Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, the founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, one half of Viewport Industries, and an electronic musician.

Time away from email

Posted on 18 April 2011 21 comments

Article illustration for Time away from email

We had some friends over this weekend, and when I came to check my email this morning, I realised I hadn’t done so for the entire weekend. And it was lovely.

As anyone who is self-employed or runs a small company will attest, this is something of a rarity; checking email at various intervals is an act we naturally slip into doing when we care deeply about the projects we’re working on. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and if we’re honest about it, it probably shouldn’t.

Just shy of three years ago, I upped sticks and decided to live in Norway for the summer, which also coincided with my decision to leave full-time employment. Whilst living in Norway, the house I was staying in had no WiFi; the only means of internet access was a lone ethernet cable protruding from the landlady’s daughter’s bedroom, and I — in an attempt to not be seen as a perverted Englishman with a slightly unhealthy need for the web — limited the time I spent using the desk outside the poor girl’s door, and instead worked from a couple of fantastic coffee shops in town. It was a great time, the atmosphere in the shops was unbeatable, and all was well in the world. I was possibly more productive than I’ve ever been, too, because I knew I’d have no internet access as soon as I left the ‘office’.

At the time, data roaming was even more expensive than it is now, so I had that turned off on my iPhone. The result was that the only time I ever checked my email — or indeed did anything vaguely work-related — was during the hours of 10pm – 5pm. And again, it was lovely.

This weekend’s email-less fun reminded me of that time spent in Norway in 2008. I remember that it was strange not having constant web access at first, and I certainly fell back into my old routine of constant-email-checking once I got back to England and turned data back on, but for that summer, I had a very healthy work / play divide, and that’s something I think I need to get back.

This coming weekend is Easter, which means that I get to reap the rewards of public holidays on Friday and Monday. So, as a little test, and because I really need some proper downtime, I’m going to disable Mail on my iPhone on Thursday night and not switch it on again until I’m back on Tuesday morning. Who’s with me?

21 comments

  1. Chris Anstey

    Chris Anstey

    18 April 2011 @ 03:01PM #

    What about staying off your iMac/MacBook for the whole weekend too? :)

  2. ajclarkson

    ajclarkson

    18 April 2011 @ 03:05PM #

    Now that sounds like a plan. I’m spending Easter with the family, so no doubt they would appreciate me not checking email all the time as well!

    I’m game to join in

  3. Andy McMillan

    Andy McMillan

    18 April 2011 @ 03:11PM #

    Sounds like a plan, E! I’ve recently switched Mail on my phone so I have to check it manually, that way at least it isn’t going off every five minutes when I’m in a meeting or having coffee with friends. Might be a good long-term solution?

  4. Rich

    Rich

    18 April 2011 @ 03:13PM #

    Great idea, I can already see the releif on my wife’s face!

  5. Leslie Jensen-Inman

    Leslie Jensen-Inman

    18 April 2011 @ 03:25PM #

    Every summer, I run away to somewhere tropical with my mom.

    We go someplace with no internet and don’t take our cell phones.

    We sit near a pool and/or an ocean—-we read, we talk, and we connect.

    I might be +30 years old but “mom and me” time is so needed. Sure my mom and I email throughout the year and talk a bunch on the phone but the escape from technology reminds of what’s really important—-people communicating with people in person and sharing a unique experience.

  6. Andrew Philpott

    Andrew Philpott

    18 April 2011 @ 03:40PM #

    Totally agree. I always turn my work email off every weekend or any time I’m on vacation. I figure that if anything urgent comes up, I’ll get a text or a phone call.

  7. Alpesh Shah

    Alpesh Shah

    18 April 2011 @ 03:54PM #

    I love the sentiment, but I think the real solution is to train yourself to be able to leave mail on, and still not check it. I have almost gotten into that mindset perfectly, though I know I still have a bit of work to do. Personally, with employees, I feel the need to check at least once a day just to make sure none of them has an issue I need to address. I am largely blessed by clients that don’t think we need to work on non-emergency issues on weekends.

  8. Pete Hawkins

    Pete Hawkins

    18 April 2011 @ 07:04PM #

    Nice idea, your Norway adventure sounded like a perfect balance.
    I would follow the same regime as Andy, email is on manual sync only. Then you check it in your own time.

  9. Kevin Finlayson

    Kevin Finlayson

    18 April 2011 @ 03:19PM #

    Nice article, Elliot. I’ve been freelancing for 6+ years, and a big part of what’s made that possible is limiting my availability to email. I check email 3 times a day, max (this allows me blocks of uninterrupted work), I have it completely disabled on my iPhone and iPad. I take Sundays off—Saturdays too, when possible—without checking email at all. It was a challenge at first, but now I find I work much more efficiently, and start each week feeling rested and excited to get back to it.

