Before I tell you about the most obnoxious email thing you do, let me tell you a story. Picture this: It’s 4:52 P.M. on a Thursday and I have big plans to meet my girlfriends at a new swanky wine bar. It’s 8 minutes to Happy Hour and then I’m letting loose. Then this thing happens:

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

The familiar sound of emails suddenly plunking into our inboxes. A flurry of them. A good half dozen per person, meaning at 4:53 P.M., we’re faced with a total of twenty new emails from writers, clients, collaborators… you name it — and almost all of them require a response:

“Sounds great, Lauren! Will you send me a calendar invite for that?”

“I’m cc’ing Lauren from Career Contessa who will explain everything to you ASAP!”

“I haven’t heard back from our client yet. Can we postpone tomorrow morning’s meeting by a few hours?”

On the e-mail bomb (and why it’s decidedly not “the bomb”).

This is, essentially, the working girl’s version of dine-and-dash—and it’s pretty much the most obnoxious thing ever. You know what I’m talking about. It’s the “Make this someone else’s problem” side effect of our desperation to get out the door. You fire off the email you forgot all day, and then you shut down your laptop and shoot off to your own happy hour, sticking whoever got your email with the next project to-do. Hot potato for grownups.

To be on the receiving end of one of these 5 P.M. grenades means you have to make a choice: you can either sit back down and deal with that item so it’s off your plate (often by lobbing it back at the person who sent it in the first place, badminton style) or you can choose to ignore the email until the next morning to make a point.

Choosing the former may seem like the best answer, but if you’re anything like me, that tends to mean that it nags, becoming a topic of conversation over those happy hour drinks (you know the ones where you’re trying to not talk about work) and then you stress about it later that evening when you’re supposed to be, like, sleeping.

image from The Coveteur

On how to disarm.

You’ve probably heard about certain punk rock companies who have called for an end to emailing. Sounds nuts, right?

Actually, the logic behind it is pretty sound, and something we can learn from regardless of whether we ever experience an email-free workplace ourselves. Put simply: when we do away with emailing, we force people to communicate in a way that holds them responsible.

Think about it in another way: if you were to drop by your coworker’s desk or call a client at 4:52 P.M. you’d be forced to deal with the issue in that moment, working through whatever it is until there was closure. And if that were the case, wouldn’t you rather wait to address it until the next morning when you’re fresh-faced and feeling creative? There’s no reason we should treat email any differently than other forms of communication, but of course, we do.

In a recent Accidental Creative podcast, Todd Henry interviewed David Berkus, the author of Under New Management, who talked about the overwhelming effects of mindless emailing. “If you’re inbox has become your to-do list, you’re doing it wrong,” said Berkus. Henry elaborated: “Email is so cheap. It doesn’t cost the sender anything, but it costs the receiver everything.”

They went on to cite possible solutions to avoid these pile-ups, like “email bankruptcy” (i.e., emailing everyone in your contact list to say you’re too inundated to possibly catch up and are deleting everything so if there’s anything important, they should email you about it again) or a new kind of out of a office (“Hi, I’m on vacation until May 1. When I return, all the emails that I received during my vacation will be deleted. If your note needs immediate attention, please contact my fill-in, Kit. If not, please send me another email after May 1.”)

image from Creative Market

On how to change the world.

These solutions might sound extreme but they get to the heart of the matter: while we can’t do much about those obnoxious emailers, we can change how we communicate. Namely, we can stop emailing others at… 4:52 P.M. Go wild and instead of checking your to-do list at the end of the day, do it during your 2 P.M. slump so you know what’s left undone long before you’re thinking about leaving. Or set yourself a reminder to shoot those emails off first thing tomorrow instead. Last but certainly not least, be careful about the language you use on emails you send in the late afternoon (Think: “No need to discuss until we’re back in the office tomorrow but wanted to make sure we don’t forget…” or “No rush item. I’ll email you again to follow-up tomorrow.”).

Thanks in advance.

image from Buy Peel

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Comments (7)
  1. 1
    Katie October 7, 2016 at 10:40 am

    I read an article a few years ago that said any emails after 3pm are not meant to be responded to. They are the other person’s way of getting an item off their desk and onto yours for the remainder of the day. When looking at my own emails that is true. I should organize question emails for the morning and emails containing documents and completed work for the afternoon and see how that goes.

    • Career Contessa October 7, 2016 at 2:43 pm

      Hi Katie, You’re right! Give that organizational idea a try and see how it goes! You’ll probably get more done, too.

  2. 2
    npharney October 7, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    I hate the 4:50 email bomb almost as much as I hate the 4:50 8am Friday morning meeting invite

    – Natalie

    • Career Contessa October 7, 2016 at 2:41 pm

      LOL, Natalie! The 8am meeting invite is SO mean! You definitely won’t make friends with that. Thanks for sharing!

  3. 3
    Laura W October 8, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    I agree with the intent of the post and it is worth consideration when dealing with inter office communication. However, for those of us working in a global environment, I guess that old saying, “its 5 O’ clock somewhere” really does apply and someone is going to get that last minute email inevitably.

  4. 4
    Priya Puri October 30, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    I’m glad I read this! It makes me feel better. I got an email at 9pm last night (Sunday night) asking for some work to be be done…and by the way it’s urgent! At first I was feeling bad for not dealing with it… Till I realised it only became urgent because it had been ignored by the sender for too long in the first place, and they were pushing the task onto me to deal with last minute. Sadly this happens far to often. “Email is so cheap. It doesn’t cost the sender anything, but it costs the receiver everything.” This quote is so true!

  5. 5
    Priya Puri October 30, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    I’m so glad I read this! I got an email at 9pm last night (Sunday night) asking me to do a task…and that it was urgent! Now at first I felt bad for not dealing with it….but then I realised that this task had only become so “urgent” because it had been ignored by the sender for too long, and they were pushing it on me last minute to deal with it. Sadly this happens to often. “Email is so cheap. It doesn’t cost the sender anything, but it costs the receiver everything.” This quote is so true!