Have you experienced returning to the office after a few weeks holiday only to find that the e-mail inbox is virtually overflowing with hundreds of unread e-mails?
Wouldn’t you agree that this does not exactly give you the best feeling upon your return?
You barely have time to skim through the most recent addition before it is time to attend a meeting. Coming back from lunch you pass a glance at the e-mails mounting again. Indeed, a few more have been added to the pile.
When the day is over and the three meetings for today are over with, you only have time to attend to the most urgent messages which have arrived throughout the day before it is time to go home.
You haven’t even had the opportunity to have a look at those which came in last week and you are dreading the discovery that there are several messages amongst them which you should have attended to long ago. During the next few weeks you struggle to catch up and “reduce the e-mail pile” and you will need to spend at least one night working late to get a grip on the situation.
Not a very good start…
Don’t be surprised to find what you already know
For most of us, e-mail correspondence arrives in a continuous and constant flow regardless if we are at work or not.
That one thing is for sure.
That is precisely why you should count on the e-mail inbox being full to the brim on the first day back at work after your holiday. If you from the beginning set aside time for handling and attending to e-mails, you will feel up to speed in no time after returning to work, rather than being stuck with that persistent pile of old e-mails for several months.
- When you schedule a vacation, make a point of also reserving time to process the e-mail which will have arrives during your absence. This may also be a good strategy when you are going away on a business trip, unless you have time to process at the same speed when you are away as when you are at the office.
- Remember that there is a difference in processing the inbox and doing the tasks which produced by the e-mails. When you are processing, you are only creating to-do-tasks, storing or deleting e-mails. You are not completing any of the tasks which have arisen (unless they require less than two minutes of your time).
- For me it is helpful to adhere to the following criterion:
- Away for one day – one hour to process
- Away for one week – one day to process
(Let’s say that I receive between 30 and 50 e-mails daily. Since I lack co-workers, all e-mails are directed to me personally. Only on rare occasions, once a week perhaps, do I receive a cc:-message. So, all in all, I need to explicitly address all e-mails I receive.)
- So, when you know the amount of time you will need to set aside, schedule it in your agenda so that you are not available and open to suggestions for more meetings from your colleagues at these times.
- Since you might not be familiar with this procedure, and if you already have made plans to travel or take time off, make sure to also add to your weekly run-through that you should reserve time for the days or hours you will need to catch up, the amount depending on the duration of you absence, when you are looking back to evaluate the month that passed and plan for the one ahead in the same way as described above.
At this very moment, do the following
I am guessing you will have some time off during the summer.
- Check your calendar and make an appointment during the first or one of the first days you are back at work.
- Make sure that you are not available for meetings during this time slot, but use the time wisely to get a handle on the situation.
Sure, the quantity of e-mails received during vacation-times may not be as massive as it otherwise might be, but it may very well amount to that if you are not careful to reserve a substantial and sufficient quantity of time to catch up and process during the first day back. I am more than convinced that you have better things to spend your precious time on.
Nip it in the bud
If you nip the issue while it still has not blossomed into a problem, you will regain control of you own planning faster than you used to after being absent from work. You will get the tasks which actually are urgent now done quicker since you very soon after returning to work have updated and made your to-do-list fully comprehensive. You also no longer need to feel guilty over the e-mails you still haven’t “gotten down to” since you will have made your way through the entire inbox sooner.
How do you do this?
What is your trick to presenting yourself with a pleasant first day back at the office after your holiday? Leave your best tip in a comment to share with the rest of us.