Increase Your Productivity By Creating Strong Business Boundaries
In this episode of Work Less, Earn More, Gillian talks about increasing your productivity by creating strong boundaries with Dannie Lynn Fountain. About how she balances running her six-figure business with a full-time job at Google, how we can become more productive by creating boundaries for ourselves, and what to do when you become addicted to the hustle.
This is a transcript of Work Less, Earn More, Episode 11. Listen to the episode here.
Gillian: Hey there, and welcome back to another episode of work less earn more. Today on the show, I'm interviewing Dannie Lynn Fountain, the founder and facilitator at Focused on People, a consultancy that seeks to help companies grow people first through communication strategies.
I'm not going to give away too much, but as you'll soon learn, Danny is an absolute productivity magician who manages a seemingly impossible workload.
And that's exactly why I wanted to interview her on the podcast today to hopefully uncover a few of the secrets she uses to accomplish so much.
Hey there, Dannie, welcome to the show!
Dannie: Hey, thanks so much for having me.
Gillian: Thank you so much for taking the time to be here today. So first of all, I'm just going to j p right into the meat of the issue here. How do you balance it all? I understand that you work at Google full time, you run your own business, you do a lot of public speaking, and you are a doctoral student.
How are there enough hours in a day to do all that?
Dannie: First of all, there aren't. In my job at Google, I work on search ads 360 which is the tech stack for ads. If you've ever used HootSuite as a marketer, I’d say 360 is basically the same thing for ads. It just lets you manage it all in one place.
So my job is equal parts sales, marketing, and a little bit of tech. Which is funny, for this non-tech gal! Then in my night work, my five to nine, as I call it, I run a firm focused on helping companies focus on people first. So whether that's through employee engagement or their marketing efforts externally, it's bringing people to the forefront of that conversation.
Gillian: So one thing I'm curious about when I'm just trying to get this perspective on what your life is like right now and how you are managing to balance this is: what came first, your job at Google or your business?
Dannie: My business came first. My business started 12 years ago, and over the past 12 years, it's been a full time job.
It's been a side hustle. It's been something that like completely faded back to just being a hobby. It's been every form, shape and size of business in the past 12 years.
Gillian: How far along were you with running your business when you started working at Google?
Dannie: I started working at Google in 2017, so nine years.
Gillian: Okay. So you've been running your business for a pretty long time. What was the main motivation when you got this job at Google, for you to continue to run your own business? What made you want to do both things?
Dannie: Frankly speaking, I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I didn't, but practically speaking, my marketing brain was just so excited by the potential that came from Google.
I mean, there's no better asset that you could throw in a marketer's hat than the words “I work at Google.”
Gillian: Oh yeah, that completely makes sense. And so you had this dream job opportunity of to go work at Google and do something that was so fascinating to you. What made you really want to keep running your own business? What was the motivation there? Was it just something you were used to doing, or was there something you really find fulfilling from your own business?
Dannie: There's a philosophy out there that says that there's four kinds of motivation, that people are either motivated by a creative expression, impact, time, or money, and either the absence of (or presence of) one of those four things.
You're not supposed to be more than one. So if you boil it down to one, I'm money motivated, but I'm equal parts money and impact motivated, and I didn't want to give up the impact potential of my business right at the moment when I had this incredible marketing tool that could catapult it farther forward than it had ever been.
Gillian: That completely makes sense. Okay, and then you mentioned, or maybe I mentioned, that you're also a doctoral student. Could you just touch on that for a quick moment? What are you studying?
Dannie: I'm studying HR and for me the decision to pursue a doctorate is actually a strategic career move. Once I knew that there was no way I was going to quit being in the corporate world (frankly speaking, I just enjoy working at Google) I knew that it was time to shift my corporate focus to match my entrepreneurial focus. I have no practical HR experience beyond managing employees and contractors in my own business, which for a place like Google is not enough. And so that doctoral degree that Google was paying for anyway was a stop gap to get me there.
Gillian: Okay, so we've covered a little bit about what you’re doing on a weekly basis. As you said, there's not enough hours in a day, so I really want to get into how you're even managing to do this. Let's start with just a few numbers. You said you were at Google full time, so is that, is that 40 hours a week?
