The joys of being unavailable

A friend of mine told me this month how she’d gone away for a few days and returned to find three new commissions in her inbox. I loved this story: often we are so afraid to take our eyes off our business (or our inbox) that we rarely do. We feel like the minute we take a break things will fall apart. My friend’s story showed that her business was fine with her being away and unavailable—and she was even pleasantly surprised when she came back.

In this post I write about the joys of being unavailable. Of detaching yourself just a little bit from your business, taking some days off, or even putting boundaries around when you check your email. I’ve got some gentle suggestions to try out, and will be sharing some of my own experience too.

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Being available

When was the last time you were unavailable for your business, your customers or your clients? How did it feel?

There is nothing wrong with being available or with your working hours being unconventional when compared to 9-to-5 work. It is certainly not my aim to tell you that you can’t reply to emails while you’re on holiday, or be available for your business during the evenings or weekends.

But I noticed that many of us have been so conditioned to being able to be available 24/7 that we’ve come to believe we have to. Now that we’re all able to have our email on our phones, for instance, many of us feel that because this is the case we should also be checking our email all the time.

In both my 1:1 mentoring and in my newsletters, I always want you to make decisions based on what feels right for your life, your business and your humanness.

But I also want to push back against the idea that as business owners and freelancers we need to be available all the time. That just because we can have our email on our phones, we should have our email on our phones and also do something with messages that come in as quickly as possible. That because we are the ones that see new orders coming in, we need to immediately process these orders—even if we’re tired, sick, or taking time off.

Productivity and hustle culture tell us that we should do this. Depending on the stories we’ve been told, the books we read, the accounts we follow, we might see others doing this—and therefore conclude that we should too.

But trust me: you don’t need to be available for your business all the time. Your clients will not walk away. Your customers will not complain about you all over the internet. Your business will not collapse.

If you feel overwhelmed or anxious when you get an email from a client, if it interrupts you doing something that you value or that energizes you, if it keeps you from being present with yourself, a book, a friend, your family—those are all signs that you need to practice being unavailable more.

Remember, you don’t need to be available for your business all the time

There is a slower, gentler and more profitable way of running your business.

Discover your way of doing your business with my 1:1 mentoring support.

No hacks, no hustle.

Instead: marketing and launching that is slow, gentle and gets results. Clear boundaries and priorities that encourage you to live a life next to your business. Accountability and support to help you create the live and business you crave.

Practising unavailability

When I look at my own experiences, I notice that what I feel comfortable with in terms of availability has changed. There was a time, ten years ago or so, when I would check my work email over breakfast. It made me feel really on top of things, and when I arrived at the office it felt good not having to deal with email first, but actually being able to do work (…). Until one day it stopped feeling good. Suddenly I realised that I was doing work while having breakfast and I didn’t want to.

These days, a slow start to my day is very important to me. I know that if I were to start with email over breakfast, I’d quickly get flustered and in work-mode—and at the start of the day, I don’t want to be in work-mode. At the start of the day I want to check in with myself, and feel what I need, what I feel, how my energy is and not immediately have other people’s stories and agenda in my mind (no matter how lovely these people may be).

Having times when I’m unavailable is more about me than it is about others. It is about managing my own expectations much more than those of other people.

Depending on how available you currently are and the kinds of stories that is rooted in, practising unavailability can feel really uncomfortable. While you might feel overwhelmed and anxious being available, not being available can make you feel anxious as well.

I’d recommend starting slow. Maybe you’re not ready to take your business email off your phone completely, but perhaps you can use your phone’s settings so that you don’t get notifications during certain hours or activities (this article is on setting up “focus mode” on iPhone, this one explains the same for Android).

Maybe you’ll set some gentle working hours for yourself, and allow yourself to not work outside of them. Maybe you take a weekend off processing orders. Or take yourself out for a cup of tea on a Thursday morning just to read a book, rather than bringing your laptop along to work.

Try to tolerate the discomfort as much as you can. If you feel anxiety coming up, you can talk it through with a (business) friend, write about it or leave a comment on this post for support—so many of us have felt this way that I can guarantee you’re not along.

Once you’ve gotten into the habit of becoming more unavailable, check in with yourself again. How do you feel?

Personally, I’ve noticed that having times when I’m unavailable is more about me than it is about others. It is about managing my own expectations much more than those of other people. While I might tell myself that “other people” (”the world”) are expecting me to be available, I am the one expecting me to be available.

I, too, have listened to the podcasts and read the posts about hustling. With a background in academia, I was well-versed in productivity culture, pushing through and always working long before starting my own business.

So when I set up an out-of-office reply that specifies when I reply on email, when I set my availability for mentoring calls, when I tell people that I can or cannot do something: all of those are ways in which I am giving myself permission to switch off.

Although it takes practice, this is a feeling I’ve come to relish. And it’s a feeling I want for you too.

In 2021, I created a business boundaries that feel good guide: a workbook full of experiments and strategies to set kinder boundaries. It is a nice companion to this post, and you can check it out here.

If my newsletters and free resources resonate with you, I might just be the right mentor for you. I don’t believe in 10-step-plans, or get rich quick schemes. I do believe that it is possible to create and run a business that fits you and your life: your values and rhythms, your strengths and passions. I strongly believe that you don’t need to do all the things, or be on all the channels to make your business work. 

I’m here to help you feel more supported in your business. I’m here to give you the confidence to run your business from that place of deep inner knowing inside of you, offering my signature blend of mindset shifts and practical steps.

An experiment

Take a moment to think or journal about these questions:

  1. How do you feel about your current availability? When do you feel overwhelmed or anxious in your business?
  2. Where do you want to experiment with being more unavailable? Take it slowly and gently.
  3. If you feel discomfort coming up, see if you can explore the thoughts and feelings. How true are they? What are they based on?

I’d love to know which of these strategies to feel more supported in your business you’ve tried, and which you’re going to try out. I’d love to know!

Please feel free to share it with business friends, in your newsletter or on social media. 💛

I’d love to support you in all phases of your business. Providing clarity, focus and next steps is something that my clients tell me I’m really good at. If you’re curious about how we can work together through 1:1 mentoring, check out what I offer or send me an email–no strings attached. I have payment plans available, and flexible options for mentoring calls (30 or 60 minutes).

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