Maybe you also have this experience. You’ve been working really hard on defining your work-life boundaries, respecting your need to rest, and cherishing moments of recharge.

Maybe you chose two (or even three) days of the week when you completely unplug, turn everything off and just go on a trip/lay on a sofa watching movies/read books/bake/watch obscure videos/or mindlessly scroll social media. Whatever your true gem is, I’m not here to judge.

These unwind-only days are sacred. Needed for restoring our energy, our inspiration, and for giving our brains space to incubate our ideas, so that once we return to our desks, we’re able to simply let everything flow out.

And then, the most despicable thing happens.

An unwelcome weekend work email arrives as if your restful sanctuary meant nothing to the other person. The dreaded notification interrupts your Netflix binge and no matter how much you try ignoring it, your thoughts immediately turn back to work. But what if it’s important? What if it cannot wait? Deep down you know there’s absolutely no need to read it now but you just cannot help it. You open the email. Skim through. And decide on your next steps.

If you respond right away, there’s a big scary likelihood that the other person will reply back, starting a vicious circle of weekend emailing.

So you take your courage and leave the other person hanging.

They can wait until Monday, you tell yourself. Or at least Sunday evening. Surely. Please.

You return to your blissful weekend activities and…another email notification arrives. And another. In the productivity madness of today’s society, “unplugging” is rarely more than wishful thinking. Looking busy at any time of the day, any day of the week became the desired standard. And sending weekend emails skyrockets you to the top place in the “Pride Workaholic” awards ceremony.

But also right down the burnout hole. Even if you don’t realise it at first.

I definitely used to be a Saturday emailer.

Not that I didn’t have anything more enjoyable to do… I think I just mentally couldn’t deal with the stressful urgency of having to respond. And if not immediately on Saturday, then at least on Sunday evening.

While reflecting on why I found Academia so toxic to work in, the inability to unplug was definitely on the list. I’m sure it’s the same case for many other industries (my fiancé’s a freelance creative worker and we have a couple of friends in the corporate world) but I prefer speaking from my own experience.

As with many other things, I have soon realised that if I want the environment to change, the easiest might be to start with my own behaviour. Because even if I wasn’t the original sender, I was still choosing to respond, keeping the vicious wheel running. Simply put, I was clearly part of the problem. To ease this pressure, I set up a couple of rules for myself. I hope you might find some of these useful.

  1. Never again responding to emails on Saturdays. Even if I feel the urge to draft my response, I don’t send it out straight away. Instead, I schedule it for Monday morning or afternoon (or Sunday evening if it’s really urgent. But let’s be honest here, this doesn’t really happen, does it?)
  2. I never, ever send emails in the middle of the night. During my BA, I found it quite entertaining that whenever I sent an email at 2 or 3 a.m., my teacher immediately responded. Being a night owl is fun, but responding to work emails in the middle of the night is anything but. Just don’t do it. Really. Have some respect for the other person and schedule it for the next day instead.
  3. If someone keeps violating my weekend sanctuary, I make sure to gently but clearly explain my boundaries to them. If simple nudging of finishing my sentences with “Have a nice and restful weekend” or “Enjoy the rest of your Sunday” don’t work, I politely ask whether it would be possible to leave important conversations for the weekdays. In my experience, the sender often doesn’t expect us to come back to them straight away. They just can’t help their own workaholic urges. I feel like making email scheduling a standard would go a long way in this regard.

What about you, do you also cherish your restful days or preferred staying connected? How do you deal with people breaking your work-life boundaries? Any fun out-of-office notices?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

Written by Lucie Janotová.
Lucie is a PhD candidate in Political Sociology at Scuola Normale Superiore in Florence, Italy. Working on artistic protest movements, she never ceases to be fascinated by the power of art as a tool for social change. While not at university, she works as a freelance (documentary) filmmaker and podcast editor, and discusses all things burnout and slow living on her blog The Mindful Academic, where this piece was originally published.