Dannie: I'm non-exempt, which means I still log my hours, and my 2019 average was 53 hours a week.
Gillian: Okay. So even more than your regular 40 hour a week. That's a lot! So if you're spending that much time at Google, how much time do you spend every week running your business?
Dannie: On an average week, I'm in my business three to four hours a week- that scales up if I have client projects or a speaking engagement and can go as high as 30 hours, but realistically, we're in the three to six range every week.
Gillian: So tell me a little bit about your business itself. What kinds of a products does it sell? Are you doing coaching, are you selling courses, or are you selling a physical product?
Dannie: For the first two and a half years of my time at Google, I had a one-to-one client model, and then I also had digital products and one hour brain dump sessions for when people say, “can I pick your brain?”
My answer was always “yes, if you pay me.” So, between those three things, the digital products at this point sell themselves. They were created three years ago, and I update them once a year over the course of a long weekend or the holiday break. The one-to-one services were what took up the most of my time on an average week.
Those one hour “pick my brain” calls could happen on my lunch break at Google on the train really anywhere. And then speaking engagements… My first year at Google, I spoke on over a hundred stages external to Google. Last year, it was a lot less than that. I needed a breather, but that really varies as well.
Gillian: Again. How do you have time? I think you know a secret we don't know…
So, prior to two months ago, you said you were offering these three different types of products in your company, and what are you offering now?
Dannie: So now I have no one-to-one services that are available to entrepreneurs and small businesses.
I have the one hour “pick your brain” services, which is now a monthly Voxer subscription, which has honestly been the best thing that I ever did for my business for the same price as that one hour call that people were getting. They now can get a monthly subscription to ask me questions whenever they think of them on Voxer, and I reply within 48 business hours.
Also, I still sell the digital products. Those are a self-fulfilling machine. And then my speaking and my corporate one-on-one offerings have kind of merged into one thing. So, over the past couple months, I've shifted to doing workshop-style work at corporations. So I come in for a day, we spend the morning ideating, talking through things, brainstorming. They go to lunch, I go hide for an hour. I work through everything that they've given me, and then we spend the afternoon talking through my solution.
Gillian: That's a really interesting business model and it's great to hear about an alternative business model because I know that in the online marketing space, you only hear about a couple main ways that people are really running profitable businesses, a couple of main types of products that people sell. So I love hearing about the different business models that you are using and using so successfully.
I've one more question about how many hours you work, and that is: Prior to two months ago when you were selling some different products, were you working the same amount or were you working more?
Dannie: Oh, I was working so much more in my business and frankly, my first semester of my doctoral degree started in October of 2019 and it hit me hard there.
I mean, 600 pages a week of reading papers, discussion posts, all of those things… and it just wasn't sustainable to work as much as I was in my business. I already knew that I wanted to pivot what I was doing to be more in line with this people-focused passion. So I rebranded the business, scaled back my offerings, and gave myself some breathing room for this degree, while not changing the dollar amount of my revenue at all.
Gillian: Well that sounds like it was a really smart decision for you to make, and it also leads very well right into my next question, which is, if I may be so bold, would you mind sharing your annual revenue with us?
Dannie: I flex all over the place, but I'm consistently a six figure business. I want to be very clear (because people get really excited when you say six figure business): my six figure business is gross. I am not a net six figure business, nor do I pay myself six figures, but I'm a six figure gross business.
Gillian: Thank you for being clear about that. That's a question that I often get whenever I share any numbers about my business. Are they net numbers? What are we talking about here? And I appreciate you making sure that that is clear because those are obviously vastly different things.
But still working three to six hours a week on average and grossing six figures a year… that's pretty impressive. I mean, people think that it's impressive, but I tell them, I work 20 hours a week in my business and you're working a tiny fraction of that, so let's get into how you actually managed to do that.
You hinted earlier on that a key component of that revolves around setting boundaries. So let's talk about boundaries. What are a few of the main boundaries that you find most helpful for limiting your working hours, while still keeping your profits high?
Dannie: I have three major boundaries that truly make or break my life.
