Beyond the Number

Setting Healthy Boundaries in a Customer-Facing Role

By Jenifer Joyce, Account Director, Mother, Pie-Maker's Avatar

By Jenifer Joyce, Account Director, Mother, Pie-Maker


Down-shifting a "Do it now" approach

I recently found myself in a situation where I was working really long hours for several weeks. I was making trade-offs with down time in a daily (and nightly) press to get everything done now. I was pushing hard, and my company and clients were happy. The only problem? I wasn’t.

The long hours had started to wear on me. Somehow I had let that blurred line between work and home become even more blurry, and I had lost sight of the balance. But I love my job and my clients. I was truly torn between work life and "me" life. Sound familiar?

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When I spoke with a friend about it, she said, "Why don't you just stop at 40-45 hours?" I thought, "Are you kidding me?

As an Account Director at a fast-paced agency, my role is to ensure that my clients are happy. I ensure that the services we provide are delivering results, and that I am growing and expanding our customer relationships. Being very responsive and well-organized are two keys to ensuring clients are happy and their needs are being met. But with a "to do" list that was easily out-stretching a reasonable work-week, something had to give. Here are four tips that helped me down-shift my approach, reducing my workload -- and my stress -- without sacrificing my customer’s happiness.

How to practice self-care without endangering customer relationships

1.       The big trade-off: Take a close look at that to-do list. Give yourself a pat on the back for doing a great job of keeping track of the details. Then acknowledge that you simply can't get them all done within a reasonable amount of time. Prioritize them, then sit with that for a few minutes. Take time to acknowledge each task, and the trade-offs that need to be made. This helps build up tolerance or stamina for sitting with any anxiety you might have over not completing the list right away. This exercise becomes easier over time.

2.       Inspect what you expect: Do all of these tasks need to be done in one day, or a week? Really? Though I was pretty good at prioritizing the most important tasks first, I was not very good at setting a cut-off mark for the day or the week. By pushing myself to complete everything, I was still giving each task some level of equal weight. Not everything needs to be done now. Give yourself permission to prioritize and push off the things that don’t need to be done right away.

3.       Inspect what your clients expect: Do all of your clients expect that you'll cater to all of their needs right away? Sure, there are many times when swift action is a necessity, but not all of the time. In fact, training your clients that every request will be handled immediately can easily backfire. It's simply not sustainable over time, and you'll be headed straight for burnout. Instead, simply ask clients what their timeline is, or suggest a delivery date that makes sense. When I started doing this tactic more regularly, I was shocked to hear due dates that made sense and didn't send me into overdrive.

4.       Ask for help: If you're seeing a pattern of increasing tasks and heavier workloads, it may be time to ask for help. Perhaps you've grown your territory to a point where it's no longer feasible for one person to do all the work? Or you've landed a new client that requires extra TLC? Bringing in an extra set of hands, even in the short-term, can not only reduce workload and stress, but also free you up for more time to think about growing your business. This could take on many forms, from an intern if your company has a program in place; a contractor, if you need short-term help; or a full-time role if a longer-term solution is needed.

What trade-offs are you making between work life and "me" life?  Let us know in the comments below!

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