The secret to work-life harmony in SEO: Setting boundaries

If you are anything like me, once you start diving into a project, it can be difficult to stop. Doing SEO feels like dealing with a never-ending set of tasks. Setting boundaries is essential for managing expectations and caring for your well-being.

When I tell people what I do, they often envisage me tapping away at the keyboard into the early morning hours, pizza boxes and half-drunk mugs of coffee littered around me. Owls are hooting, bats are swooping, and a dim light barely shows the outline of the dark bags under my eyes.

There is a perception that anyone working in this world doesn’t really do anything except work. In reality, it can sometimes feel like that. We love what we do, and often, our hobbies include, well, SEO. (Show me an SEO, and I’ll show you a side hustle!)  

Regardless of the extracurricular, having boundaries at work is vital, even more so for an almost never-ending role. So how do you do it?

Setting boundaries with colleagues and clients

There are things you can do from the moment you work with a new client or on a new project.

It’s always best to start setting boundaries straight away because, as time goes on, it can be challenging to reset expectations.

Make it clear that SEO is a long-term strategy. This must be understood from the outset to ensure expectations are set immediately. 

Education is key here, helping colleagues and clients alike to understand that significant changes in search rankings and organic traffic are the result of consistent effort over time.

I always err on the side of caution and give a longer-term estimate before it’s likely to see the results of SEO work. That way, if things start to move sooner, it’s a bonus.

When it comes to the actual work, assign dedicated research and deep work time and block out your calendar. Make it clear that you are not to be disturbed in these periods.

Alternatively, work from home or lock yourself in an office with the door shut. We all need periods to complete deep work without being interrupted. 

Once you set these times, you must stick to them. If you start responding to emails or consulting with colleagues during these sessions, people are less likely to respect your need to work uninterrupted.

Set up reporting or meetings at specific intervals to review progress. This will help to avoid requests for information in between these times.

Having unplanned emails asking for metrics on an ad-hoc basis not only adds additional work, but you may find that it soon becomes the norm.

If reporting is already set and agreed upon, then there should be little need for interim information. If there is, then it may be that you need to review reporting or meeting schedules.

Set aside specific times when clients and colleagues can consult you on SEO queries. If you make yourself available and approachable within a structured timeframe, people are much less likely to want to infringe on those times you have blocked out for deeper work.

Try to avoid answering emails or communications outside of working hours. But if you decide to catch up with email on an evening or weekend, set your replies to send first thing the next workday morning.

For example, if people see you responding to emails on a Saturday morning, they may expect you to work every Saturday morning.

Never give work colleagues or clients permission to use social media messaging to get in touch. It is so easy for this to creep into your personal time, creating very blurred lines between the two. If this happens and someone messages you, direct them to your email address or work number.

The only exception is if social media management or engagement forms part of your role. Otherwise, stick to more formal communication routes.

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Setting boundaries for yourself

In a world where it only takes the lifting up of a laptop lid or the scroll of an iPhone to access our work, it’s challenging to separate the personal from the professional.

That said, there are things you can do to make sure that when you are not working, you are actually not working.

You could have separate devices for work and non-work activities. If that’s not possible, having separate email accounts is an absolute minimum. 

Getting into a situation where your work and personal life become jumbled up can make it incredibly difficult to untangle and get away from thinking about work all the time. When you feel like you are constantly on call, it can reduce performance when at work through things like decision fatigue.

If you don’t have separate devices, put your phone on airplane mode when you aren’t working and, most importantly, keep it out of the bedroom. It’s so much easier not to check if it’s in a different room.

So many of us have our phones plugged in on the nightstand while we sleep. It’s just too tempting to have a peek when we wake up in the middle of the night needing the bathroom.

Likewise, avoid picking up your phone first thing in the morning. Give yourself some time to wake up, have some water and if you can, just sit for a while. If you can resist long enough, stay away from all work communication until you are at your desk.

You could use the commute to listen to an audiobook or podcast instead. Nothing that’s in your phone can’t wait an hour or so until you get to work. This can take a lot of willpower initially, but like many things, it can be a habit you can eliminate. 

If you work from home, maybe go for a walk first. This can be a great way to separate non-work from work time. If walking isn’t your thing, choose something else. However, having a clear distinction between the two can help to keep those boundaries in place.

When doing deep work, try to reduce distractions as much as possible.

  • Close all the tabs or applications you don’t need on your computer.
  • Switch your phone to silent mode.
  • Wear noise-canceling headphones and listen to music.
  • For others, the constant background buzz of a busy office can help concentration.

Work out what is best for you and stick to it.

The importance of boundaries as an SEO

Clear boundaries mean that tasks can be completed without constant interruption and distractions. This leads to getting tasks done more quickly and accurately. It can also reduce feelings of pressure and overwhelm because you don’t constantly have to deal with multiple things at once.

It also helps in managing the expectations of colleagues and clients, reducing misunderstandings, and building trust. It can also ensure that SEO work is completed according to project guidelines because keeping your boundaries mean the work is done as planned.

Establishing time or task-based boundaries in SEO prevents the urge to work endlessly, providing a structured framework for task completion. Having a clear start and stop point can assist in ensuring that planned work is done while reducing overwhelm.

Maintaining work-life balance by prioritizing self-care leads to improved performance. Dedicate time to activities you love, whether it’s exercise, socializing, or personal SEO projects.

Dig deeper: 10 things to eliminate from your life to be more productive at work

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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