Organizing Your Inbox After Vacation

I’m a bit of a workaholic so the thought of vacation both excites and scares me.  Excites me because a vacation is a much needed break.  Studies show that a well-rested employee is much more productive and satisfied with their job than an exhausted one.  Scares me because that’s two weeks (or 120 hours) of work that will need to be made up.  It’s no wonder that one ends up working more before and after vacation...  

My goal of peeking at my e-mail once a day was thwarted by the $20.48 charge per megabyte of roaming data.  This meant one thing and one thing only: catching up was not going to be easy.   


The Grumpy Cat hates e-mail.

The Grumpy Cat hates e-mail.

But catching up doesn't have to be difficult either.   

Organization is key, even if you're not away from the office.  I use Outlook for both my day job and at home for side projects because it allows me to use categories and color coding to organize my e-mails, mark them for follow up with different due dates and reminders, and automatic filing for select senders and message types.  You  can even change the color of the message in your inbox for different senders and if you're in the "to" or the "cc" field.   




I have used the same inbox organization system and have perfected it over the past couple of years. It takes me, on average, 4-5 hours to sort and organize one week's worth of (about 500-750)  unread e-mails and create an action item list to tackle for the rest of the week. 

So how do I do I tackle my inbox? 

Step one: 

Move all newsletters and other subscriptions into a folder marked "Read Later."  It's important to catch up on industry news but that can be done at a later time either during lunch or when taking a quick mental break before moving on to the next task. 

Step two: 

Sort e-mails by sender and check for "fires" that need immediate attention from key stakeholders.  Take care of quick wins and advise of timeline for the resolution of others. 

Step three: 

Start at the beginning and work your way up the inbox tagging e-mails for follow up, categorizing, color coding, and filing.  At this time I'm also creating my to-do list the old school way, with pen and paper, and prioritizing tasks.   

Step four: 

Tackle e-mails with quick responses first.  Get those out of the way.  It also has a positive psychological effect because you feel like you've checked  a lot off of the to-do list in a relatively short time frame.  

Then tackle e-mails that may require a little bit of research and/or tasks that are not extensive. 

Lastly, prioritize larger tasks/projects. 


How do you catch up at work after vacation?