The first is a boundary that I have in place at Google, and that boundary is, I absolutely do not (no exceptions) take meetings on Fridays. So, from nine to five on my calendar, at Google, there's a big red black button, and if you hover over the calendar event every Friday, it has a very short three sentence paragraph on why I don't take meetings.
It also says that if you schedule a meeting with me on Friday without asking me first, I will automatically decline it. No questions asked.
Gillian: I can't wait to get into that more about exactly why and what that does for you, but let's keep going for now and you share what those other two boundaries are, then we'll circle back around.
Dannie: The second boundary is I have an auto responder that's up. If you email my business email, that outlines a few quick things you should know, but more importantly, gives me permission to not respond to you if certain conditions outlined in that email are met. And then third, I only check my business email on Mondays and Wednesdays from five to seven PM central.
Gillian: That is so interesting to me, especially because I'm really curious about exactly why these particular boundaries are your most helpful boundaries for managing to get so much done.
So, let's talk about that first one. You said you have absolutely no meetings at Google on Fridays. Why and what do you do with that time?
Dannie: First, Fridays are my work from home day. The piece that we haven't talked about so far is that I live a two hour train ride from the Google office in Chicago. So, door to door, my commute is two hours and 15 minutes from the moment I leave my house to the moment I walk to my desk. And so for me, having that Friday blacked off, means I have no meetings when I'm at home trying to do laundry from the week, or trying to talk to my partner because he works second shift.
First of all, it's a personal boundary, but second of all, there's nothing worse than someone giving you an action item on Friday that needs to be done by end of week. Those EOW emails are the bane of my existence. So by having no meetings on Friday, I prevent that because you have to tell me that you need something by Thursday. Otherwise, it's waiting until Monday. So it's protecting my time and keeping me from working a late night on a Friday night to meet your goal or your deadline, or very frankly speaking, your lack of preparation.
Gillian: So it sounds like this boundary is mostly to protect your personal life, your sanity, making sure that you're not working too much, that you have a little bit of downtime, and that you have a little bit of breathing time. I love that.
So when it's your work from home day, are you just doing personal stuff and then doing some Google work from home? Or is that when you squeeze a lot of the work on your business in?
Dannie: So it's all over the board. I still get my six to eight hours of Google work in on Fridays. It happens in a 16 hour spread instead of an eight hour spread as it does Monday through Thursday. And I'm also knocking out podcast recordings, having coaching calls with my coach, talking to my financial planner, and setting my budget because we get paid every other Friday from Google. So I'm paying my student loans, figuring out where money needs to go, and then I'm also enjoying those mornings with my partner.
There's nothing worse than my partner being home from nine to 12 and me having calls the entire time when we haven't seen each other Monday through Thursday because of my commute.
Gillian: That completely makes sense and I can't go on without commenting on that commute. You're just trying to prove to us how even more impossible this is, aren't you? I really don't understand how there are enough hours in the day, so we need to just keep going with those. Keep trying to figure out what your secret here is, Danny.
Okay, so the next boundary that you mentioned is that you have an autoresponder for your email, for your business, and we encountered this as we were booking this interview with you.
We reached out to you, and we got back your autoresponder, which I completely appreciate because I have an autoresponder for my business as well. But of course, the message that everyone writes for their autoresponder is a little bit unique, a little bit different.
And so I would love to know the details about your autoresponder and why you chose to include the details that you did.
Dannie: My auto responder kicks off by thanking you for your email. It tells you in big, bold, red letters that I only check my emails on Mondays and Wednesdays and also says that bumping your email will not speed up replies, which that's so important because people think that if they bumped their email, it seems more urgent.
It says, if you want to be a guest on the podcast, you have to apply via a form and submissions outside the form will not be accepted. So if you email me to apply to be on the podcast, I delete your email. It says that I don't do coffee chats, and links to a very eloquently written blog post by another creative entrepreneur explaining why coffee chats aren't worth it and directs you to either find me at a conference or set up one of those paid “pick your brain” sessions, and then it directs you to email my business manager Max.
It also says that if you have questions about partnerships or anything, that is going to require some legwork before I can make a decision, and concludes by saying that I do my best to respond to every email, but if these things answer your question, I won't reply and thanks you for respecting that. I have a lot going on.
