Ding. You’ve got mail. You pause the show you’re streaming–earning boos from your household–and grab your laptop. The offending email didn’t need your immediate attention, but you reflexively snapped into work mode. On a Sunday night. Sounds like you need to set email boundaries.

Roads have lane lines as boundaries to protect motorists. Without them? Danger. Frustration. Anxiety. Chaos. You should establish, communicate and honor email boundaries to avoid similar pitfalls. Think of it as self-care. Here’s how to do it.

Control Your Email Destiny

Others’ expectations strongly influence your likelihood to read and respond to email. Expectations arise from a combination of your responsibilities and an email’s urgency. If you’re an entrepreneur and a one-person show, staying on top of your business is all on you. If your bank sends an email alert because vendor payments are bouncing, you’ll want to know asap. Habitually checking email is probably unhealthy but rarely checking it is also unwise.

SaneBox can help you strike a balance difficult to achieve on your own. Our A.I. learns from your previous inbox activity and sorts inbound email the way you would. Urgent messages are kept at your fingertips. Less urgent ones are conveniently grouped for review later on. Emails that you would never read are banished to a black hole. Awesome!

More good news: Truly urgent messages are rarely delivered by email alone. Let’s say you’re CTO and the data center is literally on fire. You’ll probably get a phone call or two. Maybe a text. No one relies on email for catastrophes. All this is to say: Don’t feel bad about setting email boundaries.

Define Your Availability

If you are your business’ first responder or last line of defense, you are, to some extent, on-call and will need to align with your manager on appropriate boundaries. However, if your responsibilities aren’t mission-critical, here are our recommendations.

  • Establish clear work hours and days. Anyone can email you outside of your windows of availability, but they should understand when you aren’t likely to respond. The same goes for holidays and vacation days.
  • Proactively notify business contacts of your upcoming limited availability–especially if a situation is ongoing.
  • Keep shared calendars current–with vacations, travel, conferences and trade shows, etc.–so business associates with access are aware.
  • Use your out-of-office email message to inform others you’re away between specific dates. If comfortable, include your phone number for emergencies. They’ll more seriously weigh their need to reach you before calling.
  • Do you have a backup who covers your most important responsibilities when you can’t? If not, get one. Include their contact information in your out-of-office message.
  • Turn off your phone’s email chime and hide on-screen “new message” indicators whenever possible. You shouldn’t welcome distractions when you’re working. So don’t welcome them when you’re not working.

Stick to Your Boundaries

You have to establish your boundaries if you want others to respect them. That means not violating yours unless essential. If you inform colleagues that you’ll be indisposed while your spouse is in labor, don’t acknowledge their emails while at the hospital. You’ll send the signal that you’re never too busy to deal with their emails. It sets a bad precedent.

If you block out time on your calendar to accomplish specific tasks, stick to it. The business will survive if you disregard email for 30 minutes while you sort out this month’s budget. Congrats, you just increased your productivity!

Accept This Email Challenge

Taking even minutes-long breaks from email can be tough. Especially for high-achievers and team players. Half the challenge of email boundaries is setting them, and the other half is honoring them. Sensible, appropriate boundaries will help you stay engaged at work–with fewer distractions and less stress–and also in life, outside of your inbox. Try it.

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