There’s plenty of advice out there on how to deal with a deluge of emails after returning from a much-needed holiday.
But why not launch a pre-emptive strike, by using some smart strategies before you flit off?
We asked three experts for their top tips on preventing a bulging inbox, so you can slide back into the office without feeling stressed.
To avoid a manic first few days back, Snooks suggests scheduling some time to clear your email backlog – before you go on leave.Credit:iStock
Your out-of-office message
Ideally, this will include the dates you are away, and the details of a colleague who can be contacted if required.
However email productivity expert Steuart Snooks also recommends giving yourself a couple of days’ breathing room.
“If you’re coming back on the Monday, tell them that you’re back on Wednesday. Buy yourself a couple of days to get your feet under the desk and sort through the backlog. Otherwise as soon as you get back, you’re under pressure,” he says.
Humour: yes or no?
“If you’ve got a relationship with someone, you can talk about drinking cocktails in Tahiti, that’s fine,” says Snooks. However, he notes that it’s difficult to control who receives your out-of-office alert.
“The basic rule of thumb is if in doubt, keep it professional. Keep it bland. Because with email – it’s like they say in the cop movies – anything you say can and will be used against you.”
Create a separate folder
You can choose to put Gmail, for instance, on snooze mode, so emails don’t reappear in your inbox until you return, says Snooks.
Another option, as part of your out-of-office message, is to set up an email rule that diverts emails to a separate folder, which you can call your “holiday backlog folder”.
“There’s nothing worse than coming back, opening the inbox on day one of the new year and you’ve got 300, 500 emails. It’s energy-sapping,” he says.
“But instead of that your inbox is empty and all that backlog has gone to its own folder, which you can work through at your own pace over the next day or two.”
“Nowadays we actually need to learn to create patterns and rhythms in our life, and strategies, so that we guard those beautiful spaces where we can think and rest and breathe and connect.”
Be ruthless, if you need to
Daniel Sih, author of Spacemaker: how to unplug, unwind and think clearly in the digital age, recently went on long service leave and took a different tack with his out-of-office alert.
“I said it’s been a busy year and I’m making space for three months on leave and I’m not checking my email, and I will delete or achieve or emails when I get back,” he says.
“If something’s urgent I gave them a person they could email or phone … if it’s not truly urgent, please email me again when I’m back.”
If taking this approach, Sih suggests clearing with your manager first, and being careful with your wording. “You want to put guardrails around your time, but you need to do it in a professional and respectful way.”
Think you might take a sneaky peek at your emails after logging off? Then Sih suggests removing your work email app from your phone.
“It’s just an app. You can always reinstall it, and you haven’t lost any emails, but just that habit alone takes away a whole lot of temptation and a whole lot of pressure,” he says.
Schedule time in advance
To avoid a manic first few days back, Snooks suggests scheduling some time to clear your email backlog, and do this before you go on leave.
“Actually schedule in time as a legitimate workplace task in your calendar for 30 minutes or an hour or whatever it is you feel you need [when you return], or a couple of blocks of those.”
More pre-holiday strategies
Lauren Stratford, of Seriously Sorted, also offers these tips:
- Give your clients, colleagues and stakeholders advance notice of your upcoming holidays. Adding your office closure or leave dates to your signature block in the lead-up is a smart move
- Got deadlines that people need to meet before you head off? Work backwards and send them an email with any critical milestone dates to avoid nasty surprises
- If someone is covering your leave, start your handover early and CC them on emails to your clients, to avoid a last-day scramble
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