Ahhh, back from vacation. I communed with the Cactus in Joshua Tree National Park, saw actual sunshine for the first time in months, and found that if I never have to listen to a top-40 radio station again, I’ll be just fine. I’m relaxed, happy and ready to get back to…. OH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, WHAT’S THAT IN MY EMAIL?
If that sounds like you coming back from time off, you’re not alone. Ask anyone why they don’t take time off (and over 50% of Americans don’t take all of their allotted vacation days) and one of the biggest excuses is that they have so much work and so many emails waiting for them on their return, that it makes the vacation more stressful than just working every day.
This year, I managed to avoid what I call “burning up on re-entry.” Now, I will be the first to admit that I am far from the perfect example, and what I’m about to share doesn’t match what the gurus and specialists tell you. I just know how I managed to get back to work this week without crawling into a fetal position by noon:
- I properly prepared everyone before I left. Before leaving on vacation, I took the time to anticipate the most likely sources of stressful email, and personally contacted those folks. I told them I would be unavailable for a week and not checking email and when they could expect an answer from me. I solved some problems in advance, found other resources they could tap if the problem was time sensitive, and set my “Out of Office message” so that people knew I was on vacation (not just avoiding them), when I would be back, and where to find help in the meantime. I also gave my mobile number, but made it clear that was for emergencies only. When put that way, everyone respected my “me-time”. Oh, and I promised I’d respond sometime Monday, not necessarily first thing.
- I cheated by checking email…. but only twice and only on my phone. Okay, this will be seen as an epic fail by purists, but let me explain. The first few days, I didn’t check work email at all. But the number of notifications spiked suddenly. Since I began to obsess about what was going on (and what fresh hell I’d be walking into,) it was actually less stressful to just satisfy my curiosity. By checking on my phone (rather than the computer), I was able to simply scan the subject lines, and realize there was nothing that needed me. I deleted a ton of irrelevant email (so I wasn’t coming back to an intimidating number) and went back to my comfy chair on the deck, knowing everyone was doing fine without me. Cold Turkey may work fine for some people. For the rest of us—if we can’t vanquish our dragons, we can at least negotiate a temporary truce.
- My vacation actually ended Sunday afternoon, not Monday morning. Because I’ve traveled all my adult life, and have zero faith in airlines or Chicago weather, I always try to get home at least 24 hours before I have to start work to allow for lord-knows-what. This means that Sunday afternoon I took half an hour to do a quick scan of my inbox, prioritize Monday’s to-do list and eliminate the existential dread that often accompanies the start of any work week. For me, the better I know what’s waiting, the less stressful it is.
I came back to an email inbox that was not overflowing, with a good idea of what was facing me, and a team that wasn’t stressing and waiting to pounce with a million questions and demands.
A lot of advice seems impossible to follow. This worked for me, and if it helps, it’s all yours. How do you handle the stress of time away? Drop us a comment and let us know…….
And for even more tips on managing the email monster, check out our Managing & Writing Email resource.
Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He’s passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today’s virtual communication technology.