Is checking voice mail, text, and e-mail messages outside of work hours cluttering your life?

We’ve recently talked about strategies for curing your e-mail addiction to reduce the number of times a day you check your e-mail at work. With many of us in the western world having a day or two off from work this week, I thought it might be appropriate to address the addiction you might have with checking messages of all kinds when you’re not at work.

How many times have you been at dinner with a friend and she puts her phone on the table without any explanation? (I’m not talking about when someone is waiting for an emergency call, but rather when she simply doesn’t want to miss any social call that might happen to come her way.) How many times have you done it? How many times have you been talking with someone and he reaches into his pocket to check his phone to see if he has any messages? (Again, not when he is on call or expecting an important message, but because the person can’t go for five minutes without checking to see what may have filtered in.) Has this been you? Are you obsessed with checking your phone for voice mail, text, and/or e-mail messages?

An addiction to checking your voice mail, text and/or e-mail messages may be cluttering up your life. It also might be interfering with your pursuit of what matters most to you. Even if you’re not addicted, and you just wish these forms of communication took up less time in your life, try the following tips to get message checking under control:

  • Determine why you are always checking your messages. What reasons are propelling you to check in all the time? Are these reasons tied to what matters most to you? Or, are they tied to insecurities or simply out of habit?
  • If some of your reasons for constantly checking your messages correspond to what matters most to you — maybe your job or your family — can you find a way to make these checks less obtrusive? For instance, can you set a specific ring tone for calls and messages from your technical support team at work? Can you turn off your message notification sounds but leave on an alarm so that you check your messages only at specified intervals?
  • If your reasons are tied to insecurities or out of habit, can you leave your phone in your car’s glove box when you go into an event so that you can have access to it if you need it, but that access is just annoying enough that you won’t do it unless there is a reason? Can you ask the person you’re out with to carry your phone for you while you’re together?
  • Remember that people survived only a decade ago without constant access to voice mail, text, and e-mail messages. If someone needs to reach you in an emergency, there is almost always a way to do it. Portable communication devices are extremely convenient, but using them shouldn’t be cluttering up the remarkable life you desire or interfering with what matters most to you.

Good luck to anyone who is struggling with a message-checking addiction. I have to admit, the first three months I had my iPhone, I was definitely addicted. I got through it, though, by having my husband carry my phone when we were out together. Eventually, I broke the habit and the novelty of constantly checking for messages wore off.

36 Comments for “Is checking voice mail, text, and e-mail messages outside of work hours cluttering your life?”

  1. posted by Shayna on

    After working as a crisis counselor in an emergency room for months (and now being a “civilian”), I have the opposite problem – I hate my phone and avoid it like the plague. Just think, it used to mean that someone had just had something horrible happen to them. So now I struggle to check my messages or listen to them or return them. I’m trying to just set aside periods a couple times a day to look at my messages and return them.

  2. posted by Mikey's mom on

    For me it’s not so much email, it’s Facebook. I have to stop checking that. It’s just a bunch of Mafia Wars “I leveled up” notices anyway!

  3. posted by Plain Good Sense on

    I work with college students, and although I am only 28 (not THAT much older than my students), I find that this issue is one that makes our age difference seem quite apparent.

    The students I work with see no problem in checking, reading and responding to text messages when they are having a face-to-face conversation with others — even their superiors, such as faculty and staff at the University. They may even be in the middle of telling you something and they will interrupt THEMSELVES to read and reply to a text message, while you sit there waiting for them to finish.

    I’ve seen this behavior in all kinds of students — both the underachieving and the overachieving. Students that are otherwise very polite and professional engage in this behavior, because they DON’T SEE IT AS RUDE.

    I think Miss Manners needs to publish a book of manners for the 21st Century. Yikes! It drives me crazy.

  4. posted by lola meyer on

    I wonder if the ‘Emily Post’ group has any guidance on this issue. It does seem rude to not give your attention to a conversation you are involved in. I have been the recipient of conversations with these “electronic A.D.D.” people, and it was not something I would care to repeat.

  5. posted by InfoMofo on

    I don’t really think it’s that rude- but you have to know your audience. If I’m among close friends, it doesn’t bother me if they check their email or facebook at the table.

