In January, I took a four-week sabbatical from my job at The Muse. Committed to getting a full mental break, I left my laptop at home (panic-inducing but doable—a story for another day) and removed my work email and Slack app from my phone.
When I came back, not wanting my post-vacation bliss to end, I didn’t bother turning the account back on for a couple days. And then a couple more. And then, a week or so in, when I figured I probably should go back to the status quo, I realized I’d forgotten my password.
Which had to be reset by an admin.
So another week passed. At one point, I intended to swing by our IT manager’s desk, and then… I didn’t.
Now, a month later, my phone is work-email-free, and it’s probably going to stay that way. For a while.
Backing up a few months, if you had told 2016 Adrian that this was a possibility, I never would’ve believed you. “Sounds nice in theory,” I would’ve said, “but I get way too many work emails. People need me at all hours of the day. What would I do if I went out to dinner and wasn’t online from the time I left work until I got home four hours later? Can you even imagine?”
I couldn’t. But I also couldn’t have imagined the benefits.
For one, I don’t begin my day with work anymore. Sure, looking at my phone is still the first thing I do (sorry, husband and cat), but the experience has changed. Instead of starting each morning stressed about what needs to get done that day, I read texts from friends, emails from family members, and news stories that I care about.
This means that my workday now starts when I want it to—after I’ve made a cup of coffee—rather than “15 seconds after my alarm goes off.” I’ve felt happier and more peaceful in the AM hours than I have in a really long time.
Secondly, I’m much more present than I used to be. Whether I’m at dinner with friends or a coffee meeting with a professional contact, I’m not interrupting the conversation every three minutes with a quick “just need to make sure they don’t need me back at the office!” email scan. I enjoy and get more out of these events now—and I’m sure my companions feel the same way.
(As an added benefit, workday lunches and coffee dates usually wrap up on time now, since they’re not punctuated by hasty email writing, and I know I have an inbox to get back to.)
And (probably the hardest truth of all to accept), I’m a kinder and more effective emailer. Ever had the experience of quickly reading a message on your phone, feeling peeved at the sender, only to come back later, reading the email slowly and with context on your computer screen, and realizing there wasn’t really anything to be so upset about?
Or maybe that’s just me. But in any case, that doesn’t happen anymore. I read, process, write back—rather than read on phone, seethe for an hour, read again, calm myself down, write back.
Here’s what hasn’t happened: I haven’t missed anything important or breaking. I haven’t gotten any angry “why haven’t you responded to this yet?” emails. I haven’t had any complaints from my boss.
That all may happen, and I may find myself heading to the IT guy after all. But in the meantime, if I know I’m going to be out of the office for a while during work hours, I simply tell my team: “I don’t have work email on my phone. If you need me, text me.”
I know this might not work for everyone (I hear you, anyone who works in client services), but there are baby steps you could take. Maybe do a one-week trial period. Or turn your account off on nights and weekends. Or leave your phone outside your bedroom so work email isn’t the first thing you see when you get up.
Just because we can be connected to work all the time, doesn’t mean we need to be. And setting some simple boundaries might just give you a slightly saner relationship with your inbox—and your work.