Awhile back I wrote a post about how to get back on track after time off. One of the things I mentioned was getting back to your regular schedule as soon as possible. While I still think this is a good idea in general, there are times when you simply can’t do that.

Like when you come back to almost 2,000 non-spam e-mails in your inbox.

I had to make a few adjustments this time, coming back from a two week vacation is a bit different than anything I’ve done in quite awhile. I used many of the tips I offered up before, but my biggest work-related hurtle was dealing with my e-mail. For that I took some special steps and I’m happy to say they worked splendidly.

h3. Have a plan, a schedule and reminders just for e-mail

It might seem like overkill to take the time to plan out and schedule dealing with your e-mail, but it really helps and it doesn’t take a whole bunch of time. I’ve was able to clean out my inbox the first day, respond to the most important e-mails and clear the decks so that I made sure I got back to everyone in an appropriate manner.

Here’s what I did:

# First of all, I planned to come back on Saturday, so that I had a day before the work week started to rest up and prepare myself at leisure. This helped.
# When I did sit down to go through e-mail I started by deleting spam and things I didn’t need to deal with. My filter is pretty good, so this didn’t really reduce it much, but it helped.
# Then I created a few temporary folders to help me sort my e-mail. I tried something I’d never done. I made two folders; “personal” and “work” and in each of those I made three folders; “Monday”, “Tuesday” and “Wednesday.” I went through my e-mail and sorted most of these into those folders as quickly as I could. Of course I found a few that I dealt with right then, either because they were important or easy. This took about an hour and a half, but my inbox was empty before I even got started really dealing with it. This took some stress off right then because I would not have to worry about mail coming in and getting mixed up with stuff I’d not processed.
# I then scheduled some time (with reminders) to sort and later respond to my e-mail. I knew I’d have other work to do, so I stuck pretty strictly to those times. Of course, new mail was coming in the whole time. This let me respond to the new messages right away, something that many people who contacted me were impressed with. ;0)
# I subsequently scheduled some time to follow up on e-mail and clean up my various files as the sheer number amount of mail was such that I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I don’t think I did. (Finger’s crossed.)

This helped quite a bit. I was caught up with my important stuff almost immediately. Was able to be responsive to new stuff my first day back, and probably most importantly, I felt like I had control over the situation, which, coming back from a honeymoon with lots to do, really helped. I’d have been a total stress-ball had I not had this under control.

For those who are interested, here is my schedule this week, showing my “dealing with e-mail” reminders:

My E-mail Schedule

For those who are curious, I’m in the process of getting my schedule back to iCal. Right now I’ve got three main groups “Personal”, “Work” and “Something Secret”. Not too sophisticated, but it’s ok for now. You’ll notice I’ve got some pretty mundane things in there that relate to coming of vacation too. You’ll be happy to know I’ve been sticking to them — my draws r clean!

8 Comments on Dealing With E-mail After Vacation

  1. Peter says:

    Enjoy bumbershoot! I’m going to miss being there this year :-(

  2. Jason says:

    I am purposely going to miss being at Bumbershoot. The quality of the festival has been going steadily down for several years. I am going to a big event up north instead. I suspect I will be much happier with the value for my money.

    Too bad, I really used to like Bumbershoot. Ah well, there are still other festivals.

  3. Jason says:

    Oops, I forgot to say. Good article, I hadn’t thought of handling my email that way. I am thinking that I may take a bit off here myself and I think that technique will help a great deal.

  4. Michelle says:


    I’m so in awe of you guys now I’ve got the shivers!

    Well… not really but I am totally impressed, all the same.

    The mere thought of 2000 emails is enough to make my eyes do that Daffy Duck hypnotic squiggle thingy!

    I really, REALLY love these kinds of serious, nose-to-the-grindstone tips for getting seriously intense stuff done with out the stress.

    This particular post will no doubt rank right up there with the best “How to’s” in the GTD temple – for me at least anyway.

    Well done and thanks for the practical methodology yet again.


  5. Dan Wolfgang says:

    I guess I just feel lucky to have never had to deal with 2,000 legitimate e-mails!

  6. Britt says:

    Great plan and execution. When’s the BF launch?

  7. memorykeeper says:

    a very simple ‘to-do”how-to’! Thanks. Forgive my ignorance, but which piece of software do you use for the ‘diary’ screenshot in your post. Looks neat and ‘cool’. PC? or Mac?


  8. vincent says:

    Hi! I just got back from my Honeymoon too and WOW I wish I would have found this article BEFORE I went through all my mail, piece by piece. I only had about 400 mails (most people actually paid attention to my away message!) but it still took me 2 days to get through them. I wasn’t aided by the fact that of course there was always more work coming in, meetings, interruptions, etc. Anyway, great website….I’ll be sure to check back often.

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