About a month before I graduated a few years ago I landed a ‘grown up job’ – with dress clothes and meetings and responsibilities. The first thing I did – nano seconds after walking in the door – was set up an Outlook sync to my personal cellphone. So I could get emails at any time. So I could ‘be responsible’.
My relationship with work emails was simple, at first. I would check once or twice in the evenings while at home, if it was something I could take care of quickly, I would. If it wasn’t, I’d ‘flag’ it, for the next day. But regardless, I was always in the ‘know’.
And people learn this, quickly. Not that you’re ‘in the know’, but actually that you’ll help them any hour of the day.
My relationship with work emails during my home life became increasingly unhealthy at the beginning of this year. Work was insanely busy. Often, I’d work a 12 – 14 hour day, and take work home with me to complete as well. And then I’d check my email all evening. If I woke up in the middle of the night, I’d check it then, too. And, it was the first thing I checked when I woke up in the mornings.
I have had anxiety my entire life. Lately, it is super well under control. I like to use a thought process when I’m getting overwhelmed:
1 – What can I do about it now?
2 – Do those things, now.
3 – What can I do about it later (tomorrow, etc?)
4 – Write those on a list
This worked, really well, but work-synced-to-phone 24/7 was starting to trial the process pretty terribly. There’d be nights I’d get emails about things I’d have to deal with the next day. Things I could do nothing about that second, but they were things that I wasn’t looking forward to dealing with, so I’d worry about them.
Or I’d get emails that made me angry. And I’d be upset, and I’d want to fire back something smart. And I’d have to (try to) stop myself.
Even if I didn’t reply. They were in my head.
No matter how many lists I made, I felt overwhelmed. And the anxiety attacks started coming back. I dreaded going to work each day. I felt like I never got away, never were caught up. But I couldn’t see why. I didn’t realize how much the work-synced-to-phone had started getting to me. The truth is, the work-home relationship walls were crashing in on me.
I felt like I had to do these things. Because that was being responsible.
Honestly, my job really isn’t that big of a deal. I have no intentions of ‘climbing the ladders’ here, and I’m not sure if I want to climb ladders that expect access to me24/7. There is someone on call each day for emergencies. That’s the person getting paid to worry. And, everyone at work has my cell phone number. If there is an emergency, they can find me. But I didn’t see this, at all. No, I had to be connected.
In July we took a ‘stay cation’. And I decided to unsync my email during that time. It killed me the first few days. I kept wanting to hook it back up. But I didn’t. And when I got back to work, I had 876 emails.
But that was okay. I handled them. And guess what? The place didn’t fall apart without me.
And it suddenly hit me that being responsible may actually be taking care of myself. Meaning taking a break when I wasn’t actually at work. And not being available 24/7.
I had left a note on my desk before I left for stay cation reminding myself to re-sync my email when I got back. But, I had loved not worrying about work when I wasn’t there, I decided maybe I shouldn’t. So I went another week, just worrying about work when I was actually there. A few weeks later I did re-sync, but I turned off the automatic push. So now, I can get email (and my calendar – which actually is important for me to have access for away from work), when I need to – like, if I have to be away from the computer for extended periods during the work day, or, if I have an emergency I need to communicate to my boss out of work hours, or for the days I’m the one on call.
And suddenly, my anxiety has started to go away again – almost in the same manner that it snuck in slowly, I’ve realized in the past week that it’s again melting away, piece by piece.
And that works for me. I don’t dread going to work anymore. I used to think I loved ‘knowing what I was walking in to’, but the truth was, I just worried about what I was walking in to, which did nothing for the actual ‘walking in to it’. Except make me exhausted.
So here’s my proposition to you – turn off your email push for 1 week. Or, only push during business hours (my phone has sync options for each day of the week). Take care of yourself for one week. And then see if you can keep going.
The world won’t fall apart without you, I promise.