How to Stop Obsessively Checking Your Email in Four Steps

When writers decide to go freelance, it is usually in the pursuit of a few things: freedom, flexible work hours, the ability to write for anyone, anywhere and of course, being their own boss.

Though there are many perks of carving out your own career, it can also come with some unintended setbacks and hurdles to overcome. One of which is actually separating work and life. In theory, being a freelancer should make it easier to give time to those you love, but in practice, the constant hustle and demand of various clients make it difficult to disconnect.

That’s why some writers have developed hard-fast rules of when they’re online and available and for when they are investing in self-care or relationships with friends and family.

For some writers, resisting the urge to check emails in the evening or on the weekends has made a huge difference in their productivity — and well, their anxiety levels.

How to stop checking your email all the time.

don't feel bad about not responding to emails right away

1. Stop feeling guilty for not responding immediately.

As a sports journalist, Michael LoRé’s job isn’t a traditional 9 to 5. From covering games to interviewing athletes with chaotic schedules, he isn’t able to log off at the same time every single day. But after years of working in the industry, he has learned to well, give himself a break.

Though he used to feel guilty if he didn’t respond to someone right away — or within a few hours — no matter when they emailed him, these days, he values boundaries for his personal life. By giving himself time to truly be ‘off,’ he’s released unnecessary guilt and stress.

If I get an email outside of my ‘work hours,’ I’ll preview it in case it’s super timely/important, but more times than not, I’ll let it sit in my inbox for the next day or so. It’s all about setting expectations. If you’re the person who responds to emails at all hours of the day, people are going to expect that all the time, so it’s important to set those boundaries not just for yourself — and your sanity — but also for everyone else.

2. Set an email cutoff time — and stick to it.

Hilary Sheinbaum has been a freelance writer for more than seven years, but up until last year, she would obsessively check her email all hours of the day and the night. Though she thought she was working hard and being effective, she finally realized the compulsion to ‘refresh’ was actually making her less productive.

“Even though I use WeWork, there are still many, many days that I work from home, which means there’s no separation from my office and my living room,” she explains.

In an effort to actually be around her family and have some space to zen out, she stops checking email at 7 p.m. Though she sometimes will check it before bed, she will only open if it is an emergency. Otherwise, it can wait.

In return, she’s more focused when she is on the clock, and less worried about the little stuff that isn’t important in the here-and-now.

I don’t feel as anxious, rushed or bombarded with to-do lists at the end of the day, which is exhausting. Often, I was responding to emails and then waiting for replies. I learned that these can go on and on and on.

break the habit of checking email obsessively

3. Break the cycle

You may be scratching your head, trying to figure out how it’s possible to free yourself from the pull of emails. After all: what if an editor needs a revision? What if an expert is following up with additional commentary? What if… what if?!

One way to approach your email habit is to be realistic. As LoRé points out: there’s no way to set very restricting hours all the time as a freelancer. However, on days when you know every deadline is met, nothing is hanging in the wire and no editor will be on your case… why are you still checking in every five minutes?

Each 24-hour cycle may be different, but as he puts it: when he’s done for the day… he’s done. Period. Though this may come at different times and mean different things depending on the week, there’s power in closing your laptop and stepping away.

4. Take some space from your phone — and ask others to follow suit

What’s one way you can pretty much guarantee you’ll break your ‘no email evening’ attempt? Being glued to your phone. Sheinbaum says one of the easiest and most effective ways to distance yourself from that inbox is to, well, physically set it aside.

She suggests putting it in another room or, at the very least, out of reach while you’re with your friends and family. If you want to go the extra mile and include others, she also suggests asking other people to put their phones away, too.

“They don’t have to oblige, but sometimes it’s easy to pull yours out and mindlessly check email when people are tapping along on theirs — it’s a weird reflex we have,” she continues. “Almost like phone-FOMO.”

How will you set healthier boundaries for your freelance writing career?

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