Switching off from email in the always-on world

By: Monica Seeley

Date: 16 June 2011

Using a smartphone at a conference

Put the smart phone away! (Image: Gulltaggen on Flickr)

With laptops, smartphones and other mobile devices, your email is always with you - wherever you are. So how can you get away from it without appearing rude to people who expect an instant response? Is it even realistic to always be available?

It's interesting that most surveys, including my own, show that we stay connected not so much because people expect us to be available but because we think they expect us to be available. That reflects either our inability to switch off and delegate, or an equally worrying 'email addiction'.

To check your level of email addiction use my email addiction tool.

The key to surviving in this 24/7/365 world of business is to manage people's expectations. Here are five ways to take time off from email:

  1. Check your level of email addiction to make sure your reluctance to switch off is not driven primarily by your own assumptions rather than other people's expectations. More on how to deal with addiction in a future column.
  2. Use your out of office message no matter whether you're away on business or holiday. Set a safe, simple message saying you are out of the office with limited email access. Offer a point of contact for urgent matters and a date when you will reply. Make this the day after you actually get back, so you have time to catch up.
  3. Ask someone else to manage your email whilst you take a break. If you're a one-person business or don't have someone you can ask, consider using a virtual PA service.
  4. Lock your smart phone away and take a conventional mobile phone with you which only handles voice and text messages.
  5. If you do take a smart phone or laptop with you, only check your email once or twice a day - preferably at the end of the day. At all other times, shut down your email software and turn new message notifications off.

We all like to think we are indispensible but at the end of the day most of us need time to recharge our batteries and switch off. Staying switched on around the clock has been shown to reduce our overall effectiveness - and never mind the health implications!

Be honest. Ask yourself if there's ever been an email which would cause a disaster if you didn't deal with it immediately. For most of us, the answer is no. And that means there are alternatives to always being connected.

For more ways to take time out without jeopardising your business and professional image either go to one of Dr Monica Seeley’s ninety minute Brilliant Email Master Classes or get a copy of her latest book, ‘Brilliant Email: How to improve productivity and save time’.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.