Do not check work email outside of business hours

email after hours

Do not check work email outside of business hours

If you work in a job where you have to be contactable outside of business hours because if something happens you can actually do something to make it better then stop reading now.

Otherwise, for the other 99% of us, let me relate a personal story.

A couple of weeks ago, I accidentally checked my email after work hours. I don’t know why I did it. It was a relapse.

There was only one email there and it was a customer with something that could be interpreted as “bad news”. My heart rate went up and I felt really worried about the bad news. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do anything, except forward the email to a colleague. The work required to identify whether the email was “bad news” couldn’t be done until I was in the office the next morning.

Went to bed late, woke up at 2. Didn’t get back to sleep until 6. 

The next morning my colleague and I decided it wasn’t bad news. We worked for a couple of hours and established the bad news was not bad news. Everything was ok. But now I was just tired…

Fast forward to that night. Because I am a slow learner I checked my email again. And guess what? “Bad news” from a supplier about the same customer as the night before. Email colleague, stress, go to bed, wake up in the middle of the night, get two hours sleep. 

Next morning – it’s ok. The “bad news” was just my misinterpretation of the data. 

I’m still trying to catch up on the 8 hours sleep I missed.

Do not, ever, check your email outside of business hours.

If you cannot do anything about the content of an email then don’t read it.

When you check work email outside of business hours you risk causing yourself stress at a time when you can not doing anything to alleviate it.

Let’s work through the typical excuses for checking email outside of business hours:

It might be important. Yes, it might be. But if you can’t do anything about it until business hours you’re just increasing your stress levels.

I am important. The more important you are, the more important it is that you are performing at your optimum level at work. Reading business emails, when there’s nothing you can do until business hours, has the potential to cause stress and anxiety. Use your time away from work to relax, recharge and get ready to face the working day.

It might be urgent. Email is not for urgent situations. If you have a mobile phone, make it known you will answer it. In an urgent situation, take the call and deal with the situation.

Checking work email after hours is often something people do in their idle moments whilst itching their phones. My ongoing temptation to check work email is one reason why I no longer access email on my phone. There is a feeling that simply by reading email we are somehow working. By reading an email we are doing something.

For most of us, this isn’t true. We are reading email and by doing so have completed the task of reading email.

In my day job, business is pretty much contained in 9-5. Mostly. I check email at 12 and at 4 daily and an email autoresponder lets people know this and advises they call me when urgent. I ripped this idea from the four-hour workweek and more information can be found here.

I’ve found that this removes the expectation from co-workers, suppliers and customers that I will be checking my email outside of business hours.

After deleting my mail from my phone, setting my iPad to “fetch” instead of “push” I have found that it actually requires me to consciously and deliberately check my email. This creates a big enough psychological gap for me to be able to stop and think “no!”.

My evenings and weekends are a little bit more relaxed. I am mentally and physically present with my friends and family, and my work hasn’t suffered.

If you’re keen to try it, let me know how it goes.

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