No Hostage to Email

Or post-holiday inbox clearing

So I’ve just returned from over 2 weeks’ holiday to the dread and trepidation of a bloated email inbox. We’ve all been there, but how do you manage dealing with several days or weeks’ worth of emails all in one go? Here a few options:

1. The return-to-work slow clearout slog

Or spending an entire day deleting or reading messages. Good for making it look like you’re working whilst jetlagged, and also great for those who like to feel busy by not doing very much (cue competitive boasting about the number of unread messages received). But this is both mind-numbingly tedious and also quite depressing as you come to the realisation that most of what you deal with each day is useless rubbish, and the sheer amount of emails you are helplessly copied into for no reason whatsoever.

2. Scan for important emails before you get in

A previous colleague of mine used to log into her work email on the last evening of her holiday to read through emails to know what would be waiting for her once she got into the office. This is ideal for those who like to walk in the door and immediately get stuck into what really matters, but the downside is both a waste of your last evening of freedom before you get back into a work state of mind, and it also smacks of an inability to fully switch off during your time off.

3. Delete the lot and start again

This is a wonderful solution from a previous work acquaintance who deletes her entire inbox on the morning she arrives back into the office. She does this in the assurance that if anything was actually that important it would either have been dealt with during her absence anyway, or she is sure to be contacted again about what’s left. The other stuff she just ignores. She also writes in her out-of-office auto-reply that any emails received during her absence will be automatically deleted in order to manage expectations.

Now I’d probably get fired if I took option 3 in my current job – it might not go down well at my company, and also a few emails I receive concern personal or confidential matters and those individuals may not appreciate my auto-reply to say I’m not going to read their messages. But I do feel it’s important to get email practice in check. A bloated inbox after a holiday is a way of looking at your work life in macro-form, and a great incentive to make some resolutions over what to focus on and cut down on the wastes of time.

Do not pride yourself on the number of emails you receive each day: a bloated inbox is a sign of distraction, not productivity. Instead, take the opportunity to get back some control, and here are a few tips for doing that:

  1. Unsubscribe from marketing emails before deleting them to reduce the amount coming in
  2. Colour-code items you regularly want to receive (e.g. from your spouse, from website subscriptions) so you know those are not from work contacts and you can deal with them differently
  3. Learn to ignore. Do not respond to everything addressed to you, only what you really need to. If you choose not to engage you won’t encourage more email traffic.
  4. Similarly, send less emails. Use other communication channels as much as possible instead.
  5. Keep your email checking to set times of the day and turn off the alerts so you can focus on other things.
  6. If you can, clear your inbox at the end of the day or week and start afresh the next day.

I’m still working on that last one, but the thought of slogging through another pile of several hundred useless unread items after my next holiday is spurring me on…

Any other tips out there?

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One thought on “No Hostage to Email

  1. Pingback: Back to school | Love Your Work

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