Coming back from vacation — especially a long, unplugged, tranquil one — and readjusting to the office can be hard enough. Add a bursting email inbox filled with messages marked "URGENT!" and you're going to want to run screaming back to the beach.
So what can you do to prevent this from happening? Some tips:
1. Plan ahead
Long before you hit the shores, slopes or cabin hideaway, get your email in order. This can be tough since business use of email is ubiquitous, with 108.7 billion business emails sent each day worldwide in 2014 (expected to jump to 139.4 billion in 2018). You may not be able to escape work email, but you can use several strategies to get it under control before you leave, which will help keep it in check when you get back.
- Empty your box before you go. Try sorting your email by subject (for threads, delete all but the most recent email), sender (letting you quickly see and delete non-critical messages), and date received, says />Maura Nevel Thomas in Texas Enterprise. She also suggests moving all your pre-vacation email to a separate folder, giving you a fresh inbox so that it's easier once you get back to see the messages you've missed.
- Set up a "vacation" inbox for key messages. Filter just the most important emails (from your manager or key clients, for example) into a separate inbox. Later you can review these emails before others, or even check them while gone if needed, recommends Alexandra Samuel in the Harvard Business Review.
- Remind co-workers and managers that you'll be away. See if there's anything you need to address before leaving, or ask them not to email you while you're away, which Forbes says will "drastically reduce your overall email load."
- Create an auto-response email. This should include the dates you will be on vacation and who to contact in the meantime. Forbes suggests listing your return day as a day or two after you'll actually return to the office, which provides a comforting buffer zone upon your return.
2. Consider declaring "email bankruptcy"
Writer Lauren Young of Thomson Reuters sets her auto-response as such: Due to the expected volume of vacation email, it's likely she won't respond to any email received during that time — she'll be deleting her entire inbox and starting fresh when she returns.
While this isn't feasible for everyone because you may have customers or business partners with whom you must keep in contact while gone, it can be "unbelievably liberating," says Brad Feld, managing director at Foundry Group in Boulder, Colorado, who tried the email bankruptcy approach during a month-long vacation last November.
Coming back to an empty inbox let him keep some of that post-vacation glow: "My vacation mellow wasn't harshed at all," Feld says.
3. Give yourself time
Don't dive right into a busy schedule of meetings and other activities on your first day back. Use the time to check what's come in while you were gone. If you've used the strategies outlined above, your inbox should already be in shape so you can begin work recharged, refreshed, and free of stress.
Lorna Collier’s articles on education and technology have appeared in US News & World Report, the Chicago Tribune, MSN.com
, AARP Bulletin and many other publications. She is a contributing editor at GetEducated.com
. Follow her @lornacollier.