Mindfully Facing Email After Vacation

Don't let your inbox ruin your vacation

a desk with open laptop and flowers
When on vacation, I unplug from work completely. In fact, I like to turn on my out-of-office email notification a full workday before my vacation starts — I use it as a soft stop before the actual hard stop.

While unplugging from work is good for me, I dread dealing with the deluge of emails that pile up. And syncing my inbox is the signal that means I’m officially off vacation and back to the everyday.

You can relate?

Three days before the end of my recent vacation I started to feel the pull of returning to work. 

Wondering how many emails were lurking in my inbox.

Bargaining with myself that maybe it would be a good idea to check them on Saturday at the airport: It’s a long flight! And it’s not really taking away anything from vacation time if you process them in the air.

Or to check them on Sunday: Get a jump on the week and make Monday easier!

I resisted (yay me!) but it was hard. I caught myself thinking about my inbox probably 50 times over the course of those last few days.

Sometimes it was simply quantitative curiosity. I wonder how many there are?

But more often than not it had a negative flavor to it. It is going to be such a chore to wade through my inbox when I get back … how am I going to get back on top of things after being out of the office for so long? It is already going to be a busy week and who knows what “fires” popped up while I was gone!

When I can catch myself thinking the same thought several times, I like to ask myself if I enjoy having that thought over and over.

Sometimes the answer is yes. Many times the answer is “no, but…”wherein I try to justify to myself the wheel-grinding loop I’m in or force myself to think about something else.

The funny thing is, I don’t always catch myself right away (ahem, or after the 40th time!). And even when I do, the forced-think-about-something-else approach is only a very temporary fix.

Perhaps you have this pattern, too?
One of the greatest gifts of vacation (besides more sleep) is that it gives one a renewed perspective on the everyday.  

And the gift I got on this trip was a realization that I could pause and take the opportunity to reevaluate my approach and systems. 

My approach to email on Monday morning would be to sync my inbox (and consciously breathe while I waited for it to load), read one email, pause, and decide what to do with the information in it. One at a time. Not hurling myself at breakneck speed toward inbox zero (which had always been my implicit goal).

Once I had that plan in mind, albeit simple, the email thoughts only popped up a few more times (I’m still human). And I was able to fairly quickly let them go. And on Monday morning, yes, there were loads of emails. But I felt almost no dread as my inbox was syncing and had a light attitude as I went about processing them.

So what’s the deal?
What I figured out was that when my brain was looping about The Dread of All the Email it was skipping some steps. It was just flinging me into a scene where I am surrounded by a pile of emails and feeling overwhelmed or annoyed. But that’s not reality. First I have to turn on my computer and log in, then I have to open the email application to sync it, then I’ll see how many I have and from whom, then I’ll begin processing them.

By themselves, each of those steps is totally manageable. Boring even. Not dreadful at all. Well, maybe the part where I wait for it to sync is still a little scary — so that is when I choose to pause and breathe. Invite my parasympathetic nervous system kick back in (like it was on vacation).

The next time you find yourself in a loop of doom about your email (whether or not on vacation), take a step back to formulate an approach and see how your brain responds.