Your Personal Policies And Procedures

by Ramona Creel

Two Kinds Of Policies

At this establishment, no one has decided what business hours will be, so customers are never sure when the shop is open — it could be 10-2 one day and 6-6 another day. No one has determined what the store should sell, so customers don't know if they will get flowers or salami when they walk in the front door. And the owner has never bothered to set a policy about the type of payment the store accepts, so a customer who used a credit card on Monday might be told “cash only” on Tuesday. People have to guess how this shop is going to function from day to day, and no one ever knows what to expect. It won't take long for both employees and customers to get pretty frustrated and irritated at the situation.

It's the same way with your personal life — if you don't tell people how you operate, they won't be able to interact with you in a way that you both find mutually satisfying. Too often, we expect other people to read our minds, to automatically know how we need them to behave during every minute of the day. And when they act differently than what we had hoped, we get angry — when what we really should do is communicate our needs a little better. Unfortunately, we don't always exactly know what we need — we just know what we don't like, don't want, and are fed up with. But that's a great start!

What Are You Tired Of Tolerating?

Think about all of the times in your life when you've interacted with another person and felt invaded, violated, or disrespected by the experience. Maybe you thought that you were being insulted or taken advantage of. Perhaps you wished that you had stood up for yourself a bit more aggressively — demanded respect from someone who seemed to be belittling you. Or the other person might have unknowingly offended you, and you simply regretted not bringing it to their attention at the time.

Those incidents were uncomfortable and frustrating because you allowed someone to cross a very important line with you. Each of us has developed a set of unconscious rules about how we want to be treated — how we want our time, space, belongings, and personal qualities to be respected by others. And when you fail to defend your boundaries, your psyche lets you know — with feelings of guilt, anger, or sadness.

The problem is that on a conscious level, we are unwilling to assert these demands. And this happens for many reasons — we don't want to cause an imposition for someone else, we've convinced ourselves that we are wrong, we've fallen into a habit of disregarding our feelings, or we think that this is just how life is supposed to work. So we continue to tolerate unacceptable behavior — usually because it just seems like too much work to try and change things. Take a few minutes to make a list of all the situations and circumstances that you are tired of tolerating. The following are some examples from my clients' lists. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • I'm tired of my kids leaving their stuff all over the house, expecting me to pick it up.
  • I'm tired of my boss throwing an “urgent” project on my desk at 5 PM on Friday.
  • I'm tired of my mother always criticizing the way that I keep my house.
  • I'm tired of feeling like I'll lose my clients if I'm not at their beck and call 24 hours a day.
  • I'm tired of spending all day Saturday running errands for everyone else in my family.
  • I'm tired of never seeing my kids because I have to work all weekend.
  • I'm tired of husband scheduling a social engagement for us and not telling me until the last minute.
  • I'm tired of my co-workers interrupting me while I'm trying to get some work done.
  • I'm tired of staying at the office late every night while everyone else goes home on time.

It All Starts With You

If you will look closely at each of these complaints, they all have to do with the way that one person allows another person to treat him or her. Notice that I didn't say “it has to do with how other people treat you.” It's your responsibility to let people know exactly what you expect from them — what is considered acceptable behavior and what is not. When someone crosses a line the first time, it's their fault. When it happens again, it's your fault. And while you can't change other people's behavior, you absolutely can change what you are willing to put up with!

A quick warning before you start laying down ground rules — you have to back them up with action. If you decide not to work past 5 PM anymore and the big cheese insists that you stay late, can you stand up to your boss and be true to your convictions? If it becomes a chronic problem, are you willing to look for another job? If your hubby doesn't put his clothes in the laundry basket like you agreed upon, will you let him walk around in dirty underwear? How committed are you to your own needs and desires? This is not an exercise for the faint-hearted!

Laying Down The Ground Rules

Once you decide that you are really ready to dig in, the first step is to think about the kinds of rules you would need to set up to keep each of those “tolerations” from ever happening to you again. Go ahead and write them down — they will seem more concrete and easier to implement if they are on paper. Your list can also serve as a daily reminder of your boundaries (lest you forget where you drew that line!)

For example, if you are tired of having to put your own plans aside at the last minute because someone in your family neglected to tell you that they had a ballgame or a party or a field trip, you might decide to lay down the following rules:

  • We will have a family meeting once a week on Sunday evenings.
  • During that meeting, each family member will discuss any upcoming plans they have for the week.
  • We will write each member's activities on a centralized family calendar.
  • If you need a ride, supplies, or anything else for an activity, bring it up at the meeting.
  • If you don't mention it and then need something at the last minute, it's your responsibility.

This might sound harsh and rigid and fascist, but if you look at the chaotic way that some people operate, a little fascism might be in order! You don't have to be incredibly hard-nosed with your rules, but it's important for people to know what you are willing to do and what you are not willing to do — up front.  That way, when little Johnny decides that he needs cupcakes for the school party at 10:00 the night before, you can explain to him why you aren't going to make them. And the next time, he'll be motivated to plan ahead a little better. You are actually helping the people around you to learn valuable time management skills — while you create a touch more sanity in your own life.

My Own Story

When I first started my Professional Organizing business, I most assuredly did not practice what I preached! I felt like I had to give every spare minute of my time to my clients, or I wouldn't be successful. So I worked weekends and evenings — I essentially allowed my clients to dictate my schedule. I finally decided that if I wanted to have a healthy life and a healthy business, I needed to set some policies and procedures around how I used my time. I thought about what I wanted and what I didn't want. I didn't want to work more than 8 hours a day — including travel time to and from clients. So I decided that divided my day into two blocks — a three-hour organizing session in the morning and another in the afternoon. I would no longer schedule appointments for evenings and weekends — but I lined up a number of other organizers who could take those clients that I wasn't able to service (for a small referral fee, of course!) I would be happy to run extra errands for clients (shop for supplies, take their discards for donation, etc.) but I increased my hourly rate to cover the extra time I would spend. And I would leave one day free EVERY week for administrative work.

I put sticky notes on my desk to remind me of the rules I set for myself. I blocked off my admin days in my calendar, and I even highlighted the times of day that I had committed for client sessions (so that I wouldn't accidentally mis-schedule someone). I stopped asking clients, “When do you want to get together?” and started saying, “I'm free Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings — which of those is best for you?” I regained control over my schedule. My clients were happy to work within whatever framework I offered them, and I never got one complaint about these new policies. In fact, people respected my choice to have a life again, and asked me to help them do the same thing. Over time, these “policies” became second-nature to me. And all it took was making up my mind that I didn't want to live that way anymore. Imagine that! I can do it, you can too!”

© Ramona Creel, all rights reserved. Ramona Creel is a modern Renaissance woman and guru of simplicity -- traveling the country as a full-time RVer, sharing her story of radically downsizing, and inspiring others to regain control of their own lives. As a Professional Organizer and Accountability Coach, Ramona will help you create the time and space to focus on your true priorities -- clearing away the clutter other obstacles and standing in the way of that life you've always wanted to be living. As a Professional Photographer, Ramona captures powerful images of places and people as she travels. And as a travel writer, social commentator, and blogger, she shares her experiences and insights about the world as we know it. You can see all these sides of Ramona -- read her articles, browse through her photographs, and even hire her to help get your life in order -- at www.RamonaCreel.com. And be sure to follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.