What to Do If You Don't Want to Check Email on Weekends

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI was in a staff meeting once and some women were chatting about the pressures they felt to be available even on their days off. One woman, bless her heart, said that her big victory was waiting until 2:00 on Sunday afternoons before she'd check her work email. It seemed like I was the only person in the room who thought that was absurd - "checking work email in the middle of your precious Sunday?!?" Flash forward six months: I'm checking email as soon as I wake up in the morning and regularly throughout most weekends.

No one explicitly told me to stay connected to my inbox on Saturdays and Sundays, but there I was, drinking the Kool-Aid and waving the "I work so hard and am dedicated" flag. At first it felt like I'd finally made it - I was "important enough" to be "needed" over the weekend. Then, after a while, it felt yucky, and heavy, and I never felt very rested on Monday mornings.

I wish someone had told me two things back then:

First, that I didn't have to check email all of the time - no one was going to get hurt if I didn't and I wasn't going to be fired.

Second, how to draw a line that I'd already crossed weekend after weekend. How could I change course once people expected instantaneous responses from me?

So, message #1 in this post is this: If you don't want to check email on your weekends, don't.

If being "on" all the time works for you, then okay, but if you're finding yourself anxious every Sunday night, constantly exhausted, or refreshing your inbox without even being aware that you're doing it, I'd encourage you to read on.

Assuming you've been sucked into the common practice of 24/7 availability (and most of us have been there - so no shame), it's not too late to change course.

You can create different rules by which you work - rules that work for you.

Here are some ideas for how to shift the nasty habit of weekend emailing:

First, if no one has explicitly asked you to be on email over the weekend, then it's really a matter of the pressure you put on yourself. That's great, because it's an easy fix: just stop doing it.

I'm not being facetious. You're responsible for your own well-being, and you have what it takes to decide not to participate in the crazy email culture from Friday night to Monday morning.

If the expectation is explicit or if you get push-back once you try this, I have a couple of thoughts:

  • You can stand your ground and say something like "I choose to shut off email over the weekends because it's really important to me to rejuvenate and come in fresh on Monday morning," or something like "I know I do better work when I've had a couple of days away from email, so I've made it a priority to shut it off over weekends."
  • You could tell people you're doing an experiment - you're going to see how your workweek changes after not checking email for four weekends in a row.
  • You could write an autoresponder over weekends that says something to the effect of, "Thanks for your email. I'm committed to resting on weekends so that I can give 100% Monday - Friday and will respond to your note as soon as I can next week."
  • You could leave the organization and find people who respect your time and life outside of the office.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI hope those ideas are helpful, but the biggest hurdle to quitting this habit will still be your own beliefs about needing to check email all the time.

Drawing boundaries with other people is difficult, but really, it's the boundaries we draw with ourselves that need the most tending.

Weekends are so important for people working a regular 40+hour workweek. A lot of the people I meet underestimate how much rest and rejuvenation they really need, and they compromise their own health and vitality by giving away that precious time and energy to tasks that don't need to be addressed right away, like checking email.

Try it for one weekend (or even one weeknight) and just see what you notice. See if anything feels differently. You can always go back to checking it!