  6. posted by infmom on

    Yes, there was once a time without smartphones. However, beepers have been available for more than 30 years and some people (I harrumph) had to be threatened with serious consequences to get them to leave the #@$^$*@! things at home.

    Not that *I* would be the kind to threaten to sink the stupid thing halfway to Japan if someone wore it to the beach again, oh no, not me. (The same former beeper wearer now has a Blackberry but has learned to spot the warning signs of “Put the [email protected]%!!~~! leash away NOW”)

  7. posted by chacha1 on

    Mobile phones have been around for long enough now that most people are kind of used to them, but the electronic text and mobile networking tools have really damaged our ability to interact face to face. If we value a person, and value spending time with that person, then that person deserves our UNDIVIDED attention.

    Just because something is new does not make it good. Just because you CAN text/email/Facebook while having a conversation with an actual human does not mean you should. It may not be intentionally rude, but it is dismissive, inconsiderate, and self-absorbed – which pretty much equals rude.

    Call waiting was bad enough; these modern “conveniences” are mostly ways to cram more trivial interactions into a waking moment, at the expense of real value in relationships. I think it is very much a symptom of a “quantity over quality” mentality, about which we ought to have received a major wake-up call in the past 2 years.

  8. posted by Jessiejack on

    I am a pediatrician and I have had parents read and respond to messages while I am asking their child’s history! (seriously!) I had a mom stop helping me examine her child’s ears to answer the phone. It is not an emergency because they say “I’ll call you back I’m with the doctor now-Yes I’ll call you back ” At that point I just get up and say as I leave the room “I’ll come back when you’re done” and go see the next patient.
    What could be more important than your sick child??

  9. posted by Jessiejack on

    People really expect immediate response tho. Back in the day without cell phones, when I was beeped,it might take me 30 minutes to return the call to get home or get to a pay phone That was ok. Now if I get a call, my voice mail calls me and I call back usually within 5 minutes. When I’m driving home, I cannot call back immediately because I can’t drive and write down the phone number.I tried memorising the number which is ok until they add a different area code! It’s not safe to pull off the interstate. So then when I get home after 30 minutes, I’ve already had 2 more calls from the same person because they can’t wait. These are not life and death dilemmas here – just a cough for 3 days or the tylenol dose for my baby. It is so rude to check messages when you are with another person!I agree with Shayna – I NEVER want to check messages or talk on the phone for pleasure

  10. posted by Jaszy @ Modern Hippie Mag on

    My husband put you up to this didn’t he?! Of all the stages of addiction, I suppose I’m in denial. Of course I have to check my email messages ALL the time, what if I miss one from Oprah?!! That would be awful don’t you think?

  11. posted by cdelphine on

    It’s so hard to stop checking my email, etc. every five minutes. It’s true that people will get along just fine without an immediate response but it’s also true that people expect it now. Whenever I email or call or text somebody about something that’s important to me I get so impatient waiting for a response. And I feel bad if I wait until the next day or two days later to reply to an email. I try not to apologize because it’s ridiculous but it does feel really rude.

  12. posted by Grace on

    I have a love/hate relationship with my phone but I won’t go into that now. I think the addiction comes from people wanting to be wanted. They constantly check to see if there is someone out there that needs something from them. And sometimes you can see the sadness when someone checks their phone and nothing has come in. It is like waiting for that call from that guy you gave your number to last night and when you pick up the phone only to find out it is your mother. Other than that, if you are out eating with a person who keeps checking their phone, it is always a tell tell sign that what ever company they are keeping is not interesting enough to keep them entertained, at least most of time.

  13. posted by Shana on

    Yes. People don’t see it as rude. Like it’s an invisible behavior. But the rest of us DO see it, and when we express that we feel that it’s rude? The perpetrators act like we’re touchy and need to get lives. My ex-husband did this CONSTANTLY, with every phone he ever had, up to and most definitely including the iPhone. He’d just drop completely out of a conversation, while I was in the middle of a sentence and we were making eye contact, without so much as a “hang on a second” raised finger. And no amount of hints, requests, and “I’m serious, dude, that’s so freaking rude” from me could break him of it.

