Thursday, August 25th, 2022

How to use scheduling to stop midnight emails

Graphic of a person asleep on a bed that looks like a mobile phone with white lines coming out of the right side

It’s 11pm and you’re settling down for bed. Teeth are brushed, clothes set out for the next day and the light out. As you lie waiting for sleep to take you, the room is illuminated and a faint “ping” demands your attention.

Now, instead of sleeping, you’re responding to an email from your boss. And you’d better reply, because first thing in the morning they’ll expect to go through the contents with you.

Midnight emails create stress

Whether we meant it or not, our 11pm emails create pressure and tension. We are being asked to “dial it back” and there are movements to limit what work messages employee receive and when. Yet it isn’t always possible, or it just doesn’t match to our work patterns.

Working across timezones has thrown this issue into the forefront of my thinking. My working day isn’t yours, and while sending an 11am email might be reasonable for me, it’s less so when it arrives at 1am on your bedside table.

The power of scheduling emails

To address this, one client and I started scheduling emails to be sent in the recipient’s working day. It changed how we communicated: we dropped the short, sharp multiple messages for one long email with everything in it needed to keep the project moving forwards. Any immediate questions were addressed during our timezone overlap, then we could disengage and go to bed while the other party worked.

Without the need to respond “now”, our messages were better thought out and more action oriented. We also consolidated multiple messages into one or two at most, making it easier to see patterns, conflicts and contradictions.

Benefits and drawbacks

On the client side, they found it easier to consolidate feedback from their stakeholders into actionable work. As the outsider, I found it easier to take a single thread of action than try and filter through an onslaught of messaging.

There were some issues, most notably a sense that some of the immediacy of firing off a brief note was lost. It also took a few days to get into the habit of reviewing and scheduling an email. The final challenge was overcoming the tendency to look at longer form text as something that needs to be perfect and edited, and instead treat it as a series of short, sharp messages.

Be nice: schedule your emails for the working day

If you are out of sync with colleagues for whatever reason, explore your email client’s scheduling options. Instead of firing off a message now, consider scheduling it for when the recipient is at work. You may find turning multiple messages into a single, scheduled one a more effective way to communicate.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction. Find out more.