To e-, Or Not to e- . . . Handling e-mail on Holiday - Next Action Associates

Like much of Europe, I’m off on my summer holiday. Unlike much of Europe, I’ve had a an e-mail arrive with a question about how to handle e-mail while on holiday. What to do?

The sender did a seminar a year or so ago, and since then has been working at implementing as best she could. As with many things that take some time to learn, some of the questions that are worth asking about GTD are not apparent until you’ve been practicing for a while, so – upon return from a recent holiday – the sender sent this:

Dear Ed,

I usually don’t do email when I’m on holiday, but I was recently promoted, have a new team, and needed to do some work when I was away. I was wondering if it was ‘GTD compliant’ to check emails during holidays. How do you handle email and being away on holiday? Thoughts on a postcard. : )

Given that I was on holiday when I received the mail, and am on holiday as I write this, I thought it was a) totally relevant and extremely topical, and b) an opportunity to improve my ecological credentials by re-purposing my response as a blog, the better to get back to my holiday sooner. So, here goes:

Firstly, we don’t have a position on doing or not doing e-mails while away. Do what you want to do. Or not do. Take care of what has your attention, so you can be present in your life.

With that out of the way, I think there are two ways to deal with e-mail (specifically) and ‘stuff’ (more generally) when away on holiday:

One is to process mails regularly while away, and decide whether to move the issue at hand forward while still on holiday or not. For instance, many things can simply get processed onto a list for when I get back from holiday, but things that I can delegate immediately and that won’t need more input from me I’ll generally delegate immediately. No sense holding up someone else’s work because I’m away.

If the issues can wait, or if they’d require more time from me during my holiday, I’ll generally put them on a list or in my calendar, or into my ‘drafts’ folder for when I’m back.

Two things help to make this work for me:

  • The first is to have reasonable control of my trigger finger. It is important to evaluate carefully what gets sent and what gets held for actioning later. Just because I can send it, doesn’t mean that I should. Every mail I send while away increases the mail that I get, so I want to keep the outgoing mails to a minimum.
  •  The other key for me is to keep the processing time-bound. The actual time varies as a function of where I am – timezone-wise – in relation to Europe, but I’m doing it between x time and y time, and then I’m done.

Personally, I find this approach less stressful, as it means that – once my processing for the day is done – I’m clear that nothing is blowing up and I’m free to be really present in my life, reading, swimming, canoeing, hammock swinging, whatever.

The other way to handle e-mail on holiday is to basically do nothing at all while on holiday, and deal with it all when you get back.

In this scenario, in order to not be completely freaked out on day one back at the coal face, it is important to give yourself about an hour of undisturbed processing time for each workday that you have been away. After a two to three week holiday, you’d want to be back from holiday (though perhaps not in the office) for about 2 full days with no appointments.

If you choose this latter method, you might want to read the rather excellent blog by my colleague Robert Peake on a method for getting it done quickly and easily.

From experience, either one of those approaches will give you a reasonably easy re-entry to your work. There is no ‘right way’ or ‘wrong way’, just what is right for each individual. Depending on the circumstances of our lives as we head off on a particular holiday, we’ll choose one approach or the other, or somewhere on the spectrum between them.

How about you, how are you doing it? I’d love to hear it if you have had particular success with one of the above, or if you’ve found some completely different possibilities.

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