How to Handle Email After a Vacation

October 9, 2007

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I’ve seen it a hundred times. Someone struggles to get caught up on email before leaving for vacation, only to be greeted by an overcrowded inbox upon their return back to the office.

It takes days, and sometimes even weeks to get back on track … not to mention the stress of not knowing what important messages might be lurking somewhere in the dark shadows of your inbox.The average office worker receives around 60 email messages per day. That means a week’s vacation creates a back log of 420 messages. If you were able to spend just one minute reviewing each email, that would be 7 hours of work. That’s almost your whole first day back, just trying to get caught up!


Neglecting to pad your return date when setting your “out of office reply” is like painting a target on the back of your head. Everyone will be aiming for you on your first day back.

    Here are some strategies to help you stay on top of email after a vacation:
  • Set the “out of office reply” three or four days before you leave on vacation to begin letting others know when you’ll be out. Simply letting your clients and colleagues know you’re out of the office may make them more forgiving of delayed response and may actually cut down on the volume if they remember not to email you.
  • Give yourself some buffer to get caught up upon arriving back to the office. Block off the whole first day you’re back as catch up. Don’t schedule meetings, or plan on accomplishing anything other than getting caught up. By the way, your “out of office reply” should reflect this as well. If you’re blocking off Monday as catch up day, your out of office reply should mention you’ll be available on Tuesday. It’s bad enough you’re behind, do you really want to paint a target on your forehead by letting people know you’re back on Monday?
  • When processing through the inbox, begin by sorting by “sender name”, then “newest.” By beginning with “sender” you can deal with the most likely higher priority items from high profile customers and/or your boss. Next sort by newest, I know it’s more intuitive to start with the oldest, but issues have a way of resolving themselves and/or being addressed by other colleagues. Responding five days after the resolution of an issue just makes you look foolish and wastes your time.

Arming yourself with these strategies should make for a much more relaxing vacation.


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One Response to “How to Handle Email After a Vacation”

  1. Best of 2007 : Nate’s Productivity Tips on January 5th, 2008 1:02 pm

    […] 5 Ways To Kill A Great Idea Fast Shut Up and Start Communicating When is Perfection Your Enemy? How To Handel Email Before and After Vacation […]

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