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How to deal with Email after a long vacation

How to deal with Email after a long vacation

Since I’ve been thinking about email recently, I thought I’d write about how to deal with it after a long vacation away from the Internet. Over the years, I’ve heard over and over again from people who never go on vacation or get off the grid explain that they can’t imagine doing this because they would be too stressed out by all the email they have to respond to when they return.

I don’t think it has to be that way.

For context, I’m a huge believer in completely getting off the grid for vacation sometimes. Amy and I have been taking a weekly vacation off the grid for 15 years. No phone, no email. Just the two of us. Given the pace of our lives and the amount of time we spend apart, it’s an awesome way to reconnect. There’s nothing quite like spending a week with your beloved to remember why you love each other.

Whenever I’m off the grid for a week, I inevitably come back to loads of email. I used to organize my trips from Saturday to Saturday so I’d have Sunday to go through all my email and catch up. That works, but ruins the last Sunday of the vacation. Then I shifted to Monday, so I basically scheduled nothing on Monday and just went through all my email during the day while getting back in the flow of things. That made for a shitty Monday and usually damaged the calm that had resulted from my week away.

When Amy and I took a one month sabbatical in November, I tried something different. Here is my vacation reminder from that trip.

I’m on sabbatical and completely off the grid until 12/8/14.

I will not be reading this email. When I return, I’m archiving everything and starting with an empty inbox.

If this is urgent and needs to be dealt with by someone before 12/8, please send it to my assistant Mary. She’ll make sure it gets to the right person.

If you want me to see it, please send it again after 12/8.

My partners covered for me when I was gone and dealt with anything that was important. The three of them had each taken a month off before my sabbatical, so we had a nice rhythm around this.

At the last minute I chickened out on archiving everything without looking at it. Instead, I just scanned through my inbox, archiving messages without responding to them. I didn’t save anything, even if it asked me to do something. I archived it just like I said I was going to. But I had some context around what was going on. It took me about three hours to get through the 3,200 emails I had waiting for me. Not surprisingly, when you don’t send any emails, you get a lot less.

On Monday morning when I came back to the office, I had an empty inbox except for the emails that had come in since I did the scan. It was unbelievably liberating. I sat down with each of my partners and went through things that had happened with the companies I’m on the board of. That took less than 15 minutes per partner. At lunch, I got caught up on the overall portfolio.

By Tuesday I was back in the flow of things and felt very calm and relaxed. My vacation mellow wasn’t harshed at all.

This approach works for any length of time. Amy and I took a five day off-the-grid vacation for Valentines Day week. Same drill, although this time I responded to a few emails that came in when I reappeared and did my scan. But I set the expectation that I wasn’t going to look at anything, so plenty of “resends” happened on Monday and Tuesday, which meant that folks who really wanted to interact with me took responsibility for it.

There’s something about taking control of how you interact with email that is very satisfying. I’ve heard the complaint, over and over again, that email allows other people to interrupt your world. That’s part of the beauty of a low barrier to communication (e.g. just send something to brad@feld.com and it gets to me.) But it’s also a huge burden, especially if you want to engage back.

I’m always looking for other approaches to try on this, so totally game to hear if you have special magic ones.

This story originally appeared on Brad Feld.

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