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Monday, July 1, 2013

Oh What a Flurry a Vacation Can Bring - 12 Inbox Strategies for the Soon to Depart

It's summer vacation season.  I see it everywhere.  A little more out of town traffic on the highway, and lots of out of office messages from my clients and colleagues.  And mostly what I recognize is the flurry in the voices of those both preparing to leave and just returning.  Some are frantic. 

Now, I'm no rocket scientist but let's revisit for a moment.  Isn't the intent of a vacation to relax? 

Yea, I thought so.

It's not working all that well for most of us.

My vacation isn't until later this month but I can already feel it creeping in, the flurry and the frantic.  There's this sick need inside of us, especially those with an email account, that we'll be caught up before we leave.   Now, the sad reality is the only reason we want to get caught up is we're preparing for the "big dump" into our inbox that will happen while we're away.

Some will actually haul their laptops into the beach bag just to clean it out each day and not suffer under the weight of it when we return. 

Some of you have to do this because you work for the antichrist of a boss. For those I say, skip the rest of this post and go straight here: 

Seriously, it's time.

For the rest of us, let me suggest that we've created this flurry of expectation and it's not helping us or our companies or our customers. 

Here are a few strategies I've used to work against the psycho in me that always wants to be caught up.

  1. Relinquish to the fact that you will never ever ever ever be truly caught up. It's a figment of your imagination. 
  2. Put on your out of office message a few days to a week early.  This gives people early warning.  They'll look for other solutions and other answers to their questions. 
  3. Set your out of office message to reflect an extra day.  For example, your flight lands home on Sunday, have your out of office reflect you're not back until Tuesday.  Then on Monday work offline cleaning up your inbox.  At the end of the day hit connect.  If you don't work offline, the minute you send one email out, 50 will come in, they will bombard you.  Best case scenario, work from home that Monday.  Catch up on laundry and email the same day.  Or take the extra day as an actual vacation day if you have to.  It will be worth it. 
  4. Hire someone to manage your email while you are away.  I had a great colleague that had just left my company to run his own consulting company.  I paid him a fee for the week to manage my email.  He reviewed it, sorted it and took care of what he could and then gave me a list of the top priority items when I returned. 
  5. Do your packing a full week before you leave to prepare for the last minute projects that you know folks will dump your way.  Running through Target buying flip flops and goggles while you are on a client call takes up too much stress.  Get all that packing done early. 
  6. Two days before you leave, go through and sort the inbox.  Create a folder called, When I Get Back.  Then go through your list and be realistic.  Anything that can wait until you return,  immediately drag into that folder.  You might want to shoot them a quick note that you'll get to them when you return.  That will reduce your stress by dealing with a smaller list of  'to-do's before you head out.
  7. If you are directing your incoming messages through your out of office to a colleague, Go online and buy them a Starbucks gift card with a thank you note before you leave.  A few bucks in lattes goes a long way in how well and eager they are to take on your stuff.
  8. Send those managing your out of office spillover a note with instructions on any big projects or clients that might contact them while you are away so they are well prepared and ready to handle as much as they can while you are out.
  9. Don't set the expectation on your out of office that you will check messages once in awhile.  Just don't.  Once you crack that door open they'll bust through like the FBI.  
  10. Turn off your office email to your phone.  Just delete that inbox.  You can put it back on when you get back.  That allows you to leave your personal email in case you want to use it.  If you don't rid yourself of that work inbox it will mock you while the number of unread messages grows by the minute.  
  11. Don't pack the laptop.  Just don't.  Take your phone or a tablet to search the best place for oysters in the area but do not take the laptop.  It's a pain at the airport and it gives you far too much access to work stuff.
  12. And my favorite and most used strategy of all.  Schedule your vacation at a remote lake in Kentucky or an International Island with absolutely no cell or wireless signal. 
 Now, if you are hyperventilating at the thought of being untethered for a week, get it grip.  I'm sorry to say, you're just not that important. 

Let those tips soak in.  I'll hit you with some additional insight tomorrow. 

Just breathe.  And go buy some sunscreen.