Preventing Burnout in Your Doula Business with Boundaries

It’s not a secret that turnover in the birth doula field is high. It’s common for doulas to want to give, give, and give some more. There are already enough challenges with navigating the medical model of care and supporting our clients. One way that can help curb the potential for burnout is what I’ll be talking about today – boundaries, in both your personal life and in your business.

Video Transcript

Hi everyone! I hope you’re having a good week. Thanks so much for joining me. Today I’m going to talking about one of the most important factors for preventing burnout as a doula – and that’s creating BOUNDARIES with your time.

But first, for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Darlene MacAuley and I help birth professionals start and grow their businesses with a focus on establishing systems and creating community, both on and offline.

So first, I want to ask you a couple questions. Do you feel like you have a handle on your time, between your business and personal life? Are balls being dropped, such as missed emails to set up client appointments? Does it seem like you’re driving around town too many times one week for appointments and then you have only one appointment the next week? Are you or your family feeling the strain of you working late into the night too many days a week?

If your stress level is rising because this is YOU, whether you watching this live or on the replay, type YES in the comments.

Today, we’re going to explore this wonderful thing called boundaries, which help us be true to ourselves and allows us to reclaim our time and shift our tendency toward reactive responses in our business to operating our business proactively and with intent. I’m just going to be focusing on one area where we can set clearer boundaries, and that’s with our time.

If you know of any other birth pros who might benefit from today’s topic, I invite you to share this video with them now!

At the end of this live stream, I’m going to tell you about a freebie you can request to help set some clear boundaries with people you have just interviewed with. I’ll give you more details later, but for now, let’s get started!

I started my first business with my husband when my oldest was 2 and I was pregnant with my daughter. I spent the first two years of the business working in just about every moment of free time I had. After my adrenals pooped out and my body forced me to slow down, I learned an important lesson about setting boundaries for my business life. Mainly, the lesson was that I needed them, for my health and my sanity.

I know I’m not the only one to have this experience, and I’ll share what I know has worked for me and others.

Saying NO

There are four steps to creating boundaries.

The first step is to start saying NO, which I know can be HARD for a lot of people. Decide what aspects or responsibilities in both your business and personal lives are activities that you hate doing and that, if lessened or eliminated, will open up more time for you each day.

For example…

…is housework or cooking duties falling by the wayside?

…are you spending a lot of time playing phone or email tag with people to set up appointments?

…are you being asked to volunteer for things that you feel obligated to do?

…are you doing a lot of repetitive administrative tasks?

Whether it’s an activity or a person that’s draining your energy, you can decide today that you’re going to say no and make a change.

Your action item here is to identify and make a list of everything that takes too much time or energy.

Dump, Delegate, Automate

Once you’ve said NO to these things, you’re going to look at your list and decide what to DUMP, DELEGATE, or AUTOMATE. And for the perfectionists out there (hey, I’m a recovering perfectionist), you can do your best to change your expectations.

Let’s revisit the list above:

For cooking and housework, you can delegate these responsibilities by giving more of them to your partner and kids, hire a housecleaner or use a grocery delivery service. A while ago, I decided to let go of my high expectations of a perfectly clean house and dinner on the table at 7. I embraced some convenience foods. I got my husband to grill a lot of meats and veggies on Sunday so we’d have leftovers for a few days. I started using my crockpot and pressure cooker more often. And Amazon Prime’s grocery delivery service changed my life.

Let’s look at volunteering. Decide what causes really matter to you and how much time it would take. If you feel any sort of negativity from being asked to do something, those are the ones you are going to say no to. Sometimes you might even have to say no to something you really want to do. You can’t do it all, or you will have to be very intentional about what else you’ll have to say no to in order to say yes to volunteering. I will post a link to an article I love written by career coach Renee Trudeau on the 9 ways to say no.

Let’s now look at playing phone and email tag to set up appointments, or doing repetitive administrative tasks.

These are areas that can be automated. For appointments, I use an online scheduler called Acuity. There are many others out there so you can try a few and see what works best for you. With Acuity, I set up all the different types of appointments I have, and I identify the limits or boundaries I have for them. Then I connect Acuity to my Google calendar, and Acuity will generate the times I am available to meet based the openings in my Google calendar.

