In the past, I have bemoaned the death of the weekend, and I have said that its untimely demise is, in part, our own fault. If we weren’t always sending, reading and replying to emails when we need to be off the clock, we wouldn’t be — ahem — sending the message that our time is infinite and worthless. I’m going to take a departure from my usual tone in these next couple posts to give you some very practical and concrete advice about how to handle this problem. Everyone talks about the power of “now,” but I’m going to give you the power of “later.”
In my admittedly-not-particularly-humble opinion, work-related email traffic has become an unwelcome and uninvited incursion about nearly every hour of our days. Like Christmas decorations on sale after Halloween or a tip-of-the-nose zit on a 41-year-old man, these electronic interlopers creep in where they aren’t wanted and where they create all sorts of unintended consequences.
But I get it. Sometimes, our days are so full of firefighting that we hardly have time to breathe, and sometimes it’s just easier to batch process all those emails at 9 p.m., with a glass of wine in hand. I just want to teach you how to send those in vino veritas missives without unintentionally creating ugly ripples.
First, let’s talk about those ripples.
Delayed email for leaders and people managers
If you manage or lead people, your late night and weekend emailing sends more messages than just the ones you compose. When you dash off that eleven o’clock epistle, you’re actually telling your employees two things:
- That you don’t have enough control over your time and priorities to handle work during work hours, and
- That you expect them to read and respond to emails well outside of work hours.
My guess is that you don’t intend to send either of these messages, and you also don’t want to be the one that turns your workplace culture into the dreaded “always-on” default of our times.
So what’s the answer? Go ahead and write those emails. Send ‘em, even! But delay when they get delivered. Read on to find out how.
Delayed email for solopreneurs, consultants and independent professionals
If you make your living serving and adding value for folks you bill by the hour or by the project, your off-hours correspondence tells your clients a couple of things you might not want them to know:
- That you aren’t able to handle your workload during typical work hours, and
- That you’re available to deal with their issues, questions and indigestion at any time.
Again, my guess is that you don’t intend to send either of these messages. You want to convey a sense of mastery and control, and you also want to maintain some boundaries with your clients.
The answer for you is the same as it is for organizational managers and leaders — by all means, respond and hit that send button. But if you can figure out how to delay the delivery of the message, you’ll be doing yourself a favor.
Delayed email for employees
If you’re an employee who makes your living working for someone else, responding to emails outside of conventional work hours tells your manager and coworkers a couple of things about you:
- That you either can’t manage or don’t value your own time enough to get work done during work hours, and
- That you are available at any hour — day or night, Monday or Saturday — to deal with work-related issues.
In most cases, I don’t think you mean to convey these messages. In fact, you are probably eminently capable of handling your workload, and you definitely don’t want to help Jerome with his Excel question during your kid’s Saturday morning soccer game.
Once again, the answer is strategic delay. You can read and respond to emails whenever you like, but strategically delaying when they’re delivered will serve you well, in more than one way.
I hope I’ve adequately conveyed why you should control yourself when it comes to processing work-related email outside of work hours. Tomorrow (see how I’m delaying?), I’ll tell you exactly how to harness the magical power of delay — whether you’re using Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail, Gmail or even your iPhone or Android mobile device.