If there is one thing that puts the fear of God in me, it is returning to work after a few days or weeks of leave and finding my inbox brimming with emails.
The thought of digging through hundreds or thousands of emails is frightening. A study from the University of California, Irvine, found that checking email increases our heart rate and stress level — so I’m not alone in this.
According to an American Psychological Association poll, the benefits of being away on vacation fade fast upon return to work, partly due to dealing with an onslaught of emails.
To avoid this anxiety, better techniques to manage inboxes exist. If you don’t set out-of-office autoresponders when you go on leave, you should start. When someone writes you an email while you're away from the office, they'll receive an automated email informing them that you’re away and will only check email on a particular day.
Your out-of-office message can be simple. Just let people know you’re unavailable, when you return, and who they should contact for urgent needs while you’re gone.
One primary concern is that your out-of-office notice tells the senders of automated spam emails that your address is genuine. If they don’t get a response, they’ll move on elsewhere, but if you do reply, your address will be permanently on a list of inboxes to target. It’s worth bearing in mind. As you leave for your vacation, make sure the first day back at work is free of meetings so you can dig yourself out of the large email pile.
When you return from your trip, make time to catch up. Instead of wading through email threads, scheduling a meeting with your team can be beneficial. This allows you to catch up on everything that happened while you were away.
Eliminate trash emails first. Delete emails that have been overtaken by time as well. Also, accept that you will never be able to read all your emails. It's nearly impossible.
Focus on the must-read emails — and just those emails. However, you must be realistic about how long you can concentrate at any one time before becoming distracted. That’s where a time management strategy like the Pomodoro method might help.
The Pomodoro technique is one of my favourite time management techniques. It’s based on periods of distraction-free work followed by short breaks. To easily monitor time, use desktop timers like Pomodoro One for Mac or Tomighty for Windows. The technique is as easy as pressing “start” and “stop”.
Finally, only store emails you need or if your office policy requires you to keep emails for a certain period. Many people have an odd attachment to emails because they fear “letting them go”.
Mr Wambugu is an accredited expert in cloud and cyber security. [email protected]; @Samwambugu2