Vacation Email Triage

As I prepare to take off for the US Independence Day weekend, I thought it would be a good time to revisit our Holiday Email Avalanche post.  Many of us are taking some vacation time this summer to unwind but dread the return to the Inbox after an extended absence.  Here are some tips to help you cope with an avalanche of email after a vacation:

  1. Use ClearContext’s AutoAssign rules to quickly categorize and file messages.  We all receive informational messages from the usual suspects; email that we like to review such as newsletters and company updates, but is not time sensitive.  Upon your return, create some rules to quickly file newsletters, bulk mail, non-critical corporate updates, etc..  Put them out of the way and review at your leisure after you’ve had the chance to catch up on your important email.
  2. Delete or file unimportant messages.  After you’ve cleared out the informational emails, use ClearContext’s Prioritized view to see your email listed in priority order.  Utilizing CC’s default scoring parameters, the gray messages at the bottom of your Inbox can almost certainly be deleted with little or no review – all of these emails are from unknown senders, are not addressed directly to you, and are likely spam.  If you’re worried about bulk deleting, move them to a review file for consumption after you’ve had the chance to get through the important stuff.  Really overwhelmed users might want to consider deleting messages in black as well
  3. Process your Inbox, one email conversation at a time.  Still using the prioritized view, start at the top of the Inbox and work your way down your prioritized list of email.  Delete the message if you don’t need it or categorize and file it using CC filing buttons.  If the message can be answered in a minute or less, do so.  Otherwise, use Task or Schedule to create a task/appointment for later action and file the original message away or use Defer to get the message out of the Inbox for the time period you specify.  Because ClearContext’s views present message conversations together in the Inbox, once you have processed the top message in the conversation, use File Thread to move the rest of the conversation out of your Inbox and move on to the next conversation.

I have two more "peace of mind" tips for you.  I have read several recent articles that quote people who feel the need to check email while on vacation to try and avoid the inevitable email crunch.  This is a mistake and should be avoided at all costs.  Email begets email – the more you send the more you get in return.  If you answer the important messages while "relaxing," the result is likely to be the same amount of email when you return.  My advice is twofold:

  1. Block the last day out before you leave to tie up all your loose ends, clear your Inbox, and hit the road with a sense of accomplishment and relief knowing that you got things done before your break. 
  2. Keep your schedule on your first day back clear.  You’ll have a full free day when you return to devote to catching up before everyone realizes that you’re back in business.

With these ideas in hand, you should be able to enjoy your time off and come back refreshed and ready to tackle your work with renewed vigor.  Don’t take my word for it, listen to what Omar Shahine has to say about it:

"This was the second time this year I went 7 work days w/o checking email. You know what? It worked. I trust that when I get back to work I have a system that allows me to process all the stuff and get back in the game w/o increasing my stress level and ruining my vacation. …doing email on vacation is essentially losing out on time my mind needs to not do anything work related. I can tell you that I started Monday with a lot more energy and excitement specifically because I avoided thinking or doing work while relaxing."

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