Soon, you'll be relaxing on a beach, cocktail in one hand, book in the other. Or you'll be snuggled up by the fireplace in the ski lodge sipping hot cocoa. It's winter vacation time!
But those emails just don't stop coming in. Email communication is a blessing and a curse. It's always on, which gives you the opportunity to be productive anywhere and anytime, but it can also keep you from turning it off when you want to. So how do you handle emails in preparation for and during your vacation?
To answer that question, I talked with 11 members of the Young Entrepreneur Council, an invite-only organization comprising the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. Here are the 11 best tips I got from these entrepreneurs on how to handle emails when you go on vacation.
1. Commit and communicate
Everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to "unplugging" on vacation. Whether you're stepping away from email completely, checking in once a day, or keeping your iPhone by your side, communicate that clearly and stick with it! Nothing is more confusing than getting someone's "I'm unavailable for a week!" auto-responder and then receiving an email from that person 15 minutes later.
Delegate emails to an assistant that you trust. You can easily set up email delegation through Gmail so anyone can respond to emails on your behalf using their signature while being unable to access your personal password. Once you come back from vacation, you can review the messages that were sent and make comments to improve the process.
3. Utilize out-of-the-office messages
If you're truly trying to digital detox, just let people know. They'll get it. Save yourself from getting multiple emails from one or more people and potentially hurting relationships before they happen.
4. Check every morning
Check your email once a day early in the morning while others are getting ready or sleeping, or when you have some personal time. Depending on what kind of vacation you're on, if you do this and stick to it you will feel better about being away from the hustle and bustle of work. You will also stay on top of any potential major issues or work emergencies.
5. Keep your emails short
Give yourself no more than one hour per day to answer emails. In this time, you should be able to respond to all urgent messages if you keep each one brief and to the point. Your vacation is not the time for long, drawn-out explanations. In a situation that requires one, tell the person you'll get back to them promptly when you return.
6. Give them your full attention for 30 minutes
First, set up an out-of-office message. This helps manage expectations. Then, clear out no more than 30 minutes per day to check your email. You won't be able to "attend" to emails on a regular basis, so don't try. But for those 30 minutes, give them your full attention. Process emails and put them in the right action category. You can work on them once the vacation is over.
7. Create a "bat signal"
Before leaving for vacation, ease your team's mind by creating a "bat signal." My bat signal is a text message. If I get a text, I know I need to look at my email immediately because something needs my attention right away. More often than not I never receive one, but the comfort of knowing I am never too far to answer an email is a relief for my team, my clients, and myself!
8. Anticipate the bottleneck
When you respond to your email, avoid posing questions with no clear next steps. For example, instead of asking, "Does Brian have the latest paperwork to move forward?" ask, "Does Brian have the latest paperwork to move forward? If not, please get it from John. If he does, please ask him to submit it by 5 p.m. tomorrow." That way, you aren't the bottleneck, and your team isn't waiting for you.
9. Consider timeliness and accessibility
Put alternate contact information in your email vacation responder. Ideally, this contact should be your assistant or someone who can respond to the questions in a timely fashion, because there will likely be delays in your own replies due to time zone differences or other activities. You can also provide alternative phone numbers or emails that clients can use to reach you if it's urgent.
10. Prepare ahead of time
While you're on vacation, you should actually be on vacation. That means not answering emails or other communication related to work. That also means preparing far in advance to allow your company to operate without you. If you have to answer emails on vacation, you're not truly prepared to take a vacation. You need to make changing that a priority.
11. Flag anything that requires a response
If it sounds simple, it's because it is: Flag everything you need to reply to, and when you start going back through flagged items, start at the beginning.
These are 11 tips from successful entrepreneurs. For me, the most important secret is to not send email. The less email I send prior to and during a vacation, the less I'll receive. (By the way, this is true 24/7/365, not just during vacations! Try sending less email, you'll be amazed by the results!)
Now it's your turn. Do you check email during vacations? How do you prepare and deal with it? Which of these tips resonate with you most--and which don't? Please tell me about your thoughts in the Comments section below.