    I’m not saying it’s a reason he’s my ex, but it and the underlying insensitivity and self-centeredness IS a reason I don’t miss him. 🙂 I don’t care how long these otherwise-useful-devices-used-too-often-for-obnoxiousness are around, I will never be convinced that a person right in front of you does not outrank whatever might be behind a beep (or even no alert whatsoever, just an itch to check) from a PHONE.

  14. posted by Mletta on

    If I’m spending time with someone, I want to be WITH them. Barring their need to be available for an emergency (which would be rare. They are not doctors or others really “on call.”), there is no need for checking phones and texting.

    it’s rude, and I don’t care how old you are or aren’t, to text and/or check and respond to phone calls when you are with other people, say eating a meal or engaging in conversation. (We’re not talking about hanging out in someone else’s home, although even then…)

    I am particularly taken aback in business situations where one or the other party is there ostensibly to have the other’s undivided attention. I’m personally NOT impressed nor do I think you are more important cause your phone keeps going off.

    In fact, it’s the opposite. If you’re really the Big Guy or the Big Woman in charge, you don’t need to take calls. You have your “people” to do that.

    Unless you’re the president, performing brain surgery or otherwise involved in truly life-saving business, you don’t need to be on the phone.

    It’s a bad habit for some, an addiction for others. And psychologists need to be involved because this is not about phones. It’s way more complicated than that.

    There are all sorts of issues.

    I’m more or less with those who almost forget to even check their phones since I really do not want to engage in a conversation in public. A meaningful one anyway.

    Cell phones are great for some basic things (When shopping with someone else in a big box store, for example, on estimating when you’ll be done, etc. NOT for going up and down aisles in a supermarket asking: Do we need X? Ugh. Make a list!) including emergencies and checking in when you’re on the fly.

    Texting in particular is rude by its nature. Because it’s like a slap in the face. You don’t really warrant a phone call. You don’t really want “contact.” Or you know you should not be calling–or texting–and you do it anyway, usually for no reason.

    In meetings, people who text and do not pay attention—I seriously want to fire them all on the spot. Since we pitch clients and vie for their time, there is NO excuse to not give them our full attention. Of course, when our clients are also checking phones and texting.

    The problem is bad in private life but even worse in business.

    Cell phones, texting are not inherently good or bad. It’s only how we use them.

    PS: If anyone takes a non-emergency call when we are out at a meal, I ask them to leave the table (if they don’t suggest it). If it happens more than once (as has only happened to me once), I ask them to leave. Period. I continue the meal on my own. As it’s clear that they are not interested in my company.

    You are either WITH someone or not. You either care enough to give your attention or you don’t.

    FYI: I apply this rule to relatives, friends and acquaintances. Life is too short to spend it with folks who have no self-control.

    By the way, if you allow folks to get away with bad cell phone and texting behavior, and say nothing, you basically condone it. The more people who politely speak up and set rules, the better for all of us.

    This is not about age, but about behavior and choices and MANNERS!

    Nobody should be more important than the people you are with at that moment. If you can’t give your attention, don’t waste MY time and energy.

  15. posted by Linda "K" on

    I’m responding to Shayna’s comment and really sympathize. I never liked cell phones and swore I’d never get an I-phone like my husband. Now I love it because I can do everything in one place. I also carry it always because my husband has serious medical conditions and I never want to miss a call from him. What’s helped me keeping it at arm’s length when needed is making sure that everyone’s info is in my contacts so that even if the phone’s caller ID is not clearly saying who’s calling, your contact entries will identify it. Then you can simply press a button that lets it go to voicemail if you can’t take it or if you don’t have that option, you can simply turn off the phone for a second which stops the ring and also sends them to voicemail. That way 99% of the time you’ll know who’s calling and that (I hope Shayna) will take away that anxious expectation of bad news. The other thing I thought I’d never do is text. Now I love texting and encourage people to text me instead of call me. A quick glance and you can tell if it’s an emergency – and if not, you can ignore it until you are done with dinner or your time with someone. A really quick glance is all it takes. If you don’t have anyone who may need to get to you at any time in your life – the best thing is just to turn off the sound. The trouble is you have to train yourself to turn it (or the whole phone) back on. It’s easy to forget but can be done. Remember when we were kids (if you’re a Boomer) and there were all those public service messages about how to be polite, look both ways before crossing the street, etc? Where are they now – especially about the dangers and rudeness of cell phones?

