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Here’s how to properly pause your email inbox at work

Here’s how to properly pause your email inbox at work

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Whether you’re finishing work or taking a well-deserved vacation (or both), the question often arises as to what to do with your email while you’re away from your desk – and how best to ensure you won’t faced with a depressing avalanche of messages to be answered upon your return to work.

We’ve got a few tips and techniques to share, and how to implement them in Gmail, Apple Mail, and Outlook on the web (if you’re using a different client, features similar to what we’re talking about should roughly be available). Invest some time pausing your inbox before your break and the future will thank you.

Be specific in your absence

The out of office message is familiar to most of us but not often used in the most effective way. Don’t take a quick note to let people know you’re not there — be specific about when you’ll be back and what your correspondents can expect from you in terms of email when you get back to your computer.

Explaining exactly how long you’ll be away—and what kind of email access you’ll have during that time—helps set expectations and should mean less sifting through follow-up emails if you Come back. If people know you won’t be back by a certain date, they can adjust their emailing accordingly.

Gmail screenshot

Gmail’s out-of-office feature lets you set a start and end date. Screenshot: Gmail

It may be worth declaring email bankruptcy in your out-of-office email, too, if it’s justifiable for your industry: Say nothing will be sent while you’re away. That means you can start all over again when you return, and anyone who’s taken the time to actually read your out-of-office message will know they’ll have to get back to you then.

In Gmail on the web, you can set an out of office reply by clicking the gear icon (top right), then See all settings, General, and Out of office auto reply. With Apple Mail, you need to log in to the iCloud portal on the web, then click the gear icon (top left), then Settings and Auto reply. In Outlook on the web, click the gear icon (top right), then select View all Outlook settings, Email, and Automatic replies.

Set up rules and filters

You may already be using email rules and filters to manage your inbox while you’re actually at your desk, but they can also be very useful when you’re away. By marking incoming e-mails as read and archiving them if necessary, you can reduce the number of unread messages waiting for you after your break.

Exactly how you do this depends on what your job is, how you use email, and a variety of other factors. You could perhaps make sure that all internal emails from your company are marked as read and archived while you’re away — or you could apply a filter to those newsletters that are worth reading when you’re in the office, but that You can give up reading if you’re not.

Gmail screenshot

Filters and rules can manage your email while you’re on the go.Screenshot: Apple Mail

Think of the groups of messages that you don’t need to catch up on — or maybe you really don’t want to miss (in which case you can star them instead of marking them as read and archiving them). In summary, you’ll get your email client to manage messages on your behalf, which should make it easier to get back into the email groove when you return.

To start setting up filters in Gmail on the web, click the gear icon (top right) and select See all settings, then Filters and blocked addresses and Create a new filter. In Apple Mail on macOS, click Mail, Preferences, Rules, and Add Rule. In Outlook on the web, you need to click the gear icon (top right) and then select View all Outlook settings, email, and rules.

Other steps you can take

The tidier your inbox is before you leave, the tidier it will be when you come back. If you’re brave enough, you can mark everything that’s arrived as read and archive it before you go on break—then all you have to do is deal with what came in while you were away and have anything older underlined.

Something else to consider, if you can, is delegating the management of your inbox to a colleague before you leave — even if it’s just to quickly review messages and flag the most important ones. You might want to mention in your out-of-office notice the one or other contact who can help correspondents while you’re away, which hopefully means many jobs will already be taken care of when you return.

SaneBox screenshot

A service like SaneBox can help while you’re away. Image: SaneBox

You may find that certain email clients have special tools to help you. For example, Gmail on the web lets you drag messages between tabs and tells Gmail to remember your choices: this means many incoming messages will automatically be sorted on your behalf, and your primary tab should be less cluttered than it otherwise would be.

Enlisting the help of a third-party tool can also be helpful for you and make it easier to take a break from your inbox. For example, Boomerang for Gmail and Outlook lets you pause incoming emails for a specified amount of time, while SaneBox uses fine-tuned AI algorithms to figure out which of your incoming emails are actually important and worth responding to.

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