At my best, I try to use email as its namesake suggests it should be used: as an electronic mailbox.
As technology advanced in the 20th and 21st centuries, and the smartphone transitioned from an executive novelty to the norm, very few of us—including myself—stopped to ask whether this was actually a good thing. We can access email 24-hours a day on our phones, but should we?
Are humans the type of beings who are able to flourish when we are never truly disconnected from our work?
I would suggest that we are not. I know with certainty that I am not.
My tendency, like most of us, became to use email as a slower version of instant messaging. I had email access on my phone and on my computer, and each of these devices notified me the instant a new message arrived. I then replied as soon as I possibly could, often feeling as though my work was not finished until I responded to every new email that arrived. This, as you can imagine, led to a sense of never feeling like I was “off-duty.” I am not alone in feeling exhausted by the “always-on” approach to email.
(See Fortune Magazine’s article “How Checking Email After Work Is Burning You Out” or read the results of one of studies it references: ”Anticipatory stress of after-hours email exhausting employees.”)
I am now back to trying to use email as an electronic mailbox.
Like my actual mailbox, I may check it occasionally throughout the day if I am expecting important information. Otherwise, I will likely only check it once or twice. This means that I no longer have email or internet access on my phone.
You cannot really disconnect from email after-hours if you have any possible way of accessing it on your phone. iOS 10 allows you to delete the native Mail app and disable the App Store and disable Safari. I could not break my email-checking habit without making it
impossible annoyingly difficult to check email on my device. You might need to do this as well.
But what about…?
Several but what abouts almost ruined my endeavor to use email as email. Here are some ways I have talked myself back into it.
If someone needs something from me immediately, they can give me a call. If they do not have my phone number, then I am probably not the person that is best equipped to handle their emergency.
If you are thinking, “I would love to do this, but my industry does not allow it,” then I would suggest two things:
(1) I thought the same thing; you are probably wrong, or (2) You are right, but I imagine you can find a way to limit the “always-on” email mentality to regular work hours.