  10. Galen King

    Galen King

    18 April 2011 @ 08:52PM #

    A couple of months ago I tool the (drastic!) step of going back to having a personal email address with MobileMe and, unless I am away from work during a work day, I only have my MobileMe emails on my iPhone so I can still communicate with family and friends. When I got my first iPhone, I thought that being in the loop reduced my stress as I had less of a burden when checking my emails each morning in the office but I have subsequently found that being constantly connected and never really switching off is far worse. So, I’ve gone to no work emails on my mobile and it’s great!

  11. Howard Theriot

    Howard Theriot

    18 April 2011 @ 08:56PM #

    I’ll be visiting family and will definitely be called upon to help my mom with something on her Macbook. Aside from that, and using my iPhone for music and phone calls, I’m vowing to be tech-free Friday – Sunday.

  12. Rodrigo Afonseca

    Rodrigo Afonseca

    19 April 2011 @ 03:34AM #

    Count me in! Have already abandoned my iPhone a month ago. Now I have a cellphone that only makes and receive calls, and it has been very productive… thanks for empowering our ability to focus on real people!

  13. Nick Toye

    Nick Toye

    19 April 2011 @ 12:38PM #

    A nice idea, and in an ideal world would be great – but how many of us live in an ideal world?

    How many of us can afford to disconnect from our clients for so long? Not everyone has holidays at the same time, especially if you have global clients who may need you for support etc…

    I think it comes down to managing your time and having self-control to not act on an email that may be urgent, or perhaps let all your clients know that your not going to be available till such and such a time.

  14. Davor

    Davor

    19 April 2011 @ 11:38PM #

    I’m with Andy and Pete – a minute ago I modified email on my phone to be synced only manually! Sounds like a great idea because in reality there’s no such thing as an “urgent email”. On the other hand, I’ve had my free time screwed up a number of times by an email I shouldn’t have read till powering up my computer the next working day. Thanks for the idea Andy and Elliot! :)

  15. Data Entry India

    Data Entry India

    21 April 2011 @ 10:46AM #

    Nice idea. I always turn my work email off every weekend or any time I’m on vacation. I figure that if anything urgent comes up, I’ll get a text or a phone call.

  16. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    22 April 2011 @ 12:56PM #

    Thanks for your comments, guys! I’ve taken Andy’s suggestion and changed Mail to ‘manual’ on my iPhone and iPad. So far it’s working out nicely and it’s a good test of will power!

    Now to stick with my promise: it’s Friday, so all email is off, the out-of-office is on, I’m off for four whole days sans email. Have a good weekend, everyone!

  17. Luke Jones

    Luke Jones

    22 April 2011 @ 01:15PM #

    I’ve done the same. I was going to work but I thought… SCREW IT! Why should I?

  18. Robert Paul

    Robert Paul

    22 April 2011 @ 01:24PM #

    Good for you! I sometimes get hassle from the missus for spending too much time on my iPhone and email, but I suppose she’s right…it is good to switch off and step back for a while! (Specially as far as my design work is concerned…I am trying my best to keep clear of my computer when designing these days!)

  19. Dan Rubin

    Dan Rubin

    22 April 2011 @ 01:33PM #

    I’ve been treating email like a second-class citizen for at least three years — though I still complain about my inbox every so often, I’ll go two or three days at a time without looking at it on a regular basis. Switching mail to manual was also a big improvement, and not just on my iOS devices, but on the desktop, too.

    I had a similar experience to your Norway story in the summer of 2009, while living in London for 2 months. I could only access the web from cafes, and they all charged for access at that time, so my time online was even more limited. And it was indeed a lovely thing. I miss those months of limited contact.

    Email is a distraction, and an unwelcome one at that. Sure, before email we couldn’t as easily work with people scattered around the globe, or keep in touch with our foreign friends on a daily basis (who really does that, anyway? I wrote more on paper with distant friends than I ever have via email, possibly because it feels so much easier to do, resulting in less incentive to do it).

    So enjoy this weekend away from email (and the web, if you can manage it), read a book, spend time with people, and consider how much richer life could be if this happens more frequently than just Bank Holidays… :)

  20. Luke

    Luke

    22 April 2011 @ 01:38PM #

    And that’s what I don’t have a smartphone yet. I seem to have an inability to switch off as it is, let alone if I had e-mails, tweets and notifications in my pocket all day.

  21. Kiryn Clay

    Kiryn Clay

    25 April 2011 @ 04:14AM #

    Trying hard fella, seems the email additional is strong with this one, though i lasted a few days…

    thanks for the inspiration mate :)

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