Are you returning to work after a holiday break? Are you looking forward to the backlog waiting for you? Didn't think so. This week’s podcast is all about handling overflowing inboxes.
Hello and welcome to episode 111 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week’s question is a timely one for all of you returning back to work following the holidays. I know what it’s like having to catch up and deal with the backlog and try to get back into work when you can’t remember where you were when you left for the holidays.
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Okay, it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question
This week’s question comes from Jane. Jane asks: Hi Carl do you have any tips and tricks for getting back to work after the holidays? Every year I come back to a mess and I really don’t want that to happen again this year. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you, Jane, for the question and I guess a lot of you are returning to work today after the Thanksgiving holiday. For many of you working only with US clients and customers, you should be okay. For others who have customers, suppliers and clients all over the world your return to work will mean a big backlog to deal with.
Let’s deal with email first. This is the one that causes most problems after being away for holidays or business trips. Even though most people have been on holiday, your inboxes will still have been filling up. It’s likely you will return to work and could easily spend all day dealing with your email. Not the most productive way to start back.
Now, before we go any further whatever you do do not “snooze” email. That's the silliest thing you could do. You’ve already seen the email, you know it’s coming back but now there’s little you can do with it until it does come back. You need control, so if you cannot make a decision about something right now, move it to an Action Required folder (or as I have an “action today” folder). This way, you retain control over what’s coming in and what’s going out. When you use features like snooze, all you’ve done is delayed the inevitable. You will have to make a decision about the email sooner or later. Sooner is always better than later.
Keep in mind pretty much everyone is going to return to work with overflowing inboxes and most of those people will spend all morning, if not all day, dealing with it. This means there’s little pressure on you to reply to email. In fact, not replying to email straight away will probably get you some points for not adding to other people’s backlog. It also means you can process not do. That means begin at the top of your inbox, and make decisions about what each email means to you. It means not replying to email—even if it will only take two minutes—ten two-minute emails equals twenty minutes of doing. You’re not doing, you’re processing and the two are very different.
As you go through your inbox, run a questions workflow like this...
What is it?
What do I have to do with it?
If the answer is reply, then send it to an action folder. If it’s nothing then either delete or archive it and move on to the next email. When processing things like email, the focus needs to be on speed. The faster you process, the sooner you can get on to work that matters. Work that will move projects and goals forward.
When you are dealing with a large backlog the goal is to get the backlog processed as quickly as possible so you can start doing work that matters. Having a backlog of email hanging around you will not help get things back under control. Only once you have made decisions about what something is and what you have to do about it will you be able to get on to work that matters without worrying about unknown stuff you still have to make decisions about.
Now ideally, the first day back from a holiday, or business trip, you should give yourself some time to clear your backlog. Heading straight into work following a holiday is a guaranteed way to create stress and overwhelm in your life because you will have a lot of stuff in the back of your mind demanding attention.
So whether your backlog is email, Slack or LinkedIn messages. Get them cleared first. That’s going to clear your mind and your inboxes. The ideal would be to do this way from your place of work, but I do understand this will not always be possible. If you do have to be at your place of work, then try and find a quiet place to deal with your backlog. You will thank yourself for that later.
In an ideal world, you would take the first day back from any holiday or business trip off as a clearing day, but I know that will not always be possible. If nothing else, though you do need to block a couple of hours, if not the whole morning, to get yourself caught up. That’s key to getting back to work quickly and effortlessly. If you do have a reasonable amount of control over your calendar, then block the whole morning. Go incognito. If not, at least block off an hour or so to get back in touch with your projects, work and commitments.
Once you have your backlog under control you need to go through all your active projects and areas of focus. This does not need to be a detailed look through, but you do need to get yourself back in touch with what is going on in your work life now the holidays are over. This is a kind of weekly planning session.
Look at what’s coming due in the next week and month. What tasks and other stuff have you not made a decision about? What meetings do you have coming up and do you need to prepare anything for them? Get that done now. It’s about getting yourself back up to speed as quickly as possible so you can get back on doing the work that matters quickly.
I know all this sounds like a lot of additional work, and in a way it is, but if you so take these steps to get yourself back up to speed, you will ease yourself back in to work effortlessly and avoid any unexpected issues. Most of the surprises in our daily work come about because we do not stop for a look at what’s coming up. It does not take long, but the time you do spend doing it will be worth it. It’s about sharpening the saw to use a Stephen Covey analogy.
Now I know by the time this podcast is published the Thanksgiving holidays will be over, but one for future reference is try to do a clean up before you go away too. I’ve always taken the day before I go on holiday or trip to clean up and to inform partners and students I will be away for a few days. This means when I plan the week before I go away, the last day before I leave for my trip is blocked off as much as possible so I can clean up. This means dealing with any outstanding emails, making sure there’s a reminder or next task in my projects and anything I need to know about when I return is clearly marked on my calendar or to-do list.
It’s these little things that don’t take up too much time that gives you the clarity of mind to be able to go away for your trip or holiday save in the knowledge that there are no hidden issues waiting for you when you return. You want to be able to smoothly get back into your work so you can stay stress-free and keep overwhelm at bay.
I hope that has given you some ideas, Jane. Thank you for your question and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, it if you have a question you would like answering on this podcast, then just email me at email@example.com or DM me on Facebook or Twitter.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.