Gillian: That sounds very thorough. And what I like about it so much is that it is mostly focused on setting proper expectations. I'm sure you know, since you work in marketing, one of the most important facets to successful marketing is setting proper expectations.
Everything that we do is often in some way marketing. And so as your dealing with potential podcast guests, potential customer is, that is a part of the marketing of your business. And there's a lot of marketing that goes into those interactions. And so by setting those proper expectations, I can see exactly how you're setting yourself and the client up for success.
Dannie: You wouldn't go to Dunkin at four in the morning and knock on the window expecting them to have coffee when they don't open til six.
Gillian: So what I'm really hearing from you is that the secret to you being able to do so many different things in the number of hours that we all have in a week is that you have set very firm boundaries, and that the strength of those boundaries is what is holding this together. Those are the walls that are permitting these things to grow.
Dannie: It would definitely crumble without them. I will say the first time I had someone who was like my boss's boss's peer at Google try and schedule a meeting on Friday, it was very scary to hold true to my boundary and decline that meeting. ButI just sent a quick ping to say, “Hey, I don't take meetings on Fridays”. They were like, “Oh, I'm sorry, like I didn't even read that. My bad. I'll find a new time.” So, once people know what your boundaries are, they respect them and they appreciate that you have them. It's just you have to enforce them.
Gillian: I'm so glad that you brought up that little story there about one time when someone overstepped that boundary on a Friday and booked a meeting on your calendar when you had explained that you didn't take meetings on Friday.
It's interesting to me that you were able to set that boundary (even in your own business) but in your nine to five job. Is that something that's pretty typical at Google or a little bit out of the ordinary?
Dannie: Those things are very abnormal to Google, but once people get it, they get it.
Gillian: So let's move on and talk about that third boundary that you mentioned that's so essential to your ability to juggle so many things.
You said that you only check your business emails on Monday and Wednesdays from five to 7:00 PM so. First of all, I'd love to hear about why exactly you decided to check your email just twice a week, but I'm also curious about exactly how it works. Are you checking email for those entire four hours or is that just when you're working in your business and so you will be available to check your email during those times?
Dannie: It's definitely the latter. Those are the hours that I have set aside to work on my business. However, folks that have been emailing me for months or years at this point have learned that if they send an email at 4:59 it's going to be at the top of my inbox and they'll get a reply pretty quickly.
The reason it's five to seven is because commute time. There's a high potential that I'm sitting on a train during that time and I can't do anything else except to read a book or something. So I might as well knock out email, but also because it's outside of Google times. So it's reinforcing that boundary that I have a nine to five and as much as I love my business, that nine to five pays me personally more than my business does right now.
And so that nine to five comes first.
Gillian: That makes sense. And that's so strategic of you to choose that particular time. I hadn't even thought of your commute, so I was assuming that you were now not working and at home and sitting down and answering emails, but I love how you are strategically at multitasking.
You are, because we've all heard, you know, that multitasking doesn't work. Right? Multitasking doesn't work if you're trying to do two different things that require your brain to focus on them, but there are so many other types of multitasking that you can do that really do allow you to get a lot more done in less time, and that is such a perfect example of that.
So what are some suggestions that you have for some practical ways that our listeners, which are mostly the owners of small businesses, can really start to create boundaries to ensure that work doesn't take over their lives and so that they can accomplish more?
Dannie: I think a big one is to not have the Gmail tab open. Don't start your day with email. Don't end your day with email. Start your own to do list before you take others to do items and put them on.
They never address the magnetic power of the Gmail tab. And I have the Gmail lab extension enabled. That shows you the number count of how many emails I have.
So I know that once that goes from two to three, there's a new email and I want to know who it's from, and I immediately get email FOMO. So the biggest thing is close the tab. But truly close the tab. Don't have it open. If you have to have it open, have it in a separate browser that's minimized or something like that, but don't have it open.
The second boundary I would set is your own communication boundaries. I have a coworker that prefers to respond to all of his emails outside of nine to five, so that he could spend nine to five connecting and doing the things that he needs to do. So he has a little thing in his email signature that says “just because I'm replying to you outside of nine to five doesn't mean I expect the same of you.”
