This is a guest blog from Dr Monica Seeley, founder of Mesmo Consultancy and an international expert on best email practice.  Monica has written several books and many articles on email use. Her latest book is ‘Brilliant Email’.

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August time always sparks the age old debate about whether or not to stay connected whilst on leave.  Those firmly in the wellbeing camp say disconnect and give yourself time to recharge the batteries properly.  Others feel they must stay connected no matter what and that doing so makes no difference to the quality of their holiday.  In effect they are saying ‘I am indispensable and super human’.  Most of my clients when asked why they stay connected whilst on leave say it is because they feel it is expected of them.

Last week Daimler introduced an email programme which self-destructs employees’ emails whilst they are on leave. In effect they have levelled the playing field for all employees regardless of seniority.

However, the Daimler system is sophisticated and not everyone can afford such technology.

For many, dealing with the holiday email back-log is one of the most stressful aspects of taking a break .  More stressful, some say, than losing your luggage and having to look after aging parents.  If you are not in a position to implement a Daimler-type system what are the other options?  Take heart because technology alone will not cure email overload despite the claims of some software providers.

The real cure for email overload lies in changing our email behaviour.  It is about rethinking how we use email and curing what has become the hidden disease of 21st century working life – email addiction.

Whilst these are long terms action in the short term, for those either going on holiday or returning to work from vacation, there are some simple things you can do.

Before going on leave do some basic and simple email housekeeping to clean up the inbox. Here are my three top tips:

  1. Clear out all the old emails – either move them to folders or delete them and especially old newsletters.
  2. Set some rules (filters) to move automatically any new less important emails to folders, or maybe even the trash can (eg all user emails, newsletters, social media alerts etc). This way when you return you will see only the high priority emails in your inbox.
  3. Set an appropriate Out of Office message. Keep it short and simple giving the dates you are away from the office. Most email software allows you to set two different Out of Office messages. For internal emails, set a message similar to the Daimler one asking people to resend any important emails after your return. Many senior executives already practice this principle to reduce the level of holiday email overload. Done carefully you can even filter out the ones from the CEO and let them slip though. For external emails you may wish to craft a different less blunt message.

On your return from leave here are my three top tips to reduce the dreaded holiday email overload.

  1. Talk, talk and talk again to colleagues before even touching your inbox. This will give you an overview of what really needs your attention. Then and only then tackle the inbox.
  2. Triage the inbox based on what your colleagues have told you and deal just with the really vital emails. If you have followed the three steps above then this should just be important emails from clients and the senior management team.
  3. Declare email bankruptcy. Once you have dealt with the really key emails, if your inbox is still full of unnecessary emails, delete the rest. If anything is that important you can be sure the sender will re-contact you.

The result? No more email holiday overload.  Longer term you can start to implement an email management change programme to better educate your colleagues about how to reduce email overload.