  16. posted by Mletta on

    Agree with your post about the “wanting to be wanted.” But it’s pretty ironic. Because if you can’t pay attention to the folks you are with, who are there, one hopes, because they choose/want to be, then what’s to be gained by the constant “demand” for contact? I mean just because someone calls or texts you doesn’t mean they want YOU. I guess people miss that point totally. There is so little real communication that people mistake physical acts for real interest. (If you loved me you would text me constantly, call incessantly and always respond instantly. Sounds like a baby, not an adult. Even kids are less demanding.)

    But I would disagree a bit with your comment:
    “Other than that, if you are out eating with a person who keeps checking their phone, it is always a tell tell sign that what ever company they are keeping is not interesting enough to keep them entertained, at least most of time.”

    We should not justify our desire to have someone acted politely when they are with us by having to be “entertaining.” I’m not quite sure how you meant it, but one could read it to say that someone who is bored with your presence is justified in accepting calls or texting. Which, I hope, is not what you mean.

    I have observed men and women out with people who were clearly “worthy” of their time and interest and seemingly very “entertaining.” And yet, they were with folks who texted and took calls. (Note to young men and women dating today: If someone won’t pay exclusive attention to you for a meal, they’re not likely to give you much attention later. No matter who you are, you deserve better. Walk away. Doesn’t matter how cute or attractive or rich or funny or powerful that person seemingly is. THey’re rude and childish. Walk away.)

    Frankly, I don’t feel I have to be “entertaining” to keep someone’s attention from taking a call or texting. Nor does the person with me have to entertain me to merit my attention. It’s about plain old respect.

    This behavior is like all those people who constantly “scan” a room or area when they are with you. It’s like everyone else is far more worthy of their attention. Like they feel they are missing something.

    Pay attention to the folks who pay attention to you. Forget those who don’t. Don’t waste your time and energy on them. They’re not interested, nor should you be.

    And if you really want to impress someone, for personal or professional reasons, give them your undivided attention. NOTHING compares. Especially today.

  17. posted by Sandra on

    I had a colleague who wrote on the syllabi of college courses that she taught that cell phones should be turned off during class, saying it was a rudeness issue, yet was the first person I knew to not only take but make calls during lunch with one other person.

    My problem now is a professor – I’d never ban phones because people have emergencies, and my own has gone off during class, so I’m empathetic to forgetting to turn them off, but my students sit with laptops which they may be using for taking notes but can also be used for whatever on wireless. This isn’t a big lecture but a class of 25 students with lots of participation encouraged.

  18. posted by Mletta on

    Linda K writes:
    A really quick glance is all it takes.

    Well, Linda, let’s see. If you’re with someone for a half hour and they get 20 calls and 10 texts, that’s 30 glances.

    That’s annoying and distracting. Period. And unnecessary.

    By the way, for folks such as yourself who have legitimate reasons to monitor calls, I think there is an even better solution.

    Two phones. One line is only given out to the folks who would be calling for a true emergency. That is the only phone that would be ON while you are with someone.

    That way, you also know that you are free to enjoy yourself and that ONLY if one phone rings will it be essential.

    See what nobody who has an addiction says or acknowledges is that they are missing out on something that is far more important: THe real connection and communication with the person in front of them. It’s all still about justifying you being “present” for someone who is NOT THERE, while being rude to someone who is LITERALLY there with you. These folks need to think about that.

    It’s just crazy that anyone (again, non-emergency)would give more attention to an absent person.


  19. posted by Noel on

    My brother-in-law and sister-in-law were texting each other and laughing while we were all in the same room at Thanksgiving. Talk about rude! I have no idea why people do this, if they are self-absorbed or just clueless. But I think this technology is a lot less helpful and useful than we think it is, especially when it leads to this type of behavior.

  20. posted by Kelly on

    This may sound a little odd, but I’m somewhat introverted (and don’t particularly like to talk on the phone), so I actually don’t like to check my phone for messages. Sometimes interacting with people all day at work leaves me mentally exhausted and I really don’t want to have to call anyone back. Except maybe my mom. 🙂

  21. posted by Christine on

    I wrote a blog entry about this very same phenomenon back in the fall. I find it extremely irritating that when I’m with a group of people, they suddenly all fall silent because they are texting different people simultaneously.

