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This is What Happened When I Stopped Checking Email on My Phone for a Year

As part of my role in HR, I speak with clients about employee wellness, both physical and mental. I encourage business owners and their employees to take opportunities to unplug from all the many sources of information we tap into on a daily basis, and to live in the moment, fully engaged in personal experiences when out of the office. When clients would ask me how I manage my own work responsibilities when unplugged, I would have to answer, “I’m not actually doing it myself.” Yikes. So in the spirit of credibility, I disabled my email account from my cell phone in December of 2015. Even though Outlook was no longer synched on my phone, I could cheat by logging into webmail, but I made the commitment not to do it. And here’s what happened.

First, I set expectations. I informed my co-workers, vendors, clients, and other business associates that I would no longer have access to email during non-business hours. I allowed myself to log onto my laptop from time to time on nights and weekends, but I asked my associates not to depend upon me doing so. Instead, I invited those who needed me during non-business hours to call or text me. And while I worried that I would be letting everyone down, no one even seemed to care.

The first four to six weeks were the roughest. I, like many of us, receive over a hundred emails every day, with my inbox notification pinging every few minutes. And so I found myself constantly worried about being out of touch and wondered what disasters awaited me upon my return to the office every morning. And, as expected, every morning I opened emails that I previously would have addressed after hours, leaving me with a constant nagging feeling that I was always behind and trying to catch up.

Yet, after this initial adjustment period, while the quantity of emails didn’t change, my attitude toward them did. I no longer felt behind, but rather reset my own expectation that every morning I needed to devote a certain amount of time to responding to emails from the previous evening/weekend. And this became my new normal. Over time I was able to live “in the now” and become fully engaged in whatever I was doing without worrying about what information was being sent to me or what was needed of me. By the third month, I relaxed in the comfort of knowing that I was accessible if need be, but that most communication could wait.

Now, one year later, I am no longer at the mercy of my phone pinging at me every few minutes, and I have vowed never go back to checking email on my phone. When I tell people this, I get a shocked looked of disbelief like I am doing something crazy. And while I’m not in a business where I can totally unplug (or would want to), I am happy with the modest step I have taken, and don’t find it crazy at all.

So if you ever feel overwhelmed by the seemingly infinite sources of data that come at you every second of every day, I encourage you to find one source that you can control, and do something about it. Perhaps you delete the Facebook app from your phone, perhaps you change the notifications settings on Twitter, or perhaps you disable email on your phone like I did. Whatever it is, please email about your experience - and I’ll get back to you the next day!

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