Hannah Wilson portrait

Hannah Wilson

As a teacher and school leader, for twenty years, I am willing to admit that I struggled with setting and maintaining boundaries throughout most of my career. My work life balance disintegrated over time, I was constantly thinking about work and the boundaries between my professional and personal identity blurred.

The lack of boundaries was further compounded by my virtual presence, my growing network of contacts and my accessibility via various social media platforms/ networks.
When I left headship in 2019 (four years ago) I vowed that this was something I would work on and that I would break some old/ bad habits and create some new/ healthy habits to serve me moving forwards.

For my first eight months out of schools, I worked for a university running a PGCE. I had taken a considerable pay cut when I accepted the role so this perhaps made it easier for me to say no and to affirm some stronger barriers on my time and energy:

  • I worked 9-5 Monday-Friday.
  • I put an out of office on my inbox in the evenings/ weekends/ holidays so people knew I was not accessible.
  • I tried to not check/ send emails out of hours.
  • I reminded people who whatsapped/ text me out of hours of my boundaries and asked them to email me.
  • I took the lunchbreak that I was entitled to every day.
  • I booked in the holiday days I was entitled too.
  • I tried not to check / reply to social media contact during my holidays.

These actions led to me having a lot more headspace and time/ energy to focus on other things. This in turn led to me planning the launch of my business. (Ironically I had previously gone through a similar experience as I left an all-consuming Deputy Headship role and spent a year working in a MAT-wide role at Head Office – having more time to process and be more intentional with my time/ energy had led to me seeking and securing my headship).

When I launched my business in May 2019 it was originally just me working independently as a leadership development consultant, coach and trainer. Being my own boss meant that I could set and maintain the boundaries I needed to thrive in this new role. It felt like a luxury to have lunch every day, to go to the toilet when I needed to and to leave things for another day so I could log out at a decent hour. The only person putting pressure on me, was me!

However, I quickly reached my capacity and needed to grow my team of Associates in this space to meet the needs of my growing client database.

Within a few months, due to demand from my network, I had also launched a second website for Diverse Educators.

Momentum picked up a pace quickly as we were in lockdown and in the wake of George Floyd’s murder a spotlight had been put on the need for a greater commitment to DEIB across the board, but especially in education. So again, I reached capacity and grew a team of DEIB associate consultant, coaches and trainers around me to share the workload.

My ongoing challenges are that others do not respect my boundaries and when I pushback to reinforce them I am made out to be the one who is being difficult/ being a stickler. An example of this is during my recent 18 day holiday – despite my out of office on my email inbox, I was chased to respond to things during this time frame. (Things that were not urgent and did not need chasing as I made sure that everything that was due before I left was actioned before I left and I had communicated my absence with key stakeholders in advance of my departure!)

Despite this people in my network who work with me, but who are also personal contacts, whatsapped me about work stuff whilst knowing I was on a break, and even though I addressed this in our initial messages they did not get the hint and continued to try and talk work!

I was so frustrated I did this post on Twitter to seek some advice and tips. There are some great ideas shared but I have tried most of them already! My ongoing dilemma is not setting and maintaining boundaries but ensuring that others respect and honour them.

Some actions I have already taken to protect my boundaries:

  • I use an out of office whenever I am on holiday, explaining I will be less responsive and confirming when normal business will resume.
  • I have had some fierce conversations with people in my network who do not respect my boundaries e.g. email is for work contact in work hours and whatsapp is for social contact and I will respond out of hours.
  • I have a coach to talk through the ongoing challenges.
  • I have a business mentor to work with me on growth and strategy.
  • I am working with a ‘faff-slayer’ to streamline my communications and to make my systems more efficient.

Some actions I am considering taking to further enforce my boundaries:

  • A VA to filter my inbox.
  • A social media manager to buffer how many platforms I am managing.
  • A business mobile to filter out of hours contact.
  • An out of office on my mobile/ whatsapp.
  • A contract with my growing team of associates outlining the things I do around my own boundaries to support my work life balance and encouraging them to do the same.

The ongoing issue I am grappling with is that a lot of my wider team have become friends over time and they blur the boundaries between professional and personal contact despite my attempts to filter them. One of my communication rules is that I quickly move things from social media and casual messaging to emails so everything can be tracked and filed. For continuity and consistency I also keep chats on one platform.

Some examples of where my boundaries have been tested and disrespected:

  • All of the invoicing and payments are made via email but I sometimes get out of hours whatsapps from associates asking if a payment has been made.
  • All of my comms re training, events and sub-contracting are via email but I also get out of hour whatsapps from associates with late night/ last minute queries and updates.
  • All of my business communications are via email but I am constantly getting DMs on twitter in the evening and weekends with work requests from people in my network who expect me to be accessible 24/7.
  • A lot of my personal network are teachers/ leaders I have met through teaching over the years so they have my personal number, but often take liberties by messaging me for favours/ to pick my brain at weird and wonderful times of the day.

I will continue to grapple with my boundaries, I will keep reinforcing them, but any tips/ advice if you have read this are gratefully received!