Dealing with the email horror at the end of a holiday

Before going on holiday, I’ve conducted a few sessions coaching people on self-management/ productivity and so I thought I’d write a few posts on some key aspects of how I deal with some of the major pinch-points people seem to face. As I’m back from holiday today, I thought I’d start with dealing with the email backlog.

Despite all the prescriptive advice on productivity, what works is what works for you: you need to think about what might work for you and test it over a few weeks at least. This is the process that works well for me.

So, deep breath, softly swear to yourself and start …

Firstly, check you calendar for the next two weeks or so. This is to remind yourself of key deadlines, meets, etc coming up. I know ideally you will have all your priorities sorted and scheduled before any holiday but realistically its generally a struggle to get everything wrapped up before you go, let alone plan for your return. So I check my calendar for at least the next two weeks and keep a written summary of what’s coming up next to me for the rest of the process. Give yourself a time frame of 90 minutes – you’re aiming to be quick!

  1. check any high priority emails (ignore those from people who mark all their emails as high priority). These should be processed now by dealing with those that can be responded to in 2 minutes or less. The others should be either put in to a folder to be actioned today or left in your in-box and treated like any other email – in other words, they are not really high priority for you.
  2. sort your in-box by either ‘from’ or ‘subject’ (you’ll know which makes better sense for you) to conduct a quick scan of any emails relevant to you upcoming appointments and priorities. For those that look relevant, either deal with in under two minutes, or place in the folder to be actioned today or in the backlog folder. I also delete anything obviously spammy that’s made it through my filters. It’s important to do this at speed and don’t be distracted by ‘interesting’ but irrelevant content. At the end of this stage, you should be comfortable that you’re not missing emails of urgent importance to you.
  3. I now tend to give my, much depleted, email in-box another scan incase I’ve missed anything.
  4. All remaining emails in the in-box, except those sent in the last 48 hours, now get moved to the backlog folder.
  5. I process the most recent emails in the normal way – action now, onto may task list for later, delegate, delete of file – to in-box zero.
  6. I schedule some time each day over the next ten days to process the backlog of less urgent emails.
  7. I can now work on those urgent and important emails that need to be actioned today *and* finish the day with nothing in my email in-box!

Again, this works for me but they key aspect is to prioritise to my needs and to get to a point where I’ve no sense of ’email overwhelm’ quickly.

Following this process, it took me one hour to go from 484 emails to Zero.

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