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Most people in IT are used to the pile of email which awaits them after returning from a few weeks off. Is it better to read the most recent emails first, or the oldest emails first? What's the most effective way to deal with the pile of email?

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

I experience this dilemma when returning from vacation as well. It is generally better to read them from oldest to first. That way, if an issue or outage occurs, you can first see the notification, then the resolution to the notification.

Something that I also do before I go on vacation is to set filters that move all notifications about outages/issues to their own folder. I also do this for certain people (e.g. my boss, contacts in other departments, important people) so that I can easily see emails that require me to follow up on.

Also, if you regularly get emails that are flagged as urgent, I usually create a Search Folder (Outlook) that will show me all e-mails flagged as urgent.

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Frist thing I do after a couple of weeks out of the office is scan my Outlook inbox for meeting requests. More often than not there's something scheduled within a few hours of getting back, and it'd be silly to miss it because I was strictly working though the inbox from one end or the other (ok YMMV depending on what sort of meetings you get invited to... some people might be glad of any excuse to miss some :^)

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I usually do about 3 passes, each from oldest to newest:

First I go through quickly and get rid of the obvious: meeting requests, spam, automated-build announcements, etc., while keeping an eye on "interesting" emails. I'll note the "emergencies" and watch for issues that have already been resolved. I also try to watch for status summaries.

On the second pass, I look for the things that need immediate attention and haven't been resolved, and try to at least comment if not resolve the questions.

Finally, I go through and read the remaining emails in between the normal day's work in order to catch up on the rest of the email.

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Hopefully, you have a lot of mail filters set up. If not, you should consider creating new ones.

I was recently out for two weeks. What I did when I returned is to triage all the message by tagging them with a level of importance (1-5) immediately. Then I started looking at the hundreds of messages in #1.

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