We have all been there. Inundated with email throughout the day, our inboxes can range from having dozens to hundreds to thousands of unread messages in them – and it never seems to stop. During the day with back to back meetings, collaborating with others, travel, etc it can be difficult to check and respond to email during the typical workday. Sometimes this leaves us with checking and responding to email in the late evenings and weekends, as this is the only time we have time to sit down and focus after the day's activities are over.
Throughout my career I have formed a habit of doing exactly this as I am sure many of those reading this have as well - it has become natural, and something that is expected. Let's also not forget how email is connected to our mobile devices and we are constantly checking to see if any new messages have arrived (or immediately grabbing the device once it buzzes).
Recently I have recognized the impact of sending emails late at night or on the weekends have downstream to the recipients of my emails. In this blog post I will discuss the challenges of this, the impact and how I have evolved this habit into a new "best practice" for myself. I hope in reading this you will be inspired to evolve and develop your own best practices for how to best handle email in your life.
Why is sending an email bad?
To be clear, sending an email is not a bad thing, not at all. But, sending an email after the recipient has ended work for the day can have major impact downstream to your recipients and others who read the email. Let's break this down into a typical flow of sending an email after business hours:
(Note, the following is just an example)
- I need to send an email to a co-worker because I need status on a project. I need this information because I have an upcoming status review meeting with management.
- I haven't had a chance to send it yet today due to meetings, but it's now 9pm and I need to get this out (because I feel the sooner it's sent the better, as it's off my plate and my co-worker might respond faster than if I were to wait until tomorrow).
- I spend 5-10 minutes composing the email asking for the specific status information I need. I click send.
- My co-worker is logged off their computer, but he has email setup on his smartphone and receives a new message notification (along with a ringtone and vibration).
- The co-worker hears the notification, and decides to read the email. He then spends roughly 20 minutes composing the email (researching the status, gathering information, etc).
Impact it has on me:
Impact: The most important item to mention here, is that I am working after hours. The question becomes, why was I working so late? The fact that I am working late creates additional (and unnecessary) stress. Stress can have a negative contribution to health and job satisfaction.
Questions I ask myself: What can I do to reduce the time I spend working after hours? What can I do during the workday that can prevent me from having to work late? Why do I feel I need to send this email right now?
Impact: After I send the email, the recipient will more than likely reply – generating additional email messages that will arrive in my inbox. This creates more work for me to then triage and go through.
Questions I ask myself: Was there a better way to get the information I need rather than sending the email? Is there a different method I can use? Does it have to be through an email? Lastly, does my company really want me to be working this much after hours?
Impact it has on others:
Impact: The obvious downstream impact is on the recipient themselves. The recipient may now start to feel stressed that the email needs to be replied to immediately.
Questions I ask myself: What is the recipient doing currently during this time (at night or on the weekend). How likely are they to reply to the email? By sending this email, am I taking time away from their family? By sending this email, am I creating unnecessary stress for them? Am I going to somehow damage the relationship or create resentment by sending this email? How frequently do I send email after hours to this one individual? Lastly, how important is the email and can it wait until the next business day?
Okay, but I still need to send the email:
If the email must be sent and there is no other option, I developed a few new personal best practices for how to send the email but ensure it doesn't arrive until the next business day. There are two methods for which to do this: scheduled and save in drafts.
Outlook has a useful feature that allows you to schedule the day and time for when you want the email to be delivered. After you click send, the email will remain in your outbox until the scheduled day and time and then it will be automatically sent. I find this feature particularly useful as I can still work late at night or on the weekend (or even on a plane) and still triage email as needed. For more information on how to schedule emails in Outlook see the following article.
I use this method frequently as I like to reply to emails or compose new messages but save them in my drafts folder. On the next business day, I have time set aside in the morning to review the emails in my draft folder, and make any necessary modifications before I send them. This time is blocked on my calendar as "Matt Time" and is intended for administrative tasks such as responding to emails.
Another best practice I developed when sending the email is disabling the ability for recipients to reply all to the thread, and therefore generating more email traffic than necessary. When I send an email to a large number of recipients or to a distribution list, enabling Rights Management Service on the message and selecting "Do Not Reply All" disables the Reply All button. For more information on how to do this, click here.
What other options do I have besides sending the email?
In my daily work, I have many communication tools available to me and based on how I want to communicate will dictate which tool I use:
Microsoft Teams: If I am working on a project team, or need to communicate within my direct team, posting the message to Microsoft Teams and @ mentioning the specific individual may be a better option. Perhaps the email I wanted to send was more informational to the team, and no action is required (i.e. a newsletter, news article, or general "FYI email") then Microsoft Teams might be the best place to post it (remember you can send an email to a channel in Microsoft Teams).
Yammer: If I have a question about something, but I am not sure who to ask, posting to Yammer may be the better option since everyone in the company subscribes to Yammer and I may find the right subject matter expert. Here's an article I wrote about thinking through how being social at work makes me more productive.
Phone Call: As simple as it sounds, personally I forgot how effective calling someone can be. The phone call may take less than a few minutes and can be very effective by getting you the information you need or allowing you to share your information with the recipient.
Conclusion: Taking the time to think through if sending an email is really necessary can have a huge impact. However, if you must send the email, consider scheduling it or saving the draft for the next business day. Lastly, consider minimizing the audience or disabling the ability to reply all. I hope you find value in this blog post, please feel free to leave comments if you have your own best practices that you have developed.