This Is How to Take Control of Your Email Work-Life Balance

When you realize work email is creeping into your home life—taking downtime and disrupting relationships—make this simple change to take back your life.

I finally cut the chain that kept me attached to work 24/7—home access to my work email. This simple change has made a dramatic improvement to my work-life balance. It’s given me back my personal time.

Always clocked in to work

After clocking out, it takes a little while to get all the work thoughts out of my head. I try to use my short commute, 2 miles, to transition to home life. I’ll call a family member to catch up to help distract my mind from whatever happened at work. By the time I got home, my mind would make the switch to home life.

At home and I get to sit down versus standing up for 8-10 hours at work. When I grab my phone to check social media, lounging back in one of our Ekornes chairs, all I see is the little red notifications staring back at me. I’ll start checking the fun ones like Facebook or Instagram first.

Then, I move on to my dreaded email: a combined inbox of personal and work emails.

Unread email count: 147

Now 147 unread emails may not be a lot for you, but I like to keep my inbox count low. If there is an urgent matter, I do not want it to get buried under all the junk mail that typically fills my inbox. With both work and personal emails filling up my inbox, I never seem to keep this number low.

Email as an example of work-life balance gone awry

So as I am relaxing at home, I click the mail icon. Even though I try, I just can’t seem to ignore those work emails. And just like that, I am back at work.

I always felt the need to respond right then to show my commitment and to have constant contact. I also know how the days go and I don’t anticipate the next day going any slower. If I left emails for the morning, they would still be waiting for me at the end of the next day.

Fighting for a healthy work-life balance by keeping email for personal and work accounts separated.
While I’d often hope I could achieve “no notifications” like the person in this photo, it did feel like this. Right back at work, notepad in hand ready to jot down what I needed to do whenever I opened my email.

The burden of reading a troublesome email twice and getting worked up about it twice seemed to be more trouble than just handling it right then.

On one hand, having some quiet time to read and sort emails was often helpful to plan for the next day. Typically, I could send a quick response without it being a huge problem.

On the other hand, several small replies add up over time, taking away from my downtime. When I would come across a ‘bad email’—a complex work problem—I would have to fully shift into work mode and it would change my mood.

Email is a strong example of an area where your work-life balance can go askew.

When work affects your personal life

Sometimes I’d have my phone in my lap when we were doing something at home. An email would come in.

Chris would just look at me and know I was ‘working’. I would get irritable and distracted from time with him. I would be short, trying to resolve whatever issue I discovered.

This was not a healthy email work-life balance for me or for us.

I needed to make a change to have a better separation from my personal and work life. It turns out a simple suggestion from my colleague was a big step in the right direction.

Finding a healthy email work-life balance

As I was training the new pharmacist-in-charge (PIC), I mentioned how easy was it was to get into the habit of taking work home. I really didn’t want her to end up in the position I was in: overworked, and spread too thin.

I warned her of my email situation and explained how it was easier to have one email account to check versus two. We both liked Gmail’s services and tools and wanted to continue to easily utilize those tools. Then, she suggested something I had not thought of.

Make a second Gmail account to forward all work emails and still have access to Google’s tools!

We both set up a Gmail address dedicated to work only. This simple suggestion has made a world of difference for both of us.

Keeping email separated

My new Gmail account is 100% separate from my personal Gmail. Now on my phone, I have my personal email account linked to the Apple Mail app. The Gmail app is solely for work emails. To further keep any distractions from home, I have disabled notifications and put the Gmail app on the second home screen of my phone.

No more getting distracted from the red notification alert staring at me from my home screen. If I wanted to check my work email, I can easily, but it would be my choice.

Making email enjoyable again

It is amazing that such a simple change could make such an impact. I have no more anxiety from looking at my home screen. Even when there is a red notification box on the Mail app, I know it’s for me and not for work.

Checking email is a lot less of a chore. It’s more exciting! Maybe I will get an email from a friend or a ‘new post published’ alert on a FIRE subscription.

Right now I have seven emails waiting for me to read. All of these are flagged articles to read on FIRE or fun things to do in our part of Virginia.

I seem to get a lot less junk mail to sort through so my inbox is much easier to manage. And when I get the opportunity, I clear it out.

There is just something satisfying about getting the inbox count to zero. A sense of calm and relief rolls over me. It’s an ideal part of a healthy email work-life balance for me.

Balancing email and life

I can not attribute all of my life improvements over the past two months to just changing the way I manage my emails, but I can say it has helped. I am able to spend less time on email and I haven’t got worked up over a work email since May.

A sense of calm and hapiness is in me again. Chris and even my colleagues have mentioned it. They can see the weight lifted off of my shoulders and that I am a lot less stressed.

