Warning! Don’t read this if your company will collapse if you don’t log-in to email tonight!
Do you check your work email
- when you get home from work in the evening?
- and again at night before you go to bed?
- and again before leaving for work in the morning?
- on weekends?
- when you are on vacation?
- on your Blackberry during dinner? / in the bathroom? / while travelling to work?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you must be working in a profession where each email is a life or death matter or you must be so important that your company would collapse in your absence (in which case it’s not a very viable company).
If you answered “no” to all of the above: if your inbox is overflowing with fresh messages by the time you make it into work early in the morning, it’s because there are others in your company who can answer “yes” to some of the above questions. These are the people who ruin it for everyone else.
I’m ashamed to say that in a previous life, I could answer “yes” to all of the above (apart from the BlackBerry ones). I treated each email as a potential matter of life and death, if not for the company then for the rat-race I was participating in.
I realized that this was very unhealthy behavior, but one event in particular sticks in my mind as the turning point. It was the night before I was due to take a rare three-day break with my family at a resort on the Dead Sea. Attempting to clear my desk before leaving, I pulled an all-nighter to plow through my overflowing inbox, so that my team and colleagues would be able to survive my 3-day absence without having to disturb me (which unfortunately was not taboo in the company’s culture). At this point I remember reflecting wistfully on whether I worked for my team and associated matrix or whether they worked for me. The upside of this all-night email session was that I could fire off tens of emails and disappear without having to deal with the replies and resulting email threads as the recipients debated the issues. Or so I thought. At 4 a.m. I noticed that replies had started arriving! I was not the only one processing my email well into the small hours.
If you are in a similar situation, try looking at it from the following perspectives:
- Your employer uses modern technology to encourage you to stay umbilically connected to work when you’re at home. Does you employer encourage you to bring your family to work with you? Or to chat with them all day via IM?
- “No one ever gets to their death bed and wishes that they’d spent more time at work” — Darren Rowse.
- If you washed your hands as often as you check email, would people peg you as obsessive-compulsive?
Have you ever asked yourself why you work? If you didn’t need the money would you still be at your current job? Many of you will say “yes”. This is because for many of us, our jobs are challenging enough to give us a sense of achievement and accomplishment, which is just as important as food on the table and a roof over our heads. You must be a real super-achiever if constantly having to check your email does not detract from your feeling of achievement.
I don’t believe anyone who says he can sustain a high quality of work with optimal creativity and insight while being totally immersed in work during almost every waking moment. If you occasionally allow yourself to stop hacking your way through the jungle and rise above the treetops, you will gain a clarity of vision that will enhance your value to your employer, and will also help you to reach an ideal balance between your work and your family.
Let’s end off with something practical. M3 Sweatt writes about one brave manager at Microsoft:
One manager here is so serious about work/life balance that he all but forbids his team from sending emails late into the night (sure, there are exceptions to the rule). But he is able to live within the boundaries by responding to mail ofline after the family goes to bed and then sync’ing mail the next morning at the office.
Why don’t you pluck up the courage to behave like this, and encourage your colleagues to follow suit? (Hey, I just realized the true meaning of en-courage!)