How to deal with email when you come back from holiday


Before You Go

Couple of quick actions in the “prevention is better than cure” frame of mind.

1. Set up an auto responder making it clear that you will not be reading your emails while on holiday. Notice the assumption – that you won’t. If you do it is open season to keep them piling in.
2. Set up a rule (if you don’t already have one) which diverts all emails in which you are only cc’ed into a separate folder. Same goes for any email in which you are not in the To – that will help pick up spammy and group emails.
3. Proactively ask your key reports up and down the line to ease off on non-essential emails.
4. Same goes for clients and any projects you are involved in.
5. Where you can ask for a short summary of items which need your attention to be prepared and sent to you for the 1st day of your return

Realistically you can only achieve so much with the above – but it will help.

On Your Return

Take the time to quickly catch up person to person with key people and projects – you will hopefully identify important and urgent stuff which needs your immediate attention. Prioritise this over email. Alternatively see summary email at point 5 above.

Back to your inbox

• Get into processing mode – this means you will not be actioning emails during this time. The classic 2 minute rule (where you take a quick action rather than process) should be discarded in deference to the volume of processing needed.
• Clear at least 1 hour in your schedule.
• Make sure you have the required folders set up – a good time to do so if you do not use them normally. These are:
@action, @reference, @read
• Sort by thread and start from the top down – we are going to assume that the majority of emails from early in your holiday resolved themselves by the time you got back
• You should immediately identify and focus on emails from key people (your direct report, key clients or people involved in key projects) and give them priority and enough time to read and process properly.
• When every email from those is properly processed and removed from your inbox you then have a decision to make – continue to process less important emails (remembering the Productivity Ninja stance that 20 emails out of each 800 are actually important) or now action the ones in the @action folder. We recommend the latter!

In a subsequent session you will now move back into processing mode again and tackle the less urgent backlog. Remember to sort by sender and do a mass processing of all emails from some individuals or emails addresses which you know from experience are just not important. Either move to reference or delete.

The Alternative

• Set your auto response to say that you will delete all emails received during your time off and asking people to resend if important/urgent after the date of your return.
• Arrive back to your desk in a relaxed frame of mind, Select All in your inbox and Delete.
• Wait to see what arrives.
• Process as usual.



If you’re looking for email training, our ‘Inbox Zero’ workshops are available in-house to your company or also through our public workshops across the UK.

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