I do realize that not all work is bad but it is still taking you away from your downtime. If you do not have time to relax and regroup, it can lead to poor mental health.

Your mood is contagious

No one wants to be in a bad mood and you may not realize that you are until it starts affecting those around you.

It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that I wasn’t alright.

Some of the most startling moments I’ve had in recent times has been when someone close to me asked me if everything was alright. Each time, it wasn’t until that moment that I realized that I wasn’t alright. I was stressed out and trying to hide it and not doing a very good job. My mood, my actions, and my behaviors were affecting those around me in a negative way.

That was my breaking point.

Things had to change and I was able to see that.

You may not realize that by responding to emails and bringing work home, you have disrupted your peace. And for some, it may not. But for the majority, we do not want to continue to work after returning home.

The simple act of reading emails can be an instant calm sucker causing stress and anxiety.

Jenni staring down over a peak in Acadia National Park, balancing near the edge - keeping things just right like with work-life balance.
It’s a careful balance to keep your work and personal life separated, especially with email. It’s a little like staring over the abyss like I was in this photo from Acadia National Park. It can be scary, but you’ll feel free afterward!

Setup your own work-only Gmail account

If you want to setup a new work-only Gmail account for your existing work email address, Gmail makes checking emails from other accounts easy to do.

Follow these steps and be sure to check with your employer to confirm it won’t break any rules:

  1. Create a Gmail account
  2. Open Gmail settings
  3. Click account and import and scroll to the 3rd section: Check mail from other accounts
  4. Click ‘add a mail account’ and follow the prompts
  5. In the 2nd section: Send mail as, click ‘add another email address’ and follow the prompts
  6. Check the box to ‘always reply from default address’ to respond to emails from your work email address

Automating the process of separating your work and personal emails will let you worry about other things and life. Just like automating your personal finances, it’ll give you a back some time, too! Now that you have access to Gmail’s tools for your work email, you can use features like filtering and labeling to help automate your email work-life balance.

Achieving work-life balance by working intentionally

By being able to make the decision on when it is time to check work emails, I feel more in control. I get to consciously shift into work mode. I am able to make better decisions with less anxiety and stress.

It is important to evaluate how much work-time you spend in your downtime. You may not realize that what you are doing may affect your personal life and overall happiness.

Work is almost never more important than your family and your health.

I am still being a mentor to the new PIC so I can’t say I have cut off work from home time 100%, but I would consider this a win.

The next thing I will need to work on is SMS text messages.

The simple fact of knowing my email will be for me and not for work makes me much happier to read my email. Plus, I have the satisfaction of finally getting to inbox zero.

What have you found to be a difficult part of keeping work and life separated?
Let us know in the comments and on Twitter!

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By Jenni

Jenni began her path to financial independence after pharmacy school left her with six figures of debt and no clear path to digging out. She started absorbing personal finance strategies and built a plan to pay down her debt quickly as a pharmacist.

Years later with her debt at zero and net worth approaching her FI number, she made the jump to semiretirement as a part-time PRN pharmacist.

Learn more about her: Meet Jenni.

4 replies on “This Is How to Take Control of Your Email Work-Life Balance”

The past decade or so I have been climbing the corporate ladder aggressively. I never had a work life balance. Never. I say that as an extremely bad thing. Only in the past 6-12 months I decided that enough is enough. I would stare at emails non stop, reply, get super mad, my mood ruined, etc.

In the beginning all of this propelled my career forward as I was doing the things no one wanted to do. But it grows old and fast.

Now I shut down work completely in the evenings/weekends and unless the business is falling apart or on fire, I’m out.

I am glad you can relate. I think you did made a good choice. Most everything can wait til the next day and if not someone will call. It is more important for you to do what you want to do and have a break from work. I used to be on call after hours for a week and it was the same dreadful feeling when the phone would ring for me and Chris both. Unfortunately that was a call I couldn’t ignore but at least I was paid extra for it.

This is one reason I refuse to put work apps or email on my phone. The weather alert line has managed to call twice when I’ve been out on my walks. A slight interruption to my ‘me’ time, but not too much if a bother.

Isn’t it funny how something so simple as a text, an alert or even seeing a coworker is calling you can interrupt your mood or what you are doing. I used to be on call after hours for a week at a time. I still get a cringe feeling every time I hear that ring even if it’s not my phone. Those calls were 80% the time just about a missed dose and were easy to handle but still, it interrupted my ‘me’ time and set me back into work mode.

Just the other night, I got a text alert that had to be handled right then. It took over an hour to wake someone else to ensure it was being handled asap. In this case, I am super glad I did get the alert since all of my colleagues go to bed early and I was able to help resolve the issue.

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