I can read and learn interesting things from the emails that I’ve signed up to receive. I love that couples from all over the world can get in touch, whenever they want, and not just via email but through social media too.

But perhaps like me, as much as you love and appreciate this ease of communication, it might also feel like a huge drain and burden for you. In the same way that I love that people from all over the world can get in touch, whenever they want, I also really dislike this ability too. I dislike that our increase in use and reliance on communication technologies have also brought with them a loss of personal space, boundaries and respect for office hours.

It’s now become normal to receive an email at 11pm at night. It’s now acceptable to get emailed or messaged on a Sunday. Couples can plan their weddings over Whatsapp, if they want. People can DM you when you’re on holiday. People can send you a voice message at 8.30 on a Saturday morning.

The point is, if you let it, you can be available and contactable 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which is fine if you don’t mind, but if you do, perhaps you need to set up some contact boundaries or strengthen your existing ones.

Setting boundaries

As we cannot always control how and when people get in touch with us, what we can control is how and when we engage in communication, by setting our own communication boundaries. As a celebrant it is important to have boundaries in place which reflect how you want to work and how you want to run your celebrant business. Having boundaries helps to keep you mentally healthy and allows you to work within a sustainable framework and system.

Here are some ways that you can create some email boundaries.

Create office hours

Although I don’t have office hours published anywhere, internally I have got some basic office hours in place. And for me, office hours don’t just mean the time that I’m sat at my desk but also time that I am available to receive emails and messages. For example, whilst I might receive an email in the evening, and sometimes (rarely) reply to it, I always schedule it to be sent the following day during my office hours. I don’t want to give people the impression that I am at work ALL of the time (even when sometimes I am!). I want to maintain some kind of boundaries with my emails and messages. The same if I get messages or non essential emails over the weekend, I generally do not reply to them until ‘I’m back in the office.’ Although, I do make some exceptions for my wedding couples, but still with time boundaries in place.

I do get however, that sometimes people get in touch with you at odd hours for lots of different reasons. They could be in a different timezone. They could be night owls or early risers. They might simply email you because something has popped into their minds and they want to contact you there and then, not necessarily expecting an immediate answer. But this is why I feel it’s important to try and control the way you respond, because you could find yourself in an email vicious cycle where you are emailing people day and night, as soon as you receive an email, and it starts to become overwhelming and can make you feel burnt out.

Use autoresponders

Using an autoresponder is such a great way of being in contact with someone without actually physically being in contact with them in real time. Whenever you get an email or an enquiry, with an automated reply in place you can let people know that their message has been received and when they’re likely to hear from you. This helps to give you a bit of a breather, buys you some time before replying (if you need it), AND also manages their expectations.

Be mindful

As the one who is sending a message or email, before you jump on messenger or email, it doesn’t hurt to stop and think if you really need to send your message at the moment you’re planning to send it. Do you really need to send an email at 10pm at night to someone who will receive it at the same time? Same with personal and direct messages on social media?

And yes, it is indeed the case that the recipient doesn’t have to open and read their message at 10pm, but there can be a bit of pressure on the recipient to check emails in case they think the email might be urgent or require immediate attention. Not to mention that most people have emails linked to their phones, and have their phones on them, like all of the time, so sometimes it’s unavoidable. (I’ve started leaving my phone on my desk in the evening. Now that takes some willpower!).

Technology has simultaneously broken down barriers and borders, and personal space and time, so that we seemingly can’t have one without the other. But the fact is, it’s down to you to control how you want to treat your incoming messages and emails. Your email behaviour will be determined by how you run your business and balance it with your overall mental health and your personal life. So if you feel you need to do something about it, here’s your permission slip.

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About the author 

Natasha Johnson

Natasha is the founder and co-director of awesomeness at the Celebrants Collective, with her business wife, Claire Bradford. When she's not overseeing celebrant development and supporting the hell out of their members, she can be found drinking fabulous Spanish wine, dancing to Beyoncé and hanging out on her veg patch, sometimes all at the same time. She lives in Malaga, Spain with her two favourite humans, three dogs, eight chickens and two giant African snails. (Don't ask!)

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