downshift-tweetBarbara Nixon, Shonali Burke, and I had some interesting dialogue on Twitter this morning, and it inspires this post.

The conversation started when I remarked that I had not slept well last night and kept waking up with ideas spinning around in my head. Naturally, that led me to firing off a number of emails this morning to start acting on those thoughts while they were still fresh.

I noted that “I don’t downshift very well. It has been a problem for years. I have 2 speeds: max and crashed.” (The “crashed” part is probably a good blog post for another day.)

The net result is that folks who work for me tend to get a barrage of emails even on weekends, holidays, and at odd hours during the week. Now, I’m not trying to make folks work at the same nutty pace that I do. As I have gotten older i have come to accept that some people actually value downtime. And I guess it isn’t that I don’t value it, I just have a hard time accepting it. When I am not running a mile a minute getting things done I do relax — but that’s when my most creative thoughts have the time to pop into my mind. Leading me right back into work. (But I enjoy it for the most part, so don’t feel too sorry for me.)

When I send emails to my team at the unusual times I don’t expect an immediate response. But I often get them.

Shonali said “That happens when you’re the boss.” She also implored me to let my team downshift this week even if I am not able to.

And she’s right. But it is easier said than done. When my primary role was running CustomScoop and my other companies, I had worked with most of the team for many years and they knew my habits and generally coped well with it (as far as I could tell, at least). I was still the boss, so I got a fair number of responses to my weekend/holiday emails but a fair number also waited — as they could — until the next work day for a response.

In my new gig at DCI I’m working with folks who don’t know me nearly as well. And as a larger company, we have more structure and probably a bit more respect for authority than in the small, entrepreneurial ventures I have spent so much time in.

So the natural reaction is for people to respond quickly, regardless of the day or hour.

Barbara shared a solution she used to employ. “When I was a manager, I’d sometimes delay the sending of my messages, so people wouldn’t feel compelled to respond on weekends,” she wrote.

This is not something I have generally done, in large part because if I draft and save emails up I tend to forget to send them. And I can’t just take my email offline because some of my emails do need to go out in a timely fashion.

But… I did find myself stepping away from my email on Thanksgiving Day this year because too many people were responding to my missives. I was just using some time that morning to get caught up since things were quiet, but I never intended for the people who work for me to set aside their own plans to reply. So I stopped.

And I sent only one work email on Christmas Day (but didn’t get a response, thankfully!)

So here’s how I deal with the disconnect between my email actions and my expectations from the recipient:

  • I regularly remind people they don’t need to respond to all of my weekend/holiday emails. I issue these reminders in person and via email.
  • I stress when an email is not urgent or timely. The fresh reminder in the email itself never hurts.
  • I note when an urgent reply or action is needed. I find those little red exclamation points to be grossly overused, so I almost never employ them myself. But on a truly urgent email I may roll it out. But more importantly, I emphasize with my message the importance of action.
  • I acknowledge when I am asking for work outside of normal, sane hours. I want my team to know that I recognize the inconvenience of the timing of some of my requests.
  • I try to be clear about why timely action is necessary. Sometimes it is obvious, but in other situations my team may not understand why I have launched some email fire drill. Explaining the urgency can often help, especially if it is some outside force driving my action because then they understand I am in the same boat as them.
  • I have to be willing to do my share. I am not one of those managers who sloughs off weekend/holiday work to subordinates¬† just to get it off my plate. If there’s an off-hours fire drill, I stand ready to pitch in however I can — even if it means taking on responsibilities I would normally delegate.
  • I recognize the sacrifices my team makes. I do not excel in the area of positive reinforcement. I am a more traditional New Englander who simply expects hard work from myself and others. But I do try as much as I can to call out team members when they go above and beyond and to thank them when they shoulder extra burdens, especially on weekends and holidays.

What do you do as a manager to mitigate your Blackberry bombardments? For those of you on the receiving end, what would you like your managers to do?

2 COMMENTS

  1. These are great points, Chip, and how neat a quick Twitter conversation led to this post. Love that social media.

    I think Barbara's idea of holding off on actually hitting “send” is a terrific one. It's also a really good habit to develop not just because it could save the recipient some angst/rolling of the eyes, but it also helps the sender feel an item's been cleared off the “list,” and is ready to go come business hours – so a time saver, in many respects. Because I do know the feeling of wanting to capture the idea(s) the minute they come to you – which is, I think, the reason a lot of people send the instantaneous emails at Godawful hours.

    I also think this is a tactic that a lot of us need to use more on the response end, particularly those of us with clients. Not because we don't want to talk to them, but because if we respond immediately, we're conditioning them to feel we will ALWAYS respond immediately, regardless of whether it's warranted or not… and that can lead to some discomfort down the line. I mean, who wants to be Pavlov's dog?

    The other thing I've learned to do is, when an email is urgent, not use the little exclamation point (as you point out, those are over-used), but actually put “URGENT,” “TIME-SENSITIVE” etc. in the subject line of the email. That, at least in my experience, really works.

    Now go take a break.

  2. These are great points, Chip, and how neat a quick Twitter conversation led to this post. Love that social media.

    I think Barbara’s idea of holding off on actually hitting “send” is a terrific one. It’s also a really good habit to develop not just because it could save the recipient some angst/rolling of the eyes, but it also helps the sender feel an item’s been cleared off the “list,” and is ready to go come business hours – so a time saver, in many respects. Because I do know the feeling of wanting to capture the idea(s) the minute they come to you – which is, I think, the reason a lot of people send the instantaneous emails at Godawful hours.

    I also think this is a tactic that a lot of us need to use more on the response end, particularly those of us with clients. Not because we don’t want to talk to them, but because if we respond immediately, we’re conditioning them to feel we will ALWAYS respond immediately, regardless of whether it’s warranted or not… and that can lead to some discomfort down the line. I mean, who wants to be Pavlov’s dog?

    The other thing I’ve learned to do is, when an email is urgent, not use the little exclamation point (as you point out, those are over-used), but actually put “URGENT,” “TIME-SENSITIVE” etc. in the subject line of the email. That, at least in my experience, really works.

    Now go take a break.

Comments are closed.