The bliss of your vacation suddenly comes to a screeching halt when you come home to a full inbox. If you’re anything like me, you probably have loads of laundry and other household chores to do as well. Nothing says goodbye vacation quite like desperately trying to catch up at work.
Taking quality time away from the office is good for you. It helps your physical health, your mental health, and your productivity. However, stress can ensue when you have hundreds of emails in your inbox after spending time basking in a foreign land.
You don’t want to check your emails while on vacation because that’s not a vacation then, is it?
Below are some time-saving tips for efficiently catching up on all those pesky emails, so you don’t have to worry about checking emails on vacation, or working harder before you go on vacation.
Before You Leave for Vacation
Although there are lots of things, you can do when you come back from vacation to reduce stress and get through your emails. There are a few tricks you can do beforehand to make your life much easier.
1. Set Up Filters
Before you leave for your vacation, you need to plan out how to sort your incoming email. Setting up filters for incoming email can help you be incredibly efficient when you come back. For example, you can set up a filter for emails that come from your staff, which will go into a folder so you can read those first when you get back.
For Gmail accounts this is fairly simple to do:
- Set up a new folder – in Gmail called a new label.
- Set up a filter that recognizes emails from your company, for instance, *@companyemail. By using the asterisks instead of the email, it ensures that all email aliases will be included.
- Click on “Create filter with this search” then check “Skip the Inbox” and check “Apply the label” and choose the folder you created.
You can also create filters for the regular emails you get that are newsletters, daily digests or marketing emails by filtering names or email addresses. You can delete them or send them to another folder.
Pro Tip: If you have a little more time, you may want to unsubscribe as you delete automated emails. Use a free tool like Unroll.Me to mass unsubscribe from every single newsletter that doesn’t provide you with value.
2. Schedule Time Out
You probably already know you should have turned on your out of office auto-reply. What you’re probably not doing before you leave for vacation is making scheduled time on your calendar for the day you get back to catch up. You need to block out at least a few hours, if not more, the morning you get back to sort through your inbox. Mornings tend to have fewer distractions, so it’s best to jump into catching up right away. Scheduled time can also include listening to voicemails and making other to-do lists.
You shouldn’t schedule any meetings the first day that you are back, if possible. You will need a whole day to jump back into the work routine as well as catch up on anything that you missed.
Pro Tip: Leave you’re out of office auto-reply on for one extra day while you are catching up on email. Doing so will help prevent requests while you are still trying to catch up.
Once You Are Back at the Office
3. Use the Five Folders Technique to get Through Emails Faster
You might have set up filters, but you will still have to sort through emails from coworkers. The easiest way to get through your emails quickly is to create for folders in your inbox.
- High Priority – For urgent emails that you need to get to as soon as possible.
- Action Required – For emails that you need to go back to.
- Awaiting Response – For emails you are awaiting a response on.
- Delegated – For emails that you delegated to others.
- Archived – For emails that you don’t want to delete, but can’t read now. Least important emails.
Once you have set up your folders (or labels, if you use Gmail) in your inbox you easily sort them into categories. Remember that not every email in your inbox is a priority and needs a response.
Now that you have your folders set up it’s time to start sorting through them. I have found the best way is to do this by sorting emails.
First, sort by subject. If you see several emails about the same subject it’s easy to eliminate the old ones and only keep the most recent ones.
Second, sort by date. Work your emails from the bottom up because those are the people who have been waiting for the longest reply.
4. Follow the Four Golden Rules of Email
There are four main golden rules that you should think of when dredging through your emails.
Delete it – Just like hoarding clothes or shoes; this can be the hardest action to do. For some reason, we love holding onto emails, even if we won’t use them in the future. These emails consume space physically and mentally, so if your first reaction is to delete it, just do it.
Delegate it – If you are not the right person to respond to the email delegate it right away.
Respond to it – The rule of thumb here is, if you can respond to the email in less than two minutes, then respond right away. If it takes more time to respond, then prioritize it.
Prioritize it – You will need a structured way, either though labels, filters or flags to make sure that you are prioritizing the emails that need a longer response.
5. Use Boomerang to Resurface Emails.
You have sorted your emails, put them into folders (or labels) and responded to the ones you can answer in under two minutes. Now it’s time to catch up on other projects. But what about those emails that you put into your “Action Required” folder or your “Archived” folder. It’s easy to forget about these emails once you have moved on to other items. That’s where the free tool Boomerang comes in.
Boomerang lets you archives your email but allows you to choose the date and time you want it to reemerge in your inbox as an unread message. For instance, I have 20 emails in my Action Required folder, but I know that I can’t get to all of them today, and some of them can hold off till a few days from now. I will go through and schedule them out with Boomerang. This way my inbox is clear today, but I won’t forget about those action emails!
Your vacation should be a time to get away and unplug. Don’t let the stress of coming back to a full inbox take away from your rest and relaxation. By following these five easy steps of setting up filters, setting up a calendar time, using the Five Folder Technique, following the Golden Rules and using Boomerang your first day back will be a breeze. You will be back on track and caught up in no time!