5 steps for returning to an almost-empty email inbox after a vacation

Working on vacationlegenda/ShutterstockSome workers say they dread going on vacation because they know it will create more work for them in the long run.

Checking your email on vacation can be just as tempting as checking your text messages at work.

Over 40% of working adults said they feel obligated to check their email while they are on vacation, according to a poll of over 2,000 adults from Ipsos Public Affairs.

The temptation is rational. Who wants to click through hundreds or thousands of emails after returning from a time of R&R? Some say this post-vacation email deluge even makes them dread going on vacation in the first place.

However, Research shows that stress levels tend to increase when you have access to your inbox and that in order to return to work refreshed and rejuvenated, you need to unplug completely during vacation.

But Dmitri Leonov, VP of growth for Sanebox, says that’s not always a realistic option.

He says following these five steps will allow you to enjoy your vacation, as well as transition back into the workflow with ease:

1. Set your auto-responder to expire a couple of days after you get back from vacation.

'The most important hack is to setting the expectation that you will be back later,' Leonov explains. He says this buys him a couple of extra days to play catch up at work before responding to his emails.

Plus, when you come back to work on Monday but your out-of-office email doesn't expire until Wednesday, people are really impressed when you get back to them first thing Wednesday morning, Leonov says.

2. Install a filter to separate important or urgent emails from unimportant, non-urgent ones.

Everyone should have a filter that sorts emails into 'important' and 'unimportant' folders, Leonov says. These filters, like Google priority or his own tool, Sanebox, allow you to quickly scan through your unimportant emails and delete them all at once.

'Having an active filter is going to save you a disproportionate amount of time when you're back,' Leonov says.

3. Filter out recurring emails.

Daily updates from your go-to news sites or weekly notifications about meetings are helpful -- if you're in office.

While you're out of the office, make sure to filter out these recurring updates, notifications, and newsletters so you don't waste time deleting them during or after vacation when they are obsolete.

4. Triage for 5 to 10 minutes a day.

Leonov says the 'Triage' method comes from the Napoleonic wars when the chief surgeon came up with a method to separate wounded soldiers into three categories: those who are going to die quickly no matter what you do, those who will live no matter what you do, and those who will make a significant improvement if they receive immediate attention.

In the corporate world, the Triage method encourages workers to separate their email into three categories: those that should quickly be deleted in bulk, those that you can deal with quickly, and those that need to be worked on when you return from vacation.

Leonov says the majority of the emails will belong in the 'immediately delete' category, while the minority of the emails will belong in the 'requires attention upon return' category. The middle category of emails -- those that can be dealt with on the fly -- can either be forwarded to a coworker or can be snoozed to reappear in your inbox at a more convenient time.

To fit into the middle category, Leonov says the reply should take less than two minutes -- but he recommends restricting it to 30 seconds or less while on vacation.

5. Make your action items clear.

When you decide to forward or reply to an email during your Triage sessions, Leonov says to 'make sure your action items are as close-ended as possible to avoid the back-and-forth emails.'

For example, your typical reply to an email might read, 'Do you know if Jack has completed project XYZ?' -- but Leonov says a more efficient reply reads, 'Do you know if Jack has completed project XYZ? If yes, have him do A. If not, have him do B.'

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