How to Set (& Stick To) Your Office Hours

Set and stick to your office hours

As entrepreneurs and small business owners, we know that sometimes we work at all hours of the day to get things done. It’s often one of the perks of being an entrepreneur - the flexible work schedule. But often it can mean working 12 hour days and responding to client emails in the middle of the night. #nofun. Today, I’m chatting about why setting office hours is important and how to reinforce them.

Why are office hours important?

Setting expectations early on is important, because it’s easier to start off on the right foot then try to correct things later on. But, even if you haven’t set them before and already have a heavy client load, it’s not too late. Here are just a few reasons why they’re important:

  • Work - life balance. Having a balance between your work and your personal life is important. When working from home, this boundary can often be blurred. By setting office hours, you can more reasonably set this boundary for yourself.
  • Eliminating the need to be accessible by email 24/7. If you’re responding to emails at all hours of the day, your clients may think you're available at all hours of the day and will start to expect this.
  • Setting clear and reasonable expectations for clients. Similar to above, it helps you to set reasonable expectations with your clients. Even if it’s not a conscientious thought, by having office hours, they will better understand that you are a business and that work cannot always be done immediately. It’ll help you establish better estimations of deadlines with them.
  • Having clients understand and respect what a true “emergency” might be. Emergencies do crop up from time to time. Maybe someone’s website goes down and their launch is tomorrow. Things may need to be fixed immediately. But by having office hours (& respecting them), clients will be more careful about calling out for emergencies.

So how should you set office hours?

Your office hours may not be the traditional 9-5, and that’s ok! Maybe your business is a side hustle. Or maybe you just prefer to work in the evening. Whatever it is, think of what works for you. This doesn’t mean, you always have to limit yourself to working during these hours (although that is a great place to get to!). But rather, I encourage you to start by setting hours that you will be able to respond to client questions and concerns.

  • Find hours that work for you.
  • Determine your policy for how long it’ll take you to respond to emails. Do you want to have a policy that you’ll respond in 24 hours? 48 hours? You can list this on your website, so prospective clients have an idea of when they might be able to reach you.
  • Include your office hours in your email signature. Something as simple as “please note, emails are not regularly checked after xx time and on weekends. Emails received during this time will be responded to promptly when I’m back in the office. Thanks for your understanding!” By having this in your email signature, anytime you email someone, they will be reminded.
  • If you have more limited office hours (due to a variety of reasons), you can always set up an autoresponder that immediately responds to new inquires. It could be as simple as thanking them for their email, letting them know it’s important to you, stating your office hours, and letting them know you’ll respond when back in the office. If you find people are often emailing regarding similar questions, you could set up a FAQ page and then direct them to the answers!
  • Don’t respond to messages outside of office hours. Sure you might do work outside of these hours (I sure do!), but make it a goal to not respond to emails. You can go ahead and craft responses but just don’t send them. You could just save them as drafts and the next time you’re “in the office” just hit send on them all. Or if you use Gmail, you can use Boomerang, to actually schedule the emails to send out in the future.
Setting office hours blog graphic

What are your thoughts? Do you have office hours? What have you found to be successful?