Did you know French workers are barred from sending or answering work emails after hours?
I’ll admit that when I heard this news last year there was one part of me that applauded the law and one part of me that questioned its wisdom. I could understand preventing companies from requiring employees to answer work emails in the evening—but to prevent all employees from even sending emails, of their own volition, after a certain time?
For the first couple years of my career, I was that employee. I was always sending and answering emails from home, no matter the time, and sometimes even getting frustrated when my co-workers failed to respond until nine in the morning the next day.
What changed my mindset first was pure necessity; when my daughter was born, juggling motherhood with work forced me to take things down a notch. I couldn’t always get to my phone or laptop right away because I had a baby in my arms or I was driving to and from daycare. Yet I saw that despite my inability to be available 24 hours in a day, my work did not suffer. In many ways, my performance improved because I was giving myself time to step away and reset.
So although now I feel more settled in a routine, and more able to answer those late emails again, I try to avoid doing so when it’s unnecessary (and let’s face it, it’s usually unnecessary). Here are a few ways that I fight the itch to pick up my phone for work in the evenings:
1. I keep my email app off the home screen of my phone.
I use a phone that allows me to choose which apps appear on the home screen and which remain hidden. I force myself to go to extra effort to search for the email app so that it’s less of a reflex, and more of a deliberate choice.
2. I turned off the push notifications.
It’s hard to ignore any type of notification on your phone or computer. Back when I took three weeks off for an international family vacation, I made a point of disabling my email notifications. When I returned to the office I never turned them back on. It feels freeing to cut that cord tying you to the inbox, and it means that you only have to think about work on your own terms, rather than because someone else forced it into mind.
3. I’ve taken up more hobbies.
When you’re accustomed to that always on feeling, and you’re never truly off the clock, you have less space in your mind for anything besides work. But now that I’ve given myself permission to forget about work most evenings, I find I have more mental space to pursue the things I love, which I had set aside for too long. I read and write more, I go on walks with my family, I play with my daughter, I meet up with friends. What’s funny is that I feel these healthier activities benefiting my work because I am giving myself space for creativity, which leads to more dynamic thinking in the office.
4. Stop sending emails at 5 p.m.
I’m guilty of this one. I’ll fire off an email just before I leave the office, but then I’m eager to see the response, so I find myself refreshing my inbox over and over at home. Yet I’m not likely to see a response until the following day—and I’m pushing someone else to have to answer their work email after hours. Often these end-of-day emails can wait until morning. You might even consider getting an extension or addon that allows you to schedule your emails ahead of time, so you can write the email before clocking out, but know that it won’t send until tomorrow.
I am far from perfect when it comes to dividing work from my personal life, but these strategies have helped me strike a healthier balance. I am constantly striving to improve this aspect of my life because I can see the greater energy and capabilities I’ve benefited from after making small steps. We all deserve a break—so stop checking your work email after work.
Kelsey Down is a freelance writer in Salt Lake City who has been featured on publications including Elite Daily, VentureBeat, and SUCCESS. She’s covered fun stuff like why TV reboots need to stop and how to hack sleep as a workout, and she also writes about personal and family wellness. Follow her on Twitter @kladown23.