I think it’s safe to say most of us have a love-hate relationship with email. For many, it’s their favored mode of communication and they find it very convenient. Some feel chained to it, thinking they have to check it all the time. Others grumble about having too much or trying to get their inbox to zero. Whatever your relationship is with email, there is one feature most of us don’t make good use of – “out of office.”
This particular feature isn’t just for when you’re on vacation. You can utilize this tool to help manage your time, as well as manage expectations as to when you’ll be communicating back.
Here are a few ways to make your “out of office” email feature work for you:
1. When you’re on deadline. We all have times when a project is due and we really need to buckle down to take it across the finish line. At the same time, we don’t want to ignore – or miss – important communications. Set up a message on your “out of office” that says something to the effect of, “Hello. I am working on a project under deadline until [DATE and TIME]. I look forward to responding to your email at that time. If your communication is of a pressing nature and cannot wait, please call me at [PHONE].” This way you will have your quiet time, let those trying to get in touch with you when you’ll respond, and offer a way for those with urgencies to reach you if necessary.
2. When you want to work in blocks of time uninterrupted. I have used this method and got a lot of positive feedback. My message said, “In order to work more effectively and efficiently, I will be checking and responding to email three times a day: 8:30 a.m., 12 noon, and 4:00 p.m. If your communication is of a pressing nature and cannot wait, please call me at [PHONE].” Again, I gave myself the time to focus, while still allowing a way for people to reach me if they had urgent issues. Just because email is instant, doesn’t always mean your response has to be.
3. When you really are out of the office. This is up for debate, but my preference is to actually be out of the office and say so. Sample language can be, “Hello. I am out of the office and will return on [DATE]. I look forward to responding to your email at that time. If your communication is of a pressing nature that cannot wait for my return, please contact my colleague [NAME] at [EMAIL and PHONE.] Thanks so much.” This way, you can if you so choose respond to someone. They won’t be expecting it, so you have the opportunity to surprise and delight them if you do respond before your return date. Using the language of “I’m checking emails periodically” is vague and leaves people hanging. Better to be clear.
When you're not using "out of office" and it’s a regular work day (if there really is such a thing), you should aim to return emails by close of business, or at the latest, within 24 hours.