I recently enjoyed a week off work. Popular advice suggests that on such occasions you should set an appropriate out-of-office message, ignore your email and completely disconnect from work concerns. But that’s not what I did. Every morning I took time to go through my email (and go through my RSS feeds). This is why.
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I receive hundreds of emails every day, so ongoing management is essential. If I decided to simply ignore them for an entire week, I’d face a total of thousands of messages I’d have to deal with. Given the choice of spending a little time each morning over my breakfast sorting through what had come in and just leaving it for when I returned, I was much happier to choose the coffee-and-clearing option.
It’s sometimes suggested that email is easier to handle if you leave it until the next day to reply. In my line of work as a journalist, that’s rarely practical: when writing news is part of your job, you need to stay on top of incoming information. While I had colleagues working while I wasn’t (Chris Jager as usual and Anthony Caruana helping out with our IT Pro coverage), there was still a chance that I’d get emails and announcements which they wouldn’t. Passing them on just made sense.
Nonetheless, I did have a delay of sorts. As I was on the other side of the world, my inbox first thing in the morning represented more or less the day’s total of mail. Anything super-urgent (a call to appear on radio, say) had already become irrelevant. Using the delete key was easy for those kinds of messages. I don’t think the process took me longer than 15 minutes on any day, including replying to anything I thought really couldn’t wait.
It’s worth noting that there’s a big difference between rapidly percolating your mail — passing on the stuff that might be useful, quickly replying to invitations and deleting the rest — and dealing with mail in the course of an ordinary working day. On a standard working day, mail produces more tasks to be completed. That wasn’t the case here. Once my email was cleared once, I was happy to leave it until the next day, and get on with doing not much. But I felt much more relaxed knowing that nothing urgent had slipped through.
Let’s be clear: this is not an approach I am advocating for everyone. What I am suggesting is that there is no such thing as a universal approach. If cutting off email means you’ll have a better time on holidays, then that’s absolutely what you should do. But there are other ways of dealing with the issue that will work better for some people. Choose the method that works for you.