How to handle your post-holiday inbox

By: Monica Seeley

Date: 3 September 2014

Full inboxWe're all familiar with that day of reckoning. It's usually a Monday. You've probably been stuck in a traffic jam or on a full train on the way to work. And once you arrive, you have a two-week email backlog to get through.

Your post-holiday email can be demoralising, even if you did the right things to prepare before you went away. So, here's a five-step action plan to help you deal your inbox while staying relaxed and in control.

1. Talk to people

Before you open your email, talk to your colleagues. If someone else was handling your workload in your absence, sit down over coffee and get them to sum up what's happened.

That way, when you do delve into your inbox, you'll have a better idea of what needs attention.

2. Sort by sender

You know who your most important contacts are, so sorting messages by the sender's name is a good way to identify key messages.

But don't rush to reply to messages immediately. First of all, move onto step three…

3. See the big picture

Skim through your inbox and identified the main priorities. Then handle the most important messages first. Use the '4Ds' principle to take care of the highest-priority messages.

Either deal with an email immediately, delegate to someone else, delete the message or defer it. As you reply, make sure you've checked the whole email chain. Has anyone already answered on your behalf?

4. Address less important messages

Once you've applied the 4Ds principle to your most important emails, go back through your inbox and deal with second priority emails in the same way.

Many of these will probably be circulars that can be left for a while, or maybe even deleted. Be ruthless before replying and ask what your reply will contribute at this stage. Don't waste your time - or that of your recipients.

5. After a week, delete everything else

Yes, it sounds drastic, but once you've been back at work for a week then any emails you haven't yet dealt with will be well past their sell-by dates.

If - by some faint chance - you have missed something, you can be sure the sender will contact you again.

Copyright © 2014 Monica Seeley. Monica is the founder of Mesmo and a leading expert on email best practice.

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