Vacation’s all about relaxation, right? But you know what’s pretty stressful? Arriving back home after your travels and being greeted by an overflow of emails. Urgent pitches from potential service providers, the notices for meetings you missed and, of course, co-worker memos with their nice-to-know news or critical planning info. And if you’re gone more than a few days, there will be the inevitable “where the heck are you?” emails. At the risk of sounding like a spam email, there is something that can solve all these vacation email woes. It’s painless and free (for real!) to extend that vacation peace of mind all the way through your first day back at work, try this:

Vacation without work?

If you’re thinking, “Well, I just won’t take a vacation if the emails are going to pile up,” hold that thought. The benefits of checking out of the office are way too valuable to skip. Just for starters, people who take their vacation days have improved cardiovascular health and sleep better. Nor should you join those people who say they have to work over a vacation in order to enjoy it. Wrike’s Summer Productivity Survey, for example, showed that 19 percent of the people who worked over vacation did