Drowning in email

I received a question from a reader asking about the problem of drowning in email after returning from travel. She writes as follows:

“I do a pretty good job of keeping up with emails, but when I’m at a conference, it snowballs. I spend from a day-and-a-half to two full days trying to catch up. Ideas?”

And my reply…

One of the realities of traveling is that when you get home, you have multiple days of email to handle. One of the reasons I use Gmail is that I handle much of the email while on the road.  That means I don’t have to also handle it again when I get home and sit down at my computer. My email inbox has the same thing in if no matter what device I am using, and when it’s handled from one device, it’s handled on all devices.

I use spare moments on the road to scan emails which consist of newsletters from professional organizations, and then I delete them. I also delete whatever else is of no interest. Finally, I respond to the email which requires only a quick response.

I avoid writing long email replies on the road because it’s so much easier to type on a full-size keyboard with 10 fingers instead of on a piece of glass with two thumbs. If I have my laptop with me, evenings in the hotel room allow for time to respond at length.

Priority Inbox

I use the “Priority Inbox” setting on Gmail. It segments what’s “Important and Unread” from everything else. It does a remarkably good job of distinguishing which emails really are important and which ones will require no action on my part other than to read them if I am interested.


Ironically, I will usually attack the “Everything Else” first. I know none of it will require much time, and I can work through it quickly. When all I have left is the important stuff, I can focus better.

Of course, I am a big believer in an empty inbox at the end of the day. So, before I leave on a trip, I get my email inbox empty. The last thing I want is to have to deal with email from a week ago along with the email which is accumulating during the trip.

One of the nice things about travel is the ideas which emerge due to the people you meet and the thoughts you exchange. One of the advantages of getting organized is that it allows you to take advantage of new opportunities. I would like to be able to act on the new ideas while the post-trip excitement is still there. The last thing I want is to deal with the minutia upon returning and let the good ideas grow cold.

So that’s my reply. How do you keep from drowning in email when traveling?