In our ever-idyllic vision of the 1950s and 1960s, we think of white picket fences, children playing stickball until they were called in for dinner, and only landlines to interrupt us at home.
That last detail is what people like to harken back to as they sit at home at 10 p.m. answering emails.
Most people who follow a traditional 9-to-5 workday know what that’s like. After working all day, you can’t just relax at home until 9 a.m. the next day. In a more globalized world, you need to answer emails from overzealous bosses who don’t turn off their smartphones and from people who are just starting the workday in Asia. It’s no secret that we have become an always-on society.
But this tendency to be always connected — always available — isn’t healthy. It means less time to unwind after a full day of work and less time with friends and family. That leads to more stress and reduced productivity down the line, which isn’t good for you, your job prospects, or your company. Maybe you don’t need to permanently get off the grid, but just taking a break from it after your workday concludes is beneficial.
- Don’t check your email after work. It’s tempting. Every email, with that little red flag, seems urgent. (Hint: It probably isn’t.) Even if you don’t have any emergencies, it’s easy to answer “just this one email,” and then keep answering until your inbox has nothing unread. The best way to not fall into these traps is to just stay clear of your work email. If there really is an emergency, it’s likely someone will call or text you.
- Disable push notifications to your phone. They just encourage you to check your email, and as mentioned, you need to go on an email diet.
- Do something relaxing to take your mind off work. Read, exercise, go to the park, cook, play Scrabble — do whatever it is that helps you unwind. I like to read on my Kindle and take a walk after a stressful day.
By following these steps, you can take ownership of your free time and feel happier and more ready to work when you show up to your job the next day.
Someday, the expectation for employees to remain constantly available, night and day, will change. After all, even with all the breakthroughs we’ve had, email is still in its infancy — it has been widespread (in first-world countries) for about 15-20 years. To compare, we’re as far along in time with email as people in 1928 were with cars (the first Ford Model T came out in 1908). As we learn how to integrate email and mobile phones into our lives, we’ll probably figure out the whole work-life balance — how even though you can be reached at anytime, that doesn’t mean you should.
Until then, we must draw our own lines. That includes free time uninterrupted by a barrage of red-flagged emails that could be answered tomorrow.