In 2017, the US Travel Association conducted its fifteenth annual State of the American Vacation study, which surveyed 2,593 managers who are company decision-makers including 479 senior leaders and 2,083 middle managers. The study found that 54 percent of Americans left vacation time on the table. The chief reason for so doing is fear of returning to a mountain of work. There are also numerous articles on once one does decide to take vacation, should the person check email? Ariana Huffington went as far as developing Thrive Away, a vacation email tool. While you’re away on vacation, people who email you receive an out-of-office message and then the tool deletes the email. If the email is important, the sender can always send it again, she explains. While I do agree with the need to take a vacation, spend time with family and/or friends and unwind, relax and recharge, Thrive Away may be a bit extreme and not the most efficient.

Like others, I used to come back from vacation doubly-stressed when I saw my full email inbox, which would then take week to clean up and catch up. Clients, reporters, staff and others expect you to be up-to-speed when you come back and you don’t want to feel overwhelmed so I developed this technique when I took my first vacation in four years after launching NRPR Group to be on top of emails without spending the entire vacation checking emails.

My daughter and I went to Paris and London last summer. My clients and staff knew that I would be off the grid. I knew when would be a slow time for staff and clients back in the US to be working and checking email because it was too early or too late in the day and this is when I checked email. It was usually when my teenage daughter was sleeping so it did not interrupt our quality time together. I receive hundreds of email each day. I started with the oldest emails received, deleted SPAM, and kept email in conversation view so I could see the full flow of conversations. I organized the 300-to-500 emails received that day by file, delete, or respond now or when get back. Newsletters are filed to be read when I have a chance. If I could guess what would happen if I responded right away and if a response would or would not trigger a long string of immediate email responses and conversation, I would respond if it would not trigger immediate conversation. In some cases, I was able to rock the email to another person to handle. In the end, I only had about 20 emails that I personally needed to handle on my return and I was prepared for that.

This power hour of focusing on emails without interruption enables me to check what needs to be done when I return to the office. It also works for short-term absences due to illness, business travel and weekends. You can give yourself peace of mind and the opportunity to be prepared for what events will occur when you return to the office, by taking a little time to get organized while on vacation.

This blog post first appeared on August 1, 2018.