a new law that gives French employees the right to ignore emails sent during hours that they’re off the clock caught my eye this week. It's evidently a godsend to France's stressed-out workers who, according to a quoted member of the French parliament, physically leave the office at the end of each workday, but "remain attached [to their offices] by a kind of electronic leash—like a dog.”
I sympathize. But at the risk of sounding old and elitist, why on earth is anyone still checking their email at any time other than when they decide to check their email?
Let me share a story. When I was a kid, like many in my generation, the house I grew up in had a telephone affixed to the kitchen wall (ours was green) with a long, kinky cord that would allow the user to wander through half the house while talking on it. When that phone rang, it was an event. Family members leapt off the sofa or out of kitchen chairs in a race to see who would get the privilege of answering that phone. The phone is ringing! Someone is calling! It must be important!
Now, of course, that's ancient history. Phones--or more properly, the phone function on the little computers we call smartphones--are infrequently used. Unless your livelihood depends on cold call sales, most phone calls are nuisances, interruptions to the productive flow of our work, things to be avoided.
For a while, email did take the place of that kitchen phone with the kinky cord. In it's heyday, every email was important and came with the expectation of an instant response. The ringing phone got replaced with AOL's "You've Got Mail!" voice, and it demanded our attention,
But those days, too, have passed. Email remains a productivity tool, but it is so clouded with spam, blind-copied irrelevancies, and unsubscribed-for newsletters that it's no longer possible to treat every message as an event. Or, frankly, for anyone to have the expectation that the person on the other end of the send button will do so.
Here's how I look at it. Email is an asynchronous method for disseminating information or advancing projects. You send and you get replies. You get messages and you reply to them. But none of that happens in real time. It happens over a period of days. It's supposed to happen over a period of days. As odd as it may sound given our history on this subject, if you need a response to something sooner than that, you're better off picking up the phone--or sending a text.
So, please, if there is anyone out there who still needs to be granted permission, I'll grant it. You have the power to decide when to check and respond to your emails. Stop leaping off the sofa every time a new message comes in.
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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.