How To Protect Your Time Off From Constant Emails (And Other “Important” Requests)

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This is a guest post by Chris Lema he’s a long-time friend and partner on building my website and online platform. He is a genius across many fields. You can learn more about him here. 

By Chris Lema

We’ve all been there before, right? You’re out, enjoying time with friends or family and then you check your phone. You know you shouldn’t have. But you did. And what do you find? People have sent you a bunch of weekend emails. What do you do?

After all, if you reply right away, you’re basically conditioning your people to constantly expect a rapid response – even on the weekend. Do this for long and you’ll have no life. Or hate the life you have.

On the other hand, if you don’t react, you could come across as “too” casual and potentially lose a client.

It feels like there are no good answers – no good options. I don’t know if there’s a “right” answer. But I can tell you my approach.

Sometimes they really are urgent

You and I both know that sometimes the emails we get on the weekend are legit. They really are urgent and immediate attention is required.

Even if you’ve never had a client with an eCommerce store whose solution suddenly fails, losing tens of thousands of dollars an hour with it, surely you can agree with me that some situations require serious and immediate attention.

Of course those situations never happen on weekdays from nine to five. No, they show up at midnight or two in the morning, on the weekend.

So yes, sometimes the emails we get really are urgent. But that’s not most of them, right?

People & situations dictate urgency

The other thing we can agree on is that emergencies aren’t the only reason an email could be considered critical. Yes, emergency situations are a valid reason, but so are certain people.

You know what I’m talking about, right? Certain relationships just require an immediate response.

If they’re a massive donor, a very key volunteer, or someone in great need that you specifically need to help, you might have to respond immediately.

When someone like that emails me, I step up. I keep that list short, But when I have them, I check emails regularly.

Emergencies aren’t the only reason an email could be considered critical. Yes, emergency situations are a valid reason, but so are certain people. @chrislema Click To Tweet

The best way to approach me

Let’s assume the email doesn’t require an immediate response.

Let’s assume the email comes from a regular person and is a “regular” email.

I ask people to specifically highlight when they’d like a response and why. I also ask them to consider that it’s my weekend and my default is not to reply.

Here’s my simple list of instructions:

  1. Tell me the problem.
  2. Tell me why it’s a problem.
  3. Tell me if you need a response or fix right away (urgent?)
  4. Read the whole email a second time (remove all caps, remove “just”)

The worst way to approach me

The worst way to send me weekend emails? There are some people who have mastered the art of messaging in a way I can’t stand.

I try to filter these out long before they become clients.

They use words like,

  • Disappointed
  • Absolute failure
  • Immediate
  • Right away
  • NOW

Do you see what these words have in common? They’re extreme.

I can’t stop people from writing emails like that. But it won’t help their case. In fact, it starts putting me in a defensive posture pretty quickly.

How I manage clients & their weekend emails

So given all the above, here’s what I do with those weekend emails.

First, I read all of them.

Even if I decide not to act on them, I read every one.

Some I skim, others I read thoroughly. But I read them all.

Second, I rate / rank them.

I evaluate whether the situation is a serious work-stoppage, life-altering, holy-hell-that’s-bad issue. If it is, I get on the phone or zoom and call my client.

There’s no use sending emails back and forth.

Third, if things are bad, getting on video or on the phone is critical.

But what if it’s not critical?

Fourth, if it’s important but not urgent, I send a quick templated reply.

If the issue is important but not urgent, I want people to know I’m paying attention. I want them to know I received their email and that I have plans to act (even if it won’t be right away). Plus, because it’s a template, it takes me virtually no time.

Here’s the template:

“Just a quick reply to let you know I got your email. As it’s the weekend, and I’m away from the computer, I wanted to let you know that I’ll follow up first thing Monday morning to dig into this.

If this is actually causing work-stoppage (like the entire site is down), or is costing you money (like transactions aren’t working), shoot me a reply and I can get someone to look at it asap.

Thanks and I hope your weekend is a good one.”

Fifth, I just let those weekend emails sit.

If the email isn’t urgent and isn’t important, after a quick read, I’ll let it sit. Again, I don’t want to create an unhealthy pattern – and replying to every email on the weekend eliminates my weekend.

If the email isn't urgent and isn't important, let it sit. @chrislema Click To Tweet

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.