I recently spent a week out of the country on business. Usually when that happens, I return to an inbox that has exploded. By that, I mean that it’s brimming over, and I don’t even know where to begin to tackle the emails. I was determined on this trip to not have that happen, and it didn’t.
What worked this time?
Set Goals. I checked the number of emails in my inbox before I left on my trip. My goal was to return with that same amount in my inbox. This required spending about an hour each day, either before or after my meetings, reviewing emails. I responded to critical emails. I deleted emails that were not relevant. When I returned to the office, I only had five additional emails than when I had left. Goal reached.
Create a Folder. I created a file folder within my inbox where I moved emails that I needed to handle back at the office. Those emails all needed to be printed for various reasons or they required me to confirm with someone that the action had been completed. Having them in a central location made it easier to find them. As soon as I finished, I deleted the item, and by day two in the office, the folder also was deleted.
Schedule Email Time. I know that when I am out of the office, the emails will pile up. I also know that I will have numerous meetings when I return because updates need to be shared and projects need to be advanced. Before I leave, I block the morning of my first day back so that I have time to respond to emails, review project plans and organize the week. If I don’t schedule the block of time, I end up doing it on the fly, and that never works.
Set Expectations. Before I travel, I turn my “out-of-office” message on a day or two early. Inevitably, that leads to a flurry of emails that I am able to handle before I leave. That allays everyone’s concern and the email flow slows. I also alert those with whom I communicate the most that I will be traveling and indicate any time zone differences so people will know when to expect a reply.
Mix It Up. I often group my emails by “sender” instead of “date.” This allows me to handle all emails from my boss and from those with whom I’m working on tight or critical deadlines. I also can quickly identify junk email and delete.
It was nice to return to my office and not feel overwhelmed by an avalanche of emails.