Whether you're spending the holidays with your family or taking off on a sunny cruise, you know you'll have to pay for your time off when you return to your desk and open your email. Email is a tough-to-tame beast at the best of times. Ignore it for a few days and it turns into a monster big enough to devour a city.

Is there a way to keep that from happening? There is, according to Dmitri Leonov, VP of growth at the email filtering startup SaneBox. If you're smart about it, he says, you can actually return from your days off to an empty or almost-empty inbox. 

Here's his formula for eliminating post-vacation email overload:

1. Give yourself extra time to auto-respond.

There's no need to be completely honest about which day you're back in the office. Leonov suggests giving yourself an extra three days, so that if you're actually back in the office on Monday, your auto-response message might say you're back on Thursday. That way, you can spend Monday through Wednesday dealing with the backlog in your actual work and ignoring your email if you choose. "Plus, people will be super impressed when you get back to them on the 'day of your return,'" he says.

2. Use email filters.

"Filters are a must-have, and are particularly important when you're on vacation," Leonov says. Creating manual filters that automatically store emails in a particular folder on the basis of sender or keywords will up your efficiency quite a bit. Leonov also recommends using either Gmail's Priority Inbox or SaneBox, because both of these services learn what's important to you and thus become more accurate over time.

3. Spend a tiny bit of time on email triage while away.

We're talking five to 10 minutes every other day, Leonov says. If you can spare that time, here's what to do:

Begin by bulk processing "fluff" emails, such as sales pitches and newsletters you'll never read. Without opening them, select all these emails at once and either delete or archive them. This task becomes especially simple if you're using filters that collect all these emails in one folder. 

Once you've done that, take a quick look at the rest of your email. If you can reply to, forward, or delegate a message in a few seconds, do it. 

Take what remains and either store it in your inbox, or use SaneBox or Google's "snooze" feature to remove it from your inbox for now, and have it reappear when you're back at your desk. Triage "will save you a ton of time," Leonov says. You can spend that time focusing on your most important work issues.