Breaking My Own (Email) Rules

For the past few years, I’ve had a downright obsessive approach to client hours and work-life balance. I will not respond to email outside of business hours. Ok, truthfully, the rule is closer to one hour on either end of business hours, but still… Limits! Balance!

Now, that’s not to say that I don’t check email. Let’s face it: I’m always connected. Unless I’m asleep or out in the deep woods where there’s no signal (or, since I’m on AT&T, anywhere in the mobile dead zone of San Francisco), I’ll see your email come in. But I’ve trained myself to only respond during business hours so clients don’t expect an immediate response in the middle of the night.

But this quarter, my biggest client is based in Europe. The 9-hour time difference means that if I wait until 9:00 AM to respond to email (6:00 PM their time), there’s a good chance that they won’t see my answer until the following morning. That makes for some pretty significant delays in our communications. For an ongoing project of the size and scope of this one, this simply won’t do.

So for this client, I’ve decided to break my own rule. Each evening, in the 10:00 PM hour (their 7:00 AM), I’ll check my corporate email account to see if there are any issues that need to be addressed. I’ll respond to concerns, reply to questions, and even ask questions of my own. I will not, however, make changes to work; that is reserved for business hours, when my brain is fresh.

This process has two major benefits. First, it allows my European contact to have the information that she needs as she goes through her daily meetings. It also gives her the entire day to find the answers to my questions, or move the project along on her end.

I know that the results will be waiting for me when I return to the office in the morning. I then have the entire day to make headway on my project, armed with the knowledge that this extra hour of communications provides.

Will I do this for all of my clients? Heck no. If your office is in my time zone, or even on my continent, there’s no reason why we can’t communicate during normal business hours. As one of my former bosses used to say: “Is anyone going to die? Is anyone going to jail? It’s just marketing, people. It can wait until morning.”

Do you make special exceptions for any of your clients?

2 thoughts on “Breaking My Own (Email) Rules

  1. heather parlato

    i broke these very same rules when i started working for a few pubs which keep hours through the weekends. as it turned out, they are not terribly needy, so allowing communication never snowballed into what i feared–the round-the-clock cycle. i still keep the rules for businesses that have regular weekday hours though.

  2. Kristin Maija Peterson

    I could be wrong in my perception, but if someone is responding to e-mails during business hours and business hours only, then they are, in fact, a business. One of the things I struggle with is being perceived as a business verses the lone freelancer. By keeping this “rule” on e-mailing, I’m more apt to keep the reality alive in clients’ minds that I am a business, too.

    But your rule-breaking advice is excellent, especially for those who are breaking into the European markets and wanting to know how best to manage the chains of communication. I currently don’t have a client across “the pond” but my husband does, so I am learning from him. The client is based in London, so there is just a 6 hour difference. That means responding to e-mails earlier, say 6 am our time to e-mails from the GB coming in at 2 or 3 am. Business overseas wraps up by noon, so that leave the rest of the day for local clients.

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