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

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

How do you deal with weekend emails?

So tell me – how do you deal with weekend emails? Do you reply to them? Do you ignore them until you have free time? Do you just wait until Monday?

Leave a comment below!

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

9 Comments

  1. David Faulkner on July 14, 2021 at 7:58 am

    A further comment: here is some Australian research on the dangers to health of answering emails outside of work time: https://theconversation.com/do-you-answer-emails-outside-work-hours-do-you-send-them-new-research-shows-how-dangerous-this-can-be-160187

  2. Lisa on July 13, 2021 at 11:59 am

    I appreciate all this valuable insight.

    I would like to add one perspective, I think it is important that we remember our volunteers have limited time especially on weekends. We need to be careful to protect their time by getting all our communication to them early enough in the week so they can also plan their time wisely.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 14, 2021 at 11:19 am

      This is a great point. Thank you, Lisa.

  3. Rev Heather on July 12, 2021 at 3:22 pm

    This article does not demonstrate good boundaries, and seems to have no comprehension of the Biblical concept of Sabbath!
    We need to not read emails on our time off!
    We need to trust that God can run the world while we are taking Sabbath, as Walter Bruggeman says. If the church can’t run without us for a weekend or a week off, then we have not led them to Be The Church, we’re only leading them to attend our cult of personality.

  4. Pastor S on July 12, 2021 at 10:34 am

    Distracted people distract people. They usually like to use group messaging, Facebook messenger, or email excessively. They will send anything from current news and political propaganda to furry animal videos. It’s important to unplug from notifications. I don’t get notifications from any of my apps on purpose. I also don’t check my text messages constantly. I will go in 3 times a day to check for no more than 5 minutes. I now control my time. I reduce distractions. Clean, organized rooms, desks help my mind feel organized as well. I am always available for calls, but I have figured out how to avoid all telemarketers. The church forwards to my cell phone so I take those calls but my cell phone number is another area code & I use the cell carrier app to limit these. When the telemarketers call it is the cell phone area code number so I know not to answer. That significantly eliminates distration. Time is a valuable item. Protect it so you will be able to focus on what’s important.

  5. Lanny Heinlen on July 12, 2021 at 8:15 am

    I learned from a pastor many years ago a phrase, “Beware of the good that can become the enemy of the best”. There are things that may seem important but in reality, can wait. We need to learn to discern what needs our immediate attention and what can actually wait. I would highly recommend the book “Tyranny of the Urgent” by Charles Hummel.

  6. David Faulkner on July 12, 2021 at 2:15 am

    I’m a minister. I have set my work emails only to download in the old-fashioned way to the desktop computer in my study. (I do not have a church office, I work from home.) Therefore, I do not see them unless I actively look for them – and I try not to, since I only have one day off a week. The congregation have our landline phone number but my wife and I usually let those calls on my day off go to voicemail but if we hear something urgent we’ll pick up. Then, only a limited number of people have my mobile (cell) phone number. Finally, one lesson I’ve learned the hard way: when I move to my next appointment, I will no longer accept friend requests on social media from current congregation members, as there is always a small minority who will abuse that.

  7. Mike Lovato on July 12, 2021 at 12:45 am

    I have one day a week (Fridays) where I don’t check emails at all. I have push notifications turned off for email so it’s not even a huge temptation. I do try to check email sometime Saturday just in case something has come up that I ought to be aware of for Sunday. But for other matters, I assume people will reach me via text or a phone call if it’s urgent.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 12, 2021 at 10:24 am

      Love that you’ve built yourself a day off!

Leave a Comment





This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.