In this era of smartphones, tablets, laptops and constant connectivity, it is easier than ever to fire off emails any time of the day or night. You can think of something you want to share with one of your colleagues or subordinates, whip out your phone, stab out an email, press send and it's out of your mind and into theirs. Easy-peasey. So easy, in fact, that you can do it five times a day without even thinking about it.
You need to start thinking about it.
Sending emails all night and on the weekend is like standing ten feet away from your employees while they are off work, shooting them with a t-shirt cannon. Every five to seven minutes. Here they are, just trying to enjoy a soccer game with their family and along you come to peg them with an email t-shirt at 150 feet per second. "Did you remember to reach out to so-and-so about the quote?" Five minutes later, another round—"Did you call so-and-so about the Smith deal?" Their weekend turns into either being regularly pummeled with questions, ideas and requests, or, them avoiding their email and knowing they will come in Monday to an avalanche of messages that they have to answer before they can start doing their real job.
(The same thing applies to emailing at 2:30 a.m. No one likes waking up, opening their email app and seeing five messages from their boss that came in when normal people are sleeping. It sends two messages—number one, their boss is potentially mentally unstable; and number two, they will also be expected to demonstrate this same behavior and start emailing every time they wake up to go to the bathroom at night.)
Here's the thing. People need time off. They need time away from the job to be with their loved ones, pursue hobbies, rest, have fun, and generally enjoy their lives. The idea that "good" employees work 24/7/365 is outdated, and it was never actually sustainable. (It's also why cocaine was so popular in the 80's.) If your business requires people to work 24 hours a day, hire a second and third shift, and pay those people to work during those hours. Don't expect your day shift folks to just never sleep, or never take a night or weekend off. That's draconian. And unreasonable. And a jerk move. You will get better work from happier employees, have lower turnover and develop a working culture that actually works if you (and your organization) set clear boundaries around email hours and then respects them.
There are a couple of tricks I like to employ to keep myself from emailing all weekend with folks. (Yes, I used to do this, too. I'm not perfect.) These tools help me not forget important questions I need to ask, or lose ideas I want to explore, by the time Monday morning rolls around.
1. Carry a notebook. I have a small notebook with me at all times so when I have an idea or a question, I can write it down. Then, Monday morning, I can pull it out and run down my list to see what actually needs addressed, or what was just a dumb idea I had after too many beers at the baseball game. I keep notebooks in my purse, on my bathroom counter, next to my coffee machine, in my car, etc. Notebooks EVERYWHERE.
2. Use the delivery delay function. If you REALLY need to get an email drafted but you don't want to bother someone until the next morning or after the weekend, write it out and then set it to deliver at an appropriate time. (As a reminder, 3 a.m. is never an appropriate time.)
3. Set regular update meetings with direct reports. I have regularly scheduled times each week when I meet with my direct reports, so I know I'll get the information I need about their projects then. I don't have to blast them with the email cannon, asking about this phone call or that quote—they'll tell me when we sit down every week. This is also a great time to pull out my notebook and ask them about the ideas and questions that have come to me.
4. Use apps to break these bad habits. I use the Freedom app on my phone to lock out my email after 5:30 p.m. on weekdays and all day on the weekends. I can't send an email from my phone during those hours even if I want to, forcing me to follow steps 1-3.
5. Get a dang hobby. If you are busy enjoying your nights and weekends, you won't be bothering your employees about work stuff. You'll be out there, getting new experiences, refilling your well, and just being human, instead of always being in work mode. You'll be more relaxed, happier, more well-rounded, and definitely more willing to respect the boundaries other people are setting.
If you follow these steps, I promise your business will not fall apart. It will be hard at first, but you will not stop having great ideas, and your employees will not suddenly think you aren't a good owner/manager/boss/human. They'll appreciate that you respect their off time, and they'll work harder for you when it is work time.
PS. A final note: texting. Don't. Do NOT text your employees outside work hours unless it is an absolute emergency. For them. If email is a t-shirt cannon, texting is a machine gun—they truly can't ignore a text, and it is so much more jarring and intrusive. Just. Don't. Do. It.