Blame it on the Blackberry, the tiny thumb-keyable device that ushered in the era of “always on,” “always available,” “always accessible.”
It used to be — before cell phones, smart phones, mobile email, instant messaging, texting, 3G, 4G, wifi hotspots, etc. — that when you left the office, you left the office. Sure, your boss might have your phone number for an emergency, but that was when we knew that “emergency” meant “there’s a fire in our building” or “someone poured a can of soda into the servers,” not “I can’t find the hi-res version of the prospect’s logo,” or “what do you think about bringing Andy instead of Jessica to the meeting?”
TIP: Simply including the word “emergency” when outlining your availability in your outgoing voicemail message, email signature or when telling people how to reach you can serve as a subtle reminder to think twice before trying to reach you on off hours.
“Hi, you’ve reached Julie Block. Please leave a message and the best time and number to reach you and I will get back to you within 24 hours. If this is an emergency, please [text me at/call me at] and I will respond as soon as I can.”
You have value when you place value
Your time is valuable. When you place value on your time by setting limits, you set an example for your colleagues, prospects and clients to do the same.
Isn’t there a tiny piece of you that thinks someone who’s always available is somehow in less demand or less valuable than someone who offers restricted access? Think about this — wouldn’t you be leery of a doctor who was available to take your call or return it, any time of the day?
But how do you compete with the people who will take the call at 8pm or answer that email at midnight? Make your availability clear from the very beginning and meet the expectations you set. If you say you will return calls and emails within 24 hours, make sure you set aside an hour a day to get back to everyone from the day before.
TIP: Manage expectations by making your availability (your “working hours”) clear to the people you work with, including clients and prospects. If you are taking vacation, notify people in advance and remind them again just before you go. Change your outgoing voice mail message and set a vacation responder in your email program if it’s supported.
Boundaries: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should
We are finally realizing that just because we can get a text while in a movie theater watching “Lincoln” doesn’t mean we have to read it or answer it while we are in a movie theater watching “Lincoln.” Not only will we disturb the people around us, we will miss out on the movie-going experience ourselves. (You can substitute “dinner,” “kid’s soccer game,” “walk in the park,” or any activity and the argument still holds true.)
Although communication can happen 24/7, business, for the most part, still takes place during business hours. Whether you work for a company or are a solopreneur, you can set your own boundaries for being in constant contact.
TIP: Rather than muting your smart device during a movie or dinner, turn it off. Take it a step further and try turning off all your electronic devices (phone, tablet, computer, etc.) for a certain amount of time every night.