Dealing with email after the holidays

Three weeks ago I wrote about returning to work from holidays and moving back into the production mode. This week I wanted to talk about dealing specifically with email as it’s a such big part of our daily work life.
Returning from holidays means you need to deal with email en mass. There is a ton of masseges that need to be dealt with quickly and efficiently so that you can get to real work.

Start before you go

You can make dealing with email easier by simply preparing before you leave. Firstly set up filters and rules to automatically flag and move emails when you’re away. Define your specific criteria whether these are corporate updates, newsletters that you’re subscribed to or messages sent to your team address. Create specific folder where those messages will be filed. Once when you are back, you can deal with your smaller inbox first and then move to review those special folders to see if there was anything relevant. Very often you will be able to simply delete those messages without reading them.

For those emails that you still would like to review setup some time to catch up on them by blocking your calendar for 15-30min.

When you’re back

Once you’re back your main goal is to get to the relevant messages and get up to speed on different communications and updates.

Start off by reviewing all the meeting requests and task assignments to catch any instances where someone asks for your presence on the first day after the holidays. These items can be easily spotted as they have a little calendar or task icon next to them instead the usual envelope.

Then sort all your emails by sender. Review all the correspondence that was send from different distribution lists and newsletters you maybe subscribed to. Decide whether these items are relevant or not and delete them.

Apply the same approach to emails send by individuals. If those messages don’t contain anything useful delete them too.

Then sort your emails by the topic. Review the last email in the chain and decide whether it’s something that you need to reviwew and keep. If the answer is no then simply delete the whole topic whether that’s 2 emails or 15 and move to another one. If you need to keep the conversation, retain the last message only, as that one will contain the full exchange. One element worth considering is to decide whether you need to keep any of the attachments that may have been exchanged. If you think there is a need for that simply review the emails with the paper clip symbol and check the attachment(s). Save those that seem important.

Now that you have only the messages that are relevant and some that you should review.

Review the remaining

Complete a scan of the remaining messages and establish those that are important and need action first. If they are something easy and quick do them right there. More complex items add them to our task management system.

Those emails that you simply need to read upon later, can be put into a separate folder and you can deal with them over the coming days and catch up on previous weeks events and discussions.

The overall aim is to get up to speed with key events in an hour or so and find the most critical messages and deal with them first.

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