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How to Beat the Holiday Email Backlog

Do you ever return from a fabulously relaxing and refreshing holiday to the dreaded inbox with a backlog that’s grown whilst you’ve been away? Are you using your out of office holiday message to ensure your productivity doesn’t stall in the first few hours after you return?

Here’s how I try to beat the backlog with my out of office holiday message:

1. Preparation is Key

First, tell people about your holiday! Depending on your context, make a public pronouncement. When I was in the legal business, I would inform colleagues and clients well in advance of my holiday plans. In a ministry context, I now publicise my holidays in the church event diary as soon as they are booked.

A couple of weeks or so before you actually go on holiday, warn people that you are about to go and that if they are likely to need anything whilst you are away, they should tell you as soon as possible. You could send an email round to your colleagues and clients, for example. Or you could set an autoresponder message in your email programme that says you will be on holiday in X days time and you will not have access to your emails. Again, request if anything is needed, the sender should ask as soon as possible.

2. Your Out of Office Holiday Message

Having managed people’s expectations ahead of your holiday, now you need to manage what they can expect from you during your holiday. This will vary from context to context. I have been in roles (particularly when I was in Law) when I was expected to be available in emergencies. Currently, I am able to delegate in a way that non-urgent stuff is dealt with on my return, and any emergencies that arise are dealt with locally by people who have a contact number for me if I really am needed. The wording of your out of office holiday message should reflect this. So currently, mine says:

Thank you for your email.

I am out of the office on leave. I will not have access to emails and will not be able to respond until after 12 noon on xxx 2018.

If your email is urgent, please telephone the office on 01256 xxxxxx and leave a message. Someone will respond to you as soon as they can.

In Christ.


3. Create Some Margin

So far, so good. Hopefully, you will have managed people’s expectations before your holiday so that they ask for what they might need during it before you go and that backlog is cleared. You’ve also let them know what to expect whilst you’re away on holiday. You may be checking emails intermittently. You may only respond to emergencies. Or you may be off-grid altogether. Your out of office holiday message makes that clear. But here’s where the secret sauce comes in. It’s time to create some margin around your holiday.

First of all, if you can, add some margin to your last day in the office. Turn your out of office holiday message on at lunchtime on the day you leave. Or earlier if you can. Again, you can manage people’s expectations ahead of time when you communicate with them as suggested in (1) above. If you have space, you can always continue to monitor your email beyond that time and surprise someone with a reply if necessary. But I promise you this almost guarantees the start of your holiday isn’t hijacked by that one “urgent” email that comes in at 5pm just as you’re about to switch off your computer.

Secondly, add some margin to your return. Try and match the margin (if you can) to the amount of emails you anticipate returning to and how long you think it will take to go through them, along with any deep or important work you know you’ll need to kick off as soon as you return. As you can see, my current out of office holiday message says I will not be able to respond until after 12 noon on the day of my return. I will be in the office from 8:15am, but this gives me enough time to complete my Daily Big 3 tasks for the day and then to turn to my inbox and aim to get to inbox zero. It may well be longer for you. Again, if you manage expectations well in (1) and (2) above, you might be able to extend this margin to one or two days if you need it. And no-one is going to complain if you reply to their email before the date and time you put in your out of office holiday message!

Your Response

How about you? How do you manage the holiday inbox backlog? What does your out of office holiday message say? Why not comment below.

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