These days we can get way more than email on our phones. File sharing, presentations, co-worker status updates, company financials, line of business applications and more are now available pretty much anywhere any time from your laptop, tablet, and phone. This is tremendously empowering for sure, enabling people to produce value and stay connected without handcuffing them to the office.

But with great power comes great responsibility. I think it’s important to protect your personal time, and the personal time of others, so we can all have satisfying relationships with families and friends. Just because you can review your company financials in the bathroom at 11pm and then fire off an angry email to your accountant doesn’t mean you should.

Turn off new email notifications on your phone. And Outlook too, if you haven’t already. Email is a time-displaced medium, nobody should expect you to respond to email immediately. If they need an immediate response they should pick up the phone.

Set a time to disengage from email (and chat, and Yammer, etc.) each day. It can be when you leave the office, or a little later, but pick a time and stick to it. Do not send emails after this time. If you want to cheat and keep your inbox clean, you can read emails and draft responses to send the next morning.

For the love of all that is holy stop checking your phone when you should be paying attention to something else. This goes for working hours or any time. If you’re at your son’s piano recital, even if your son isn’t currently performing, have the courtesy to pay attention to the pianist and clap when s/he’s finished. When you’re in a business meeting, leave your phone in your pocket. Unless you need to access information that is relevant to that meeting, of course.

This doesn’t work for everyone, but if you can, only read/respond to email during certain periods of the day, and at all other times keep your email client closed and your phone silent. Some folks I know only access email at 10am, 2pm, and 5pm, and in between they close it down and focus on the work at hand.

Take vacations where you can completely disconnect. No phone, no Internet, no SMS, no Twitter or Facebook. It will make you anxious for the first 2 days, then it will be quiet bliss. Seriously, try it. 🙂