    I’m an insurance agent and answer phone calls all day long. I’m also at a computer all day long, responding to emails. When I come home, my phone stays in my bag and I check it once or twice to see if anyone tried reaching me. I need time where I’m not communicating non-stop!

  22. posted by cv on

    Amazing how much people have to say in the comments about the rudeness of others! I happen to agree with most of the comments, but a different aspect of the post resonated with me, and that’s the way checking email constantly clutters my life. It’s not about being rude to people I’m with, since I do it when I’m home alone (and I don’t get email on my phone). I just find myself stopping to check email in between eating dinner and doing the dishes, or while I’m watching a tv show (even streaming online so I have to click away from the window), or keeping my laptop open on the coffee table while I’m reading a book on the couch so I’ll see any new email.

    This is definitely clutter in my life! It’s a rare email in my personal account that can’t wait for an hour or two, so I need to break the habit and focus on better uses of my time.

  23. posted by bklynchic on

    I take offense to this post (and many like it that have been popping up in the media lately). Some of us do not have a choice as to whether we get to leave our lives at the office.

    I’m an attorney, and I’m expected to be on call 24/7. If a partner at my firm emailed me, and I didn’t get back to him within 5 minutes on an urgent matter, he would call. And if I didn’t pick that up, I’d be severely reprimanded. More than once, and I’d likely be fired.

    Many of my friends are also lawyers, investment bankers and people in other professional, high-demand careers where you’re expected to get back to people right away.

    So if you live in magical unicorn land where your job is not 24/7: great for you. The rest of us have to get back our boss about something.

  24. posted by Mike on


    Congrats to you that you can tolerate that. That’s part of why I am not in litigation today, despite the obvious pay perks. I realized when I was “on call 24/7” that there was an awful lot I was missing. But if that doesn’t bother you, then by all means continue tolling billables while shackled to the Soul Eaters.

    Meanwhile, out here in “magical unicorn land” (where most normal jobs are), we’ll enjoy the fact that work is OVER at 5pm and we can ignore the boss until the next morning. And you know what? Putting down the smartphone is one of the things I enjoy most at the end of every workday. I’ll think about your post and enjoy it even more from now on.

  25. posted by Annie on

    OK folks, different does not equal bad. One person’s soul eating job is another person’s thrilling, exciting career.

    I’m assuming if you have the type of 24/7 job that requires constant communication with your boss, the people you know and love (or even just the people you eat dinner with) know about it. Checking email from your boss is not the same as checking facebook. One says that you have work commitments you can not escape, the other says you have no respect for the person sitting across from you.

    A person who has to keep an eye on their blackberry for work reasons could just mention to the other person (should they not know) that they need to be on alert for work, and they are sorry if this makes them seem a bit distracted at times. The other person could then have enough compassion to not to take it as a personal insult that their dinner partner needs to check their phone occasionally.

    Politeness isn’t about living up to some abstract notion of how things should be done. It’s about making sure that the people around you are comfortable in your presence. Personally, I’d take someone who makes it a point to try to look at things from my perspective and understand where I am coming from over Ms. Manners any day.

  26. posted by bklynchic on

    Annie, now THAT is a reasonable approach to the issue. Wish you were the one who wrote the opening post.

  27. posted by Shana on

    Sure, @bklynchic, some people have such job requirements. Most don’t. Most are just addicted to their devices and social media/whatever, and are being rude to the people they’re actually with. Yes, some nasty drivers are in a hurry because they’re surgeons and somebody’s waiting on the table for them, about to die, but most are…just impatient jerks. The 1% with legit reasons for what would otherwise be inexcusably rude behavior do not get the other 99% off the hook. 🙂 (BTW, you take offense to this? Dude, get a thicker skin. You’re a lawyer, you say? I can’t decide whether this really shouldn’t offend you or whether you’re just used to getting offended for a living. “OBJECTION! [to this post]” 🙂

  28. posted by Annie on

    Sure, Shana, most people don’t have such job requirements. Some do. Why should the 1% of us with legit reasons for checking our blackberries be ostracized because 99% of you can’t keep your phone in your pants?