I just appreciate workplace flexibility, so whatever methodology works for you for managing your time, tell people about it. If you share calendars with your teammates, put blocks to get things done and let them see those blacks. If you don't and you're just personal to yourself, put it up on the wall for your partner.
There's nothing worse than my partner thinking that because I'm home on Fridays, I can also do the dishes like, no, I will get to the dishes after 5:00 PM, just like you would. So, just start to put those boundaries in place visibly in ways that other people can see them.
Gillian: So big picture, some of the things that you're talking about here that make a big difference are:
First of all, setting expectations, like we were talking about earlier, with your email autoresponder, with your calendar.
Second of all, communicating those expectations, which could be putting a sign on your door. It could be an email autoresponder, it could be marking something off on your calendar. Making sure that you really have told people what your boundaries are because you can't expect people to follow them if they don't know what they are.
Dannie: Exactly, exactly. And also when you set all these boundaries, give yourself a month for them to work, because it took me a solid three to four weeks to get good at saying no when people crossed my boundaries. So this also isn't a magic solution. It takes the active practice of saying no when someone crosses a boundary. And that takes time to build that muscle to be okay with the uncomfortable feeling of telling someone no. Cause we're not good at saying no.
Gillian: Okay. That makes sense. And it probably also depends on how much people are in the habit of pushing past a new boundaries that you're creating. You know, if it's a boundary that people are mostly already following already, maybe it wouldn't take very long. But if it's a boundary that people have been breaking for years because it wasn't a boundary in the past, then I could imagine it would take a very long time for people to form new habits.
Dannie: Exactly. Definitely. And if the people that you're building and boundary with are people that pay, you expect stronger pushback. So I expect and be prepared to have a conversation about that too.
Gillian: Do you feel like there is ever a time when it would be a good decision to actually extend some flexibility to someone else on one of your boundaries? Or are these boundaries, hills, that you're going to die on?
Dannie: 96% of the time. These boundaries are hills that I will die on, but I also recognize the power of an opportunity. Hypothetically speaking, let's say the amazing race casting director calls me and wants to have a conversation with me this Friday at 10:00 AM I'm probably going to say yes. Or let’s say that a new client that has a $10,000 a month budget wants to talk to me. I’m probably going to say yes.
You can't let your boundaries cost you an opportunity, but your boundaries should also enable you to work on the opportunities that you have. So it's like a 96/4 split.
Gillian: That makes sense. So it sounds like, first of all, it would really be helpful to know what your priorities are so that, first of all, you know, one of your priorities will be keeping that boundary, but there might be some things that are more important to you then that boundary.
The next thing I wanted to ask you about, Danny, is actually a question that came in from a member of my audience. Lauren Shannon wrote this in during a live session that we were doing recently, and she said, “how can you be intentional about knowing when the season of hustle is over and you can start working less?”
She goes on to explain that she had the idea to build a business just a little over a year ago. She's just started her YouTube channel and she's just trying to build some different streams of passive income to support her family and she realized that all of this takes a lot of work at the very beginning.
She says, “I can see how working and being in self employed can almost become addictive. And, or always you might have the insecure feeling that you need to keep working or else. You feel like you're failing in some way.” She wraps it up by asking: how can you combat those feelings and set boundaries? And, how do you know when your business is finally at a secure place? When can you can start to take a back seat?
So, Danny, what I would love for you to address is, first of all, you mentioned that you've run your business for 12 or so years. And so now, would you say that the things that you're doing to run your business these days would have been possible if you'd tried to do that in the early days of starting your business?
Dannie: No. These boundaries would have been a lot harder because I emotionally wouldn't feel like I had the entrepreneur capital to be so bold. However, if I could go back and tell myself 12 years ago to do something, it would have been to set these boundaries earlier. So I do think that there is a delicate balance.
I also am reminded of a quote that went around Instagram a couple of years ago. That was something to the effect of: you didn't leave 40 hours a week working for the man to work 80 for yourself. So it's being conscious of why you want to run a business, because I'm pretty sure none of us got into business to work 24 seven we got into business to achieve a freedom, to make more money, to change our life.
