Last year my husband and I had the good fortune to travel to St. Maarten for a spring getaway. It was a fairly short trip, but I was dead determined to bring along my iPad so that I could stay in email contact with the work world, “just in case.”
It turns out that there were no emergencies and, even if there had been, I could have been reached by hotel phone. So why on earth did I lug my iPad into a Caribbean paradise vacation? Couldn’t I have used the trip as an opportunity for email detox?
Somewhat frustrated, I reached out to the ISAE Experienced Professionals shared interest group. Through an online discussion, I vented by asking: “Can you go one day—just one, single day, on weekends or vacation—without checking work emails?” As always, my SIG friends offered sage advice.
Melissa Heeke, CAE, membership and communications director of Midwest Political Science Association: “Great question, Laura! I do go an occasional weekend day without checking my work email. When I want to ‘check out,’ I move my mail app to the last screen on my phone, so I’m not tempted by the notifications adding up.”
Takeaway: Out of sight, out of mind.
Dave Stevens, managing partner of Stevens & Stevens LLC: “I set my phone to only check personal emails only on weekends, and I encourage our employees to do the same. For example, one of my volunteer roles is serving as VP of baseball for Broad Ripple Haverford Little League. I tell everyone in the league to only email me at the BRHLL address, which I check on weekends in case someone needs league or game information.”
Takeaway: Multiple accounts = tailored email.
Brian D. Parker, CAE, managing director of operations of Alpha Kappa Psi: “I do check email before I go to bed at night and on Sunday afternoon (to try to lessen morning stress levels), but I try to go Saturdays without checking it at all. Also, I believe a vacation is a vacation, and I avoid checking email on vacation. Volunteers and staff know to text or call if there is an emergency situation.”
Takeaway: “A vacation is a vacation!”
Alyssa A. Pfennig, CAE, RYT, president of YogaExec and executive director of Mighty Lotus: “It’s good for supervisors to be clear about expectations of answering emails, and to have a conversation about it with their employees. Too many people think that if their boss or coworker is sending email outside the normal workday, they should be doing the same, and they aren’t working as hard if they aren’t. That’s not true at all, but without communication, people make assumptions. Then unintentionally a culture is created of employees checking emails all day and night, just so no one feels like they aren’t on top of their game.”
Takeaway: Be culture-conscious.
Sherrill Rude, CAE, vice president-advocacy at Indiana CPA Society: “On weekends and vacations, I generally check emails once in the a.m. and once in the p.m., unless there is an issue I’m trying to help a member with. (This doesn’t apply during tax season ‒ then I will check more often.) And I do not carry my phone around at home or in the yard!”
Takeaway: Create an email-free sanctuary.
Dave Stevens follow-up: “I was in Philadelphia recently visiting with a client, and this very subject came up. The CEO said he has stopped sending emails after hours, because the staff would feel compelled to answer them, and that wasn’t his intent. (He was merely trying to send the email while he was thinking of the topic.) His director of marketing was with us, and said it is very hard to disregard any email from your boss. Maybe we should all give our staffs a break by finding another mechanism to capture a thought at night or on the weekends. I’ll try to do that from now on.”
Takeaway: Make positive change for a ripple effect.
Closing observations: The above conversations took place last spring, and I thank these experienced professionals for their wisdom. Though I have not yet achieved email detox, there are glimmers of hope. I’ve traded in my iPhone/iPad combo for a single, larger phone. I email less often on weekends, sometimes going a full day without even checking. And this June my husband and I took another trip—this time visiting family in Norway. I’m proud to say I left the electronics at home!