Having just returned from a two-week vacation “off the grid,” I wasn’t surprised to find over 700 emails waiting for me. Some waited more patiently than others, as some senders re-emailed me, apparently having missed the auto-reply indicating I wouldn’t be responding to messages for a while. Although I had a good “excuse” not to check messages because I was in a wilderness area with no cell phone coverage (please get in touch if you’d like to hear more about my trip!), I wouldn’t have checked messages anyway since I prefer vacation to be a time fully disengaged from work. However, it’s a different story when I travel for business. Here’s how I manage emails when I’m traveling for business – I hope you’ll find some ideas you can use as well:
Manage expectations. I enable an automated out-of-office reply to let senders know I’ll have limited access to emails and will get back to them when I return on a given date (which is usually one day after my planned return date so I have time to recover). I let my existing clients know I’ll be gone, and give them my cell phone number for emergencies. They have been incredibly respectful of not calling it unless something is truly urgent.
Create focused time. Whether it’s for 15 minutes during a lunch break, or 30 minutes at the end of the workday, I make time to do nothing but process email. I also grab otherwise wasted moments (e.g., in a taxi, waiting at the airport, etc.). I don’t check a few emails, then check Facebook, then jump back to email. I simply focus on email – it’s amazing how much I can accomplish in a short period of time with this sense of focus. Yes, I do check emails in the evening, but 30 minutes of focused time each evening while I’m out of the office allows me to hit the ground running when I return, and it gives me a sense of relief to know I won’t be facing an avalanche of email upon my return.
Create rules. I’ve created rules so that newsletters, messages from vendors, social media updates, and messages from other senders I know won’t require an immediate response go to a “Read Later” folder for my leisurely review.
Scan for urgency. I use the subject line or sender to guide me on which emails get the most immediate attention. I’ll eventually get to all my messages, but when time is tight during work hours, I prioritize who and what get my attention during my limited time. And since many non-urgent messages are automatically routed to my Read Later folder, it’s fairly easy to prioritize what actually lands in my inbox.
Process with a purpose. Rather than taking a “skim and delay” approach of reading a message and vowing to get back to it later, I do something purposeful with each message as I read it – I respond, forward, delete, etc. If I don’t have the time or resources to respond in a meaningful way while I’m out of the office, I’ll flag the message to follow up once I return from my travels.
Have remote access to files. I use SugarSync to automatically store my files in the cloud, so if I don’t have access to files on my computer, I can still get to them from my smartphone and carry on with business as usual.
I’d love to hear how you manage email while you travel, whether it be for business or pleasure.
Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,