So, whatever the case may be, and so if what you're doing, if the way that you're hustling isn't driving towards those reasons that you started a business in the first place, then it's time to have a conversation with yourself.
Gillian: I absolutely agree, could not agree more. And I think that the key to that, the key to finding that balance and to making sure that you're not working 80 hours a week for yourself instead of 40 for someone else, is really to get crystal clear on why you do want to start a business and then create a plan to actually get that result, not just to try to build someone else's version of success with your business.
Could you address Lauren's other question? How can you combat those feelings and set boundaries?
Dannie: So I think anyone with an entrepreneurial heart just inevitably feels that hunger for hustle. She described it as addicting, and it, it certainly is.
And so I think that every single person who has ever been an entrepreneur has wrestled with: “I'm addicted to my business, but it's not healthy for me.” And especially as we're in this pop culture environment right now of the anti hustle and the wellness movement.. those feelings become even more apparent.
The short answer is you'll have to notice it first. And that typically means some sort of uncomfortable, angry, or emotional event that leads you to realize that you're working too hard. Maybe it's a partner who you ended up getting in a fight with because you're working all the time, or it's a missed opportunity that you regret deeply, or even your personal health starts to take a toll. You've gained weight, you're dehydrated because you're not eating as much as you should be… So there's typically going to be some kind of event. If you haven't gotten to the event and you're listening to this, please take a look at how you're spending your time and prevent the event.
But if you know exactly what I'm talking about, if you feel that event… If you're on the other side of it and now you're trying to rebuild things, take a step back. Go back to that core motivation of why you started the business and start truly and unashamedly cutting the things that don't serve it.
You don't need to be on every social media platform. I don't have a Twitter. I don't have a business Facebook. I don't have a Pinterest. It doesn't serve my business. It might serve your business, but it doesn't serve my business. I don't blog weekly. I don't send email newsletters weekly. Start cutting the things that aren't driving to your core motivation and you'll find that you have all the time in the world.
Gillian: I love also how you mentioned that most entrepreneurs do experience that their business being addicting in some way.
And I think that that ties back into what you mentioned earlier about everyone having these core motivations, one of four core motivations. Could you remind me what those were again.
Dannie: Yeah. So most people are motivated by either money, impact, time or creative expression.
Gillian: And so that probably really ties into the reason why a person would choose to start their business.
And then the thing is that if you're being motivated by one of those things, which everyone is, then as soon as you start to work towards that, you're going to want to work more to get more of that. You know, to have a more impact or to make more money or to have more creative expression. And so I can see why it would just naturally be addictive in that way because you're working towards the fulfillment of something that you really want.
I also just want to say that maybe some of our listeners who are listening to this episode right now might not have experienced this yet, especially if they haven't poured a lot of time and energy into their business yet, but watch out because I completely agree with Danny here that almost every entrepreneur I know who's been at it for a while at some point, finds at least some part of the process of working for themselves to be rather addictive.
And that's when you really have to step in and set those boundaries that Danny's talking about, because otherwise your business can't really take over your life. And I would say that is true even if you aren't someone who would consider yourself to be a workaholic at all. If you are a driven person at all, that can happen to you.
Gillian: Alright, I've got a few final questions for you. The first one is what is the number one thing that you've done in the recent past to earn more or to allow yourself to work less?
Dannie: I think it was cutting the one on one services, and I remember being panicked about this decision. I was so scared, but removing the one-to-one services and shifting to a one to many model, not a course, like I'm not about course life. I know courses are really trendy, but moving to a one to many model had a tremendous shift in the way that I'm able to produce revenue and work less.
Gillian: I love that you found an alternative way to structure your business that really worked for you and help to better fulfill your goals.
My final question for you is, what is the best place for our listeners to go to connect with you or to find out more about what your business offers?
Dannie: So you just heard that I actually don't use most social media, but the one platform that I really do leverage is Instagram. So your best chance of hanging out with me is heading over to you at Dannielynn fountain on Instagram.
Gillian: Thank you so much, Danny, both for being here on the show today and also for everything that you have shared with our listeners about setting boundaries.
Dannie Thanks for having me.