Thanks to our iPads and iPhones it can feel like we're constantly working. Do you feel like you need to checking your email every five minutes and replying instantly, or else you'll appear unreliable? Sometimes it just seems impossible to switch off!
It seems like the more technology there is to help us to be more efficient, the less time we're actually allowed to spend switching off. The point of technology is to assist us, but what's actually happened is that you start feeling there's an expectation for us to get more and more efficient with the aid of technology, and be constantly available.
I think some of this is a change in society for sure, but some of it is also self-imposed. Because our brain likes ticking things off a never-ending list, it gets a jolt of satisfaction when we answer yet another email instantly, which keeps us trapped in that cycle. But if you really think about it, don't you think most people would be happy to wait a little longer, say 48 hours, to get a reply? I would argue that most of us generally appreciate reliability over speed.
1. Change of environment
Unfortunately, it seems almost impossible to try to switch off with will power alone. I think that the best way to create time away from your emails is to change your environment. If your iPad is more for fun, like watching movies and reading books, remove your email client from it completely, and then put your phone and laptop in the cupboard for the evening so you can resist looking at them. It also pays to set some structure for your time. You are a lot less likely to reach for your phone or laptop if you have decided that 8pm until 11pm is work-free time. Or if that feels too radical, start with agreeing that family dinners or activities are phone/work free times.
2. Communicate your boundaries
If you get stressed about not getting back to your clients instantly, communicate your boundaries clearly. All it takes is an autoresponder which says you'll get back to enquiries within 48 hours, or even just an email signature that states your office hours. Often the fact that you have communicated your boundaries is enough for you to allow yourself be off the clock. You know you'll get back to everyone in good time, so there's no need to stress out about not doing it instantly.
3. Time buffer
There's another advantage to not replying to emails instantly. Have you ever hit ‘send' while still reeling from an emotional response to the email you just replied to, only to regret it once you've calmed down? I'm sure we all have… In general, it's good practice to always leave a bit of a buffer of time in between receiving emails and replying to them. It will help you never to reply to emails too emotionally, as you will have had time to properly digest the message and form a balanced reply.
Lastly, remember not to be too hard on yourself in your search for that elusive balance. I don't believe balance is anything constant that can be achieved, but that there's an ebb and flow to it. Sometimes you'll have more time for yourself, friends and family, and at other times work takes centre stage. And that's perfectly fine.