It's hard or even impossible to relax on vacation when you constantly have to answer emails. (Is that a vacation, really?) That's why most people set an "out of office" email response, promising that you'll get back them when you return.

However, it's also hard to relax when you know that the first thing confronting you when you get back are several hundred or even several thousand emails. It usually takes at least a day to wade through the mess, so forget about hitting the ground running.

I ran across a different sort of "out of office" email that does more than just delay the inevitable. Instead, this email allows you to take control of your email rather than remain at the mercy of anyone who can click a Send button.

Here's the email, which was recently published in The Atlantic

I am out of the office and expect to have only infrequent email access. Thank you for your message. Email received between [these dates] will be deleted from this server eight hours from now. Please send your message again after [this date].

In other words, "If this is important, ping me later. Otherwise, I might (but probably won't) read your email."

Wow, that's powerful stuff.

Now, I know what you're thinking--email is too important to blow off like that.

Actually, though, it's not. According to research conducted at Duke University, two thirds of the email you receive is totally useless: spam and noise. And of the third that's relevant, only 10 percent need to be answered within five minutes of your receiving them.

Since the average businessperson spends about 2.5 hours a day on email, that means that everyone is wasting (more or less) two hours a day sorting through crap to get at what's actually important.

The misguided souls who strive for a "zero inbox" are wasting even more time, since reading and deleting emails is the electronic equivalent of poop scooping. I don't know about you, but I've got better things to do.

Now, let's suppose that your vacation is two weeks long. A "ping me later" response to emails means that you're saving 2.5 hours a day for 14 days, which comes out to 35 hours--almost an entire workweek.

In other words, you not only get two weeks of hassle-free and worry-free vacation but you also earn yourself an extra week that you can spend doing something more interesting than electronic paperwork.

This is such a great idea that I'm wondering whether it might not make sense to do the same thing on the weekends. Since there are 104 weekend days in a year, that's 262 hours saved--that's about six and half weeks that you're saving every year!

Maybe at this point you're thinking that this "out of office" message won't work for you because you're asking people who are important to your success (boss, customers, etc.) to take extra time to resend the email. And what if they must reach you?

Well, guess what? The important people in your life can text you if they need you to read an email before it's deleted. Just make sure you have a private cell phone number that you don't share to the general business public.

Of course, all of this runs contrary to the conventional wisdom that you should make yourself available to everybody all the time. But that was stupid idea when the telephone was invented (which is when this nonsense started) and it's still stupid today.

Here's the thing: If you don't take control of your time, you're letting everyone else set your agenda. Just so you know, I've never known a successful entrepreneur who doesn't ignore 90 percent of all the stuff that gets thrown his or her way.

This just makes it official--and tells everyone that your down time is more important than their endless demands for your attention. And--be honest now--isn't that how it ought to be for everyone?

Published on: Jun 16, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.