What on earth should you do with your email when you're away on holiday? Switch off and face returning to a bulging inbox? Stay connected and risk not having a proper break? Delegate access to a colleague?
Each option has pros and cons. But there's a constant factor: taking a holiday gives you a unique opportunity to clean out your inbox. Done properly, this will substantially reduce your holiday backlog.
You should aim to leave an empty inbox and inoculate yourself from a severe attack of information overload on your return. Here's what to do:
1. Use the week before
During the week leading up to your holiday, set time aside each day to spend clearing out your inbox.
Be absolutely ruthless. For example, delete multiple copies of the same email, retaining only the last message in the chain. Move emails that are no longer current into a folder. Flag emails that will need attention when you return.
2. Prioritise emails for when you return
Put newsletters, social media updates and so on in to a folder where they won't be in the way when you return.
Remove yourself from all unnecessary email circulation lists, and flag up messages you need to deal with once you're back.
3. Use rules and filters intelligently
Use automatic filters to de-prioritise unimportant emails and file messages automatically while you're away.
For example, you can set up Outlook (or your preferred email client) to move all emails from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn into a specific folder. Or you can even delete them altogether.
4. Brief your colleagues
If you've decided to give a colleague access to your inbox while you're away, take the time to give them a rundown of what is and isn't important.
They need to know which messages to prioritise in your absence, and who they should reply to quickly.
5. Set a professional out of office message
Think about what to say in your out of office message. Do your customers really want to know that you've ‘jetted off for a week of sun and sangria'?
Make sure your out of office message doesn't give away any sensitive information, either.
If you do decide to stay connected, stay disciplined and check your email only once or twice a day. And remember: all the evidence suggests that disconnecting is good for our health and wellbeing.
Copyright © 2014 Monica Seeley, founder of Mesmo and a leading expert on email best practice.