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« Progress Report | Main | More on the Procrastination Buster »

Back from Holiday

Many of us will be beginning to think about the holiday season round about now and how great it will be to get away from the office for a few weeks. But what about what happens when we get back from our break and find our computer full of 600+ unread emails?

There are basically four possible ways of dealing with these emails. Three are effective and one is ineffective. Unfortunately the ineffective one is the one most often used!

Method One
Go through all the emails picking out the ones you feel like doing something about and leaving the rest “for later”. This is the least effective method and unfortunately the most common. It results in a backlog of email that may take weeks to clear.

Method Two
Highlight the entire contents of the inbox and press the delete button. Highly effective! In fact an even better method is to write an Outlook rule before leaving on holiday which automatically deletes all email as it is received. However if you value your job it is probably a good idea to have an automatic reply to all emails saying you are away until such and such a date, and that emails should be resent on your return. You can give a colleague’s address for urgent matters.

Method Three
Assuming you are not brave enough for Method Two, then the third method is to sit down for a few hours and clear the lot. This will probably take less time than you expect and will mean you can now start again with a clear in-box. This is very effective but requires a certain amount of will-power. It also depends on your having left sufficient time in your schedule to carry it out.

Method Four
This is perhaps the most realistic method and still quite effective. You treat the email that has come in during the holiday as a backlog. Your first step is to move the lot into a Backlog folder. Then deal with new email as it comes in first, and chip away at the backlog second. This means you are straight back on top of new email, and the backlog will diminish quickly because it’s not being added to.

You can use exactly the same techniques for the paperwork, telephone calls and tasks that have piled up on your desk during your time off.

And it’s a really good idea to decide which method you’re going to use when you get back before you go on holiday!

Reader Comments (6)


I read your leader on the above with interest. It reminded me of the following experience:

I once worked for a large Insurance company. My boss was a manager who came back off holiday to an inbox of several hundred e-mails.

He deleted them all and then sent a mail to everyone in the company along the lines of

"you won't believe how stupid I've been. I've come back off holiday and accidentally deleted all the mail in my in-box. If you sent me anything important in the last two weeks, please resend it immediately"

Result: he got 7 (seven) resent e-mails.

I do admit that this is a tactic which can look suspicious if used too often and probably not a good idea if you get lots of important external e-mails. But it was impressive.



August 3, 2007 at 16:58 | Unregistered CommenterColin Roberts

Interesting newsletter and one that I have had to deal with myself after my return from holiday a couple of weeks ago (seems like months ago now!).

One other tip is to delete all emails that are not directly addressed to you, CC'd and BCC'd emails are often not requiring action but are for info only. A rule can delete these or even send them to a CC folder (I used to do this all the time and just review them when I felt like it).


Phil Relph
August 3, 2007 at 18:32 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Relph
I saw this on the BBC website today - amongst other things it suggests using your out of office automatic reply to pretend you are away even when you aren't!

August 15, 2007 at 7:02 | Unregistered CommenterCarole
I read your methods of the beginning in the holiday.
August 18, 2007 at 6:03 | Unregistered CommenterJosly

In my out of office message, I politely ask folks to resend items needing my personal attention on the day of my return.

Simple rules and filters divert all the 'all hands' emails about lost keys, mails from my CEO and Exec team, direct reports and all those to which I'm Cc'd to relevant folders where I can ruthlessly process them upon my return. One week's mail can be processed within 30-60 minutes.

At the end of the day, email can be a tyranny so I make good use of the delete key. I trust that my directs are across the tasks I was Cc'd on, that my superiors will advise me in person of important matters. If it that important or crucial to the enterprise, I'm sure someone will let me know. I've been doing this (in 3 companies) for 5 years and have yet to come undone. Similarly, my IT department wiped 18 months of my archived mail by mistake and, to be honest, I have found that most of what I kept can be found elsewhere if I really need it.

August 19, 2007 at 0:31 | Unregistered CommenterJon
Living in Thailand. I just finish my villa in Hua Hin and search some inspiration for my villa
September 27, 2009 at 4:55 | Unregistered CommenterGunnar

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