Getting Caught Up

Since I’m late getting rolling today, I thought I’d write about getting caught up after the holidays (or vacations). The biggest challenge is often the overload that comes from seeing a pile of work, messages, and to-do items awaiting you after spending quality time away from the office. Your head often isn’t in the game. Completely understandable. Still, it helps to have a plan of attack so you don’t feel like you’ll never get caught up. Some of you might never get caught up anyway, but let’s think positively today!

It can be tempting to jump into whatever project you were working on (your actual work) before taking on things that are related to your work, like messages and emails. However, I’ve learned the hard way that those messages can and often do contain information that affects how you do what you’re doing or in what order you’re doing it. Priorities can change while you’re out of the office–something that was “priority one” as you were heading out the door can be replaced by something even more critical.

The first thing to follow up on are voice mails. There are a couple reasons for that: first, there are usually fewer of them than emails. Second, if someone has called you rather than emailed you, it’s usually because the question or request is urgent and they assume, perhaps rightly, that if they wait for you to get through your email inbox first, they will not receive a timely answer.

Another high-priority item would be to address any note or physical document that someone has placed on your desk while you were gone.

Next comes that big, nasty email inbox. If you’ve got only a dozen or so messages when you come back, you can probably handle those in the order they’re received. However, if you’ve got literally hundreds of messages all clamoring for your attention, it’s best to take things on strategically. One way to do this is to set priorities:

  • Anything that has been tagged as “Urgent,” keeping in mind the person/organization sending it and the subject.
  • Personally prioritized email folders based on sender, keywords, or both.
  • Emails sent directly to you that are business-related.

After you sift through those various priorities, you’ll be left with messages that can wait until later: office social discussions, advertisements/subscriptions, news feeds, training updates, benefit announcements, and so forth. Depending on your job, those items might be priorities for you. The point being, you should follow up on the urgent and important first before diving into the regular business of your day. If one particular message will send the plan for your day into a tailspin, it’s probably good to see if there are any other urgent items before diving right in. Conflicting priorities are one of the big challenges, especially in large organizations with lots of individuals up and down the ladder wanting your time. The trick, as always, is knowing what your priorities are and sticking to them before handling anything else.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Directior, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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One Response to Getting Caught Up

  1. Larry Kunz says:

    Nicely put. And hopefully if your time off has settled your mind and restored a healthy sense of proportion — so that when you return to the mountain of catch-up work you can set healthy priorities and not “sweat the small stuff.”

    One other tip for handling email on the first day back: I sort the inbox by subject. Often I need to read only the most recent item in each conversation to get caught up — and sometimes I find that the issue has already been resolved and can be disposed of.

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