For doulas, what that might mean is deciding that you will only do 30-minute interviews or consults, two days a week from 10am-2pm while the kids are in school on one day, and 6pm-8pm on the other day, when your partner can be with the kids. You might go even further and decide you will take a maximum of two appointments per day.

So, after you speak with someone who decides they want to meet with you, you send them a link to set up an appointment. That person will book the appointment and then receive confirmation emails that were previously set up by you. They will also receive reminders, and if they need to, they can reschedule or cancel their appointments themselves. In the meantime, you don’t have to do anything else except look at your calendar each day to see what appointments you have. Can you imagine how much time that will save you??

For administrative tasks, there are paid CRMs or client relationship management systems. There are ones created specifically for doulas and there are also other ones like Dubsado or 17Hats that can be adapted for any service provider. These systems are one-stop shops that can automate sending out contracts and emails and keep you on track with what you have to do for each client.

Some people prefer to automate only certain aspects. I like to use a service called HelloSign to send out contracts. I upload a contract, and the service securely contacts everyone that needs to sign it. It will even chase people with reminders and send me updates to let me know what’s happening.

Other aspects that can be automated are social media posting and some bookkeeping tasks.

Action Item – for the list you made above, decide what can be dumped, delegated, automated. Some tools are free, and others require a monthly or annual subscription

For things that have a cost attached, calculate what your time is worth and how much time will be saved using automation. If a $10/monthly subscription to book your appointments is going to save you 4 hours a month, I’d say that would be worth it.

Create Policies

Now that you’ve dumped, delegated and automated, let’s talk about your company policies. Your policies are what clearly communicate your boundaries to your current and potential clients. They are most important in letting people know how to pay you and how much access they have to you, and that’s what they are agreeing to when they sign your contract.

What’s awesome about having your own business is that you get to decide what works best for you. Let me give you some examples.

The one thing birth doulas don’t have control over is the length of births they attend. They are able to lessen the potential strain from attending long births by letting clients know in their contracts that they may call in a back-up doula after so many hours. Some have language in their contract that says after so many hours, an additional hourly rate will apply.

Let’s look at the time we spend around consults and  appointments…

You might prefer to have clients drive closer to you than you to them.

You may decide that you want to park yourself at your local coffee shop around the corner from your house for three hours one day a week and have back-to-back consults during that time.

If on some days you don’t have time to drive somewhere to meet clients but you’re available to meet via Skype, Zoom or Facetime, you might have that as an option to meet for interviews or prenatals. One time I had a doula client who had a toddler who reliably napped at a certain time, and we had one our prenatal visits by Skype.

Finally, you might decide to charge a fee for your consults, and apply the fee to their package if they hire you. Why charge? It might help if you’ve found you’ve got lots of shoppers or perhaps you have a lot of requests. Charging a fee will weed some of these people out.

Action Item – Create a document and come up with policies that feel good to you. Whatever policies you set up around interviews or consult, put those on your website where visitors will see those policies before they book an appointment with you.

For policies that pertain to your meetings once they are clients, you can outline those in your contract or new client welcome packet.

I’ve mostly addressed consults and client meetings, but definitely set time boundaries around when you will join clients at births, when your on-call period begins, and when and how they can contact you with questions.


Finally, as you might notice, the most important part of having boundaries is COMMUNICATING them to prospective and current clients. They know your time is valuable, but you need to show them where the limits are and be very clear about them so they know what to do.

So, today’s freebie is actually one of my most popular, if not the most popular one. It’s a template of a welcome letter I used to give to prospective clients when we met for an interview. This letter explains what they’ll find in their interview packet, how they can hire me, and how long I’d hold a space for them. This gave the people I interviewed with the opportunity to interview with others if they felt the need to, and they knew their space was being held for a certain period, after which it would be released and might not be available to them.

I’ll add a link in the description for you to request it!

Your time is precious, and as a business owner, the policies and systems you set up for yourself will help you make the most of your time. Start saying “no” to the activities that take up a lot of your time and add to your stress, and start prioritizing what you will say “yes” to. The more clear you are about what you will and will not do, and the more you systematize and clearly communicate your rules, the more you control and freedom you will feel around your time.

Thanks so much for joining me live or on the replay. See you next week!

Additional Resources:

Lots of resources to help streamline and automate your business

Time management strategies for work-life balance, part I

Time management strategies for work-life balance, part II

5 ways to maximize your time while working at home

Self-care for doulas after attending births

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