I just received an email from someone who is on vacation. Or, perhaps I should say – from someone who is theoretically on vacation.
That reminded me of a passage from Jessica Bennett’s The Feminist Fight Club – An Office Survival Manual (For A Sexist Workplace). This funny and feisty book has much to recommend it. But one small section, entitled “Cell-Free Zone,” made a particular impression on me because it provided such a great example of setting clear boundaries:
Consultant Joan Garry has written an insightful article aimed at helping nonprofit executive directors to take control of their time. She addresses after-hours emailing, but stops short of the clean boundary set by Rhimes.
Garry notes that “late night emails drive staff members crazy.” Indeed. But interestingly, her solution to this problem focuses on when emails are sent, rather than when they are written. She advises saving drafts of after-hours messages to send the next day, or employing an email-scheduling software for that purpose.
In fact, as a Harvard Business Review article Garry references makes clear, there is plentiful evidence that being on duty 24/7 isn’t good for any of us – leaders and staff alike. To enhance creativity and productivity in our professional lives, we need real downtime. To nourish our personal lives, we need to be able to give our families and friends our undivided attention.
I believe that it’s important for leaders to set clear boundaries for themselves, and to refrain from after-hours work – including emails – except in truly urgent or exceptional circumstances. We can use some of Garry’s excellent suggestions to help us limit how often such circumstances occur!
And when we take vacations, let’s take real vacations.
On vacation, it’s typical for our minds still to be whirring with the minutiae of our professional lives for the first day or two. That’s why three-day weekends and quick breaks – while lovely in their way – aren’t enough for true mental rejuvenation: we’ve only just started to unwind when it’s time to return to work. And on a longer vacation, if we read email or otherwise “check in with the office,” we’re cheating ourselves of the real boost that a substantial vacation can bring.
So when it comes to avoiding email on vacations, I suggest remembering the burning-building rule: if the building burns down, they will definitely call you.