    And, yes, lawyers have feelings too…and there’s a hell of a lot more to being a lawyer than “getting offended for a living.” Also – Seriously? Lawyer jokes? You can’t come up with anything better? I may check my blackberry in public, but I am polite enough to remember what my mother taught me – if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

  29. posted by DCJen on

    Annie, well said. I’m not a lawyer but I have a job that requires that I be available non-traditional hours. Those I enjoy spending time with know that when I look at my iPhone in their company, it’s to determine if an email can wait or if it needs an immediate response.

  30. posted by Erin Doland on

    @bklynchic and @annie — Did you both read the original post? I make grand exceptions in the text for people whose careers depend on instant communication.

  31. posted by Annie on

    Absolutely read the original post (I love the idea of switching the ringtones to signal possible work emergencies – I definitely plan on doing that)!

    However, while your post concerned ways that you can stop checking your phone because it’s getting in the way of living a fully realized life, many of the subsequent comments concerned how annoying they thought it was when other people checked their phones in public. Which, I can totally understand – everyone has their pet-peeves, and I’m not going to get in the way of someone’s venting! I just wanted to point out that, if you are a person who has to frequently check their phone for work (or, if you’ve set up a way for your phone to signal that there is an important work message, you have to respond immediately when those messages come in) sometimes its worth communicating that to the person you are with. And, if you are with someone that needs to check their phone for work, its nice to try to have some understanding about their situation. That way, hurt feelings can be avoided on both sides, and people who are out to dinner together can spend more time eating, and less time seething about phone-related slights. Makes for a more enjoyable dinner!

  32. posted by Christine on

    “Well, Linda, let’s see. If you’re with someone for a half hour and they get 20 calls and 10 texts, that’s 30 glances.

    That’s annoying and distracting. Period. And unnecessary.”

    Wow, I’m glad I’m not that popular/busy. Yikes. I would go nuts.
    I do think that a quick “is this urgent” glance is not too unreasonable in many situations (out with a group socializing), though it may be questionable in some situations (socializing with a single friend or talking with a coworker casually) and downright rude in others (talking with the boss, discussing work with a coworker, in deep discussion with a friend.)

    It’s all about context, and it’s all about moderation.

    More in line with the post:
    I’ve got special ringtones assigned for certain people who would need to contact me in an emergency (spouse, parents, petsitter). If I’m busy and it’s a special ringtone, I’ll be sure to answer it if doing so wouldn’t be a problem/danger (on road, in shower) or be super-rude (talking business with the boss), even if I have say “I’m at work, can this wait?” Everybody else? I hit the button to mute the ringer and they can leave a message if it’s important. And it works pretty well.

  33. posted by bklynchic on

    I did read the post, Erin. And you only excuse those instances you classify as “emergencies” or exempt only “important calls”. The reason I criticized you is because those categories aren’t inclusive enough.

    Co-workers and clients don’t just expect you to respond quickly when there’s an “emergency” or when they’ve given prior notice that your intervention will be required in the off-hours. They expect it always, often at surprising times. To give you an example, this summer an important matter arose in the middle of 4th of July weekend. There was no indication that it would be an issue when we all left the office for the holiday. Therefore, every message needs to be checked and prioritized ALWAYS.

    That’s what I’m talking about and that’s what you hadn’t covered.

  34. posted by Shana on

    @Annie, I think it’s fairly obvious that most of us know which of our family, friends, and acquaintances are legitimately on the hook 24/7 for work and which are being rude and thoughtless with their “smart”phones and what-have-you. Give us some credit, and don’t write us off as ignorant of the Important Job Requirements of the Important.

    @bklynchic, did your mother say anything about having a sense of humor? (And did you see my little smiley-face goofy freakin’ “emoticons?” I was clearly not being all that serious, as evidenced by the trouble I took to…clearly convey same.) You seem a little thin-skinned to be playing with the other kids out in the wilds of the innernets….

  35. posted by Shana on

    Also @bklynchic, Erin fails to specifically speak to the exact requirements of your job and you get offended? It’s not a blog custom-written just for you. Nobody’s making you read it, and nobody’s making you or yours obey it to the letter. Obviously, if your job requirements differ, you and yours will know that and adjust expectations accordingly. What’s your problem? That Erin didn’t think to include a PSA addressing your particular situation? Good Lord.

  36. posted by Erin Doland on

    I’m closing comments.

Comments are closed.