It's midnight. I'm sleeping when I hear my iPhone ding next to my pillow. It's an email from my boss ...
Our meeting is moved to Friday.
I eagerly swipe open my phone, squinting into the white light beaming into my eyes through the darkness. I find the email and immediately reply, knowing he'll be SO IMPRESSED at my prompt response.
So I respond within four minutes, clicking send at 12:04am. He was going to think I'm the BEST EMPLOYEE EVER for responding four minutes later after he sent the email at midnight!!!!!!
....... If my sarcasm didn't come through clearly there, the situation above has never happened.
Nor would it ever happen.
No sane manager would expect a response at midnight. And no sane employee would wake up from deep sleep to answer an email. And yet, we hear the same advice repeatedly: "Don't send late-night emails."
They say late-night emails hurt your team. They say the other person feels obligated to respond. They say you should save your email as a draft, then send it in the morning.
Well I say that’s B.S.
In fact, if we don’t send emails when we feel like it (whether that’s 7am, 2pm, or midnight), we’ll be:
Destroying our productivity
Hurting team communication
Forgetting to send important emails
So if late-night email fits best into our personal schedule, so be it. Click send whenever. Don’t save them as a draft and wait until the morning. That’s outdated and terrible advice.
So here's why we SHOULD send emails at night (if that fits our schedule), validated by research, data, and cold-hard facts.
"Email should be sent during the day, not at night."
When people discuss email etiquette, common advice says it's inappropriate to send late-night emails. They say emails should be sent during the day. But that's based on the premise of time, not energy.
But in reality, we should be optimizing our energy, not our time.
Email should be handled when our energy is lowest (regardless of the time).
There are two primary buckets of tasks:
1. Tasks that require high mental energy
2. Tasks that don’t require high mental energy
Our biological clock operates in 90 to 120 minutes intervals called ultradian rhythms, which are ebbs and flows of energy.
Thus, when we have the most energy, we should be doing high-energy tasks. At our lowest energy, we should do low energy tasks. To clarify the difference, here are a few examples:
High mental energy tasks
Low mental energy tasks
Brainstorming a new positioning strategy for your product or service
Transferring information from paper documents into Excel
Pitching your product or service to a prospective client
Replying, composing, and archiving emails
Writing a blog post, newsletter, or important document
Internal company meetings
Handling email is not strenuous. And since we should undertake low-energy tasks (ex. email) when our energy is lowest, when would that be?
Well, we’re all different. But for many people, we aren’t very energized at night. Thus, that’s an excellent time to send emails.
This brings up an interesting question: If we send late-night emails, doesn't it pressure colleagues to respond?
"Don't send late-night emails because it pressures colleagues to respond."
The most common complaint about late-night emails are a self-inflicted guilt trip that we need to respond ASAP:
“If my boss sends me a late-night email, I feel this awkward social pressure and obligation to respond.”
The problem here isn’t a late-night email; the real problem is poor communication. That the team hasn’t clearly communicated expectations.
Clarify email expectations between coworkers.
If expectations about responding to late-night emails are not discussed, are there other problems internally that are left unresolved? Are important projects taking a hit because of poor communication?
The solution here is simple: clarify with coworkers that we do NOT expect an immediate response. While we're at it, address any other un-discussed questions.
For example, here’s the email I sent my editor, whom I consistently send emails between midnight and 3am (yes, I’m a weirdo night owl):
Re: Next project
Here's my final copy for the article on taking early-morning cold showers. In summary, it shocks our body's nervous system, pumping our brains with adrenaline, which helps us wake up faster.
I know this email is coming in close to 5am your time. As I mentioned today on the phone, I'm a total night owl.
I'll keep sending along drafts as I finish them regardless of the hour, and completely understand that you'll get to them whenever in your work day. No expectation on immediate response!
At 11am the next day, Anum responded:
Re: Next project
This looks great! I left some final suggestions in the doc. Excited for this one!
No worries at all on when your drafts reaches my inbox. As you mentioned, I'll get to it as soon as I can in my normal work day. That said, if you ever DO need something more urgently, just let me know in the subject line!
And just like that, expectations are set.
This brings up yet another question: We can set expectations with coworkers, but what about people outside of our business? Is it okay to send them emails at midnight?
"Save late-night emails as a draft, then send in the morning."
When emailing people outside of our company, clicking send at midnight is questionable. Common advice is to save the email as a draft, and send it in the morning.
Except we are prone to distraction. Even if we plan to send an email the next day, we'll probably forget.
So we can leverage technology to completely eliminate this problem.
Schedule emails for the next day.
Imagine this scenario.
It’s 11:27pm and we’re catching up on email. We missed an email from a prospective client earlier, but we feel awkward hitting send at 11:27pm. So we save it as a draft, telling ourselves we’ll send it in the morning.
The next morning as we’re walking into work, our manager grabs us as at the door. There’s a critical situation. The project we were working on has a major bug. Our biggest client is about to drop. So we hustle to solve the problem, doing everything possible to avoid this catastrophe.
Two days later, the problem is solved. BUT OH CRAP!!! WE JUST REMEMBERED WE HAD THAT EMAIL IN DRAFT!!
Except now it's too late.
Since we saved the late-night email in draft, we lost a prospective client.
We can avoid this mistake entirely by leveraging technology to schedule emails for the next morning (see image to right). With an email scheduling tool, we can write emails at 11:27pm - or whenever we're most productive - and then schedule them to send at any hour the next morning. All with the click of a button.
This brings up yet another interesting question: What's the point of sending emails at night, anyway? Aren't people too busy to check their email at night?
"Don't send emails at night because people won't read them."
The final terrible piece of advice suggets that people don't read emails at night. This couldn't be further from the truth.
Some people are more likely to read emails at night.
A study by Experian showed the highest email open rates were between 8pm and 11:59pm, at 21.7%. Whereas the second highest open rate was between 12am and 4am, at 17.6%:
This validates that people will open emails late at night, often more frequently than they open emails during the day.
But of course, this doesn’t void our second point about setting expectations. Even if coworkers open emails at night, make it clear you do NOT expect them to respond then.
In summary, the problem isn't sending emails at night.
It's figuring out what's best for your productivity, what expectations are set with your team, and what tools are at your disposal.
Email is received around the clock. It’s a global, asynchronous messaging platform. It's not a big deal. So let’s stop stressing about sending late night emails and start figuring out how email communication should be improved.
Because in all honesty, it’s not harmful to send them. It's harmful to stop us from sending them.
Originally published Aug 22, 2018 3:28:00 PM, updated July 25 2019