Disconnect. Really.

Being always online, checking feeds, email, collaborating from your phone or tables is extraordinary. Just few years ago you had to put a lot of effort to collaborate with people form another office not to mention another country.

Yet being constantly on has considerable draw backs. Our ability to focus and concentrate is diminishing as we are constantly bombarded by pings, dings of the different devices. 

Tony Schwartz writes what it really means to disconnect and why it’s important. As it turns out despite our fear that we might miss something there’s hardly a thing that couldn’t wait. 

As the holiday season is upon us, take time to really disconnect and leave your gadgets at home and pick places with no wi-fi and then enjoy the food, nature and the slowly passing time.

What Happens When You Really Disconnect

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.

How to return to work after the holidays?

Holiday season is in full swing and many of us take long awaited 2 weeks off. Unfortunately at some point it’s time to come back to work. This means you need to go through a backlog of emails, catch up on latest events, see whether priorities have changed and what do you need to focus on.

What’s first?

So your are back on Monday morning feeling rested and rejuvenated with energy levels sky high. Now the question is what do you do? Where do you start?

For many the default way of spending their first day at work is to go through the emails and see what has happened. Depending on your environment you can have between 500 to 2000 or more emails in your inbox. If you get yourself in to the mode of checking email, you will drown in old communication which will deplete your energy and concentration. Don’t do that.

With your energy at peak level, it’s a great time to take a stock of where you are decide where you want to go which projects to move forward.

What are the steps?

At the very, very high level the best ways to start your work after holidays is to check were you are, see what remains outstanding and define a plan of action for the rest of the week. Lets look at this in bet more detail:

1. Speak to your colleagues and manager to get an idea where things are. – your colleagues and managers will be the best source of information about recent events so don’t waste your time on looking at your email first. Most likely none of the messages from two weeks ago are that time sensitive anyway.

2. Check the follow up list which you left for your co-workers. – before you left, you most likely left a big or small list of things you would like your colleagues to look after. Since these would be important items check where they are with them, have all of them been completed? If any items remain open include them in the next stage of the review.

3. Check for any reminders that may have popped up when you were away. – ideally you’ve dealt with those by taking care of them in advance or asking your colleagues for help. If however there were few things left asses their importance and add them your next action list.

4. Check your waiting for list for to see with whom you need to follow up. – review the items you’ve been waiting for, have people responded to you during your absence. Follow up on the open items or add to your action list.

5. Check your project list and begin deciding what you want to do next. – Once you’ve re-oriented yourself in the workplace it;s time to look at things bit more strategically. Review your projects and see where they are. Decide which should remain on the list and which should be postponed or even scrapped completely. Use this list to set a direction for next few weeks.

6. Check your next action lists – remove items that are no longer relevant or to add new points following your review of projects and waiting for items.

Now, that you’re up to date with your projects, waiting for’s and next actions, you can direct energy and focus toward making progress rather than spending it on dealing with email.

This is how I would see coming back to work. My holidays are due in couple of weeks time and I’m hoping to test these ideas when I’m back.

In the mean time, I wonder what are your strategies? What do you on the first day after holidays?t

Holidays,lists and smooth transitions

Recently I came back from my two weeks of holidays so I’m still in the holiday mood. Although it’s been almost two weeks I still feel the holiday buzz simply because I’ve been using lists
Now this may sound totally simplistic but making lists, maintaining them can really help you have great time,not worry about work and have smooth return to work.
Here’s how you could do that.

Before holidays

Most people before they go on holidays want to close out on as many projects and tasks as possible. There is that frantic rush to complete as much as possible so things don’t look as bad when you come back. However in most cases you really can’t finish it all in one day. If you haven’t done something for three weeks you wouldn’t do it simply because you go on holidays. But to the point. Since you can’t and won’t finish it all before holidays you need to pass things to your co workers. If you follow the GTD system or maintain list of your commitments then it’s easy:

  • pass your project list – review the list and check for projects that need to be moving while you’re away. Pass the next actions or any  follow ups that need to happen. This way you can ensure the things move at least a little bit and don’t die or alternatively blow up once you’re back.
  • pass you action list – review the list and check for any tasks that need to be done while you’re away. Perhaps there are some repeating items that only you do, or maybe certain reports need to delivered in that time. By passing those action again you keep things moving and leave a great impression that things get then even when you’re not in the office.
  • pass your waiting for list – review the list for any item that will need a follow up during your absence. When people know you’re off they tend to push thing away knowing things can wait. In the end upon our return we discover that nothing got done as things went where not chased.
    this is what’s going on at work.

On Holidays

At home you can still benefit from list. Hours before the holidays are usually rushed, lot of things to do. It’s easy to miss something like forget the extra pet food, water the plants, turn of the heating or all the electric devices. Packing stuff for two weeks of traveling means there is a lot to take. Clothes, toiletries, documents, money, cameras, charges, batteries, memory cards, mobile phones etc. It’s easy to loose track of what’s in, what’s still needed and what’s not worth taking as you ran out of space.

An easier solution to that is to use checklist. Having one or more will allow to make sure you’ve packed everything, made necessary arrangement for your house, plants and pet.
Some people prefer to sit on the beach, sip drinks and do nothing, some like to see as much as possible and run like crazy from one place to another. Others are somewhere in the middle they like to hang out around the pool for while but also want to experience local culture, food, architecture. For those two type having some sort of list will help to make sure you make the most out of your holidays. Perhaps you could list all the places and attractions you would like to see during your stay.     

Returning to work

Coming back to work is never a very pleasant experience. Although you might enjoy coming back to the day to day routine of tasks and activities the work it self may be less appealing. To make the transition smoother and less haphazard you can refer to your list. And if things have been completed as you would hope than all you have to is get an update on the events that concern you and and update your lists. Once you catch up on things you can get into work mode.
This way you can avoid having this in between time when you are at work but not fully settled, when you are at work and try to focus but can’t do that because of to many things pilling up on the desk and not being sure where to start.

Whether you follow GTD principles or other self management methods having set of list which  clearly describe your commitments and actions is undoubtedly useful at work but it can also positively impact your holidays and way you spend them.