Back from vacation Inbox strategy

Back from vacation Inbox strategy

Hope you had a wonderful Fourth of July!

The custom of celebrating independence day hasn’t changed in America since 1776, but one thing is definitely different today: when folks get back to work after the long weekend or vacation, they lose the holiday’s festive mood with a harsh reality check when they see the content of their inbox; the anxiety actually begins with the status message/screen as the inbox count is refreshed.

Sure, the founding fathers had some messaging to process as well (as in “One if by land, and two if by sea”) – but they definitely had it better.

Any holiday or vacation these days causes this problem: your email keeps flowing in, and you either have to process it throughout the holiday (bad, bad idea!) or you have to face hundreds or thousands of new messages when you return.

Before you stress out and lose your cool, here are some tips on how to handle your back from vacation inbox:

Process the inbox in batch mode in predefined times

That is, assign some contiguous time slots to the task and handle other work the rest of the time. Of course this is always good advice, but after a vacation you may need more than your regular email slots; so plan in advance when you will do it over the next day or two or three. Do NOT assume you need to finish the task immediately.

Do a quick scan for urgent emails and respond to them

Note that I said urgent, not important; important messages that are not urgent can wait for later. Resist the tendency to service email from the important people in your work world – if the boss wants some information that can wait a few days then this can wait. So – scan the inbox and handle the handful of urgent stuff first. Also, don’t forget that sometimes you shouldn’t answer emails too quickly.

Create a system to sort your messages into

With hundreds of accumulated messages, you need a good method to wade through the mess and identify the emails you will want to process – and when they should be processed. If you don’t already have a system in place, construct one – create folders with names like “Do First”, “Do Today”, “Do Later”, or the like (you don’t need a folder “Do when I have spare time” – just use the Trash folder thoughtfully provided by your email client for that).

First separate the wheat from the chaff

Once you have these folders, start filling them. Scan the inbox rapidly and just move messages you want to process into the folders. Depending on your email program and your day-to-day email strategy, you may benefit from sorting the inbox view by sender, by importance flag, etc. And don’t forget the Five weeks folder trick!

Now process the messages in the right order!

With the messages requiring your attention sorted by urgency, you can settle down to taking action on these, replying or delegating or filing or deleting them.

Bonus Tip: Automate this!

Tips 2 through 4 above are a way of doing manually and slowly what a personal assistant like Knowmail does rapidly and automatically: figure out what you should do first. The founding fathers did not have access to such advanced tools, so they had to process their messages manually. You can do better!

Nathan Zeldes
Nathan Zeldes

Nathan Zeldes is a globally recognized thought leader in the search for improved knowledge worker productivity. After a 26 year career as a manager and principal engineer at Intel Corporation, he now helps organizations solve core problems at the intersection of information technology and human behavior.