Monday, August 18, 2014

Just Say No to Email (after hours, weekends and on vacation)

How many of you wish that when you were on vacation, any emails directed to you were simply deleted from your inbox, leaving you with a clean slate on your return?

That's exactly what German auto-maker Daimler has proposed per this recent Time article.  Vacations are not optional for optimal human performance. In fact, recent data have demonstrated that unstructured free play promoted healthy brain development in children resulting in improved social skills. And "in one study, researchers found that the best predictor of academic performance in 8th grade is a child's social skills in the third grade." To see this principle hilariously depicted:

Not Just Vacations

I applaud Daimler for this move, and I've long felt strongly that separating work and home life is essential to personal happiness and fulfillment. One way I attempt to achieve this is to avoid sending or responding to work-related email outside of work hours. This is especially applicable to anyone in a managerial position. When a manger sends an email to an employee at 10pm, it's natural for the employee to feel an obligation to reply, whether or not that was the manager's intent.

The most common excuse for this behavior is that late at night or in the wee hours of the morning are just the only times the manager has to work through the packed inbox. Some managers make it very clear to employees that a response is never expected after work hours. Most, however, do not make this explicit.

So what can be done? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Don't work on email at home (if possible)
  2. Write the email drafts at your convenience and send the next business day
  3. Send the emails anyway, but make it very clear to your employees or coworkers that a response is never required after work hours
  4. Use technology to solve the problem for you

While I try to follow option (1) whenever possible, I employ option (4) when I just have to catch up on email after hours. I use a Mac Mail add-on called SendLater. As the name implies, it allows me to compose emails at my convenience. Rather than save as a draft, I simply click the "SendLater" button which queues up the email to be sent the next business day at 8am. As soon as the next business day rolls around, the emails are automatically sent on or after 8am as long as my laptop is connected to a network. This might explain why many of you have received lengthy emails from me around 8am. It doesn't mean I was up early working on them.

For you Outlook users on Windows, there's a built-in option to do the same thing.

Of course, I work in the healthcare profession, and despite my best efforts patients are still getting sick after 5pm and on weekends, which means I occasionally have to send emails at these times. But hopefully I've prevented a few of you from feeling pressure to respond to email that can and should be left until the next business day.

Here's hoping even more of you adopt this practice. Until then, I promise I'm not ignoring your 10pm email question. I'm probably just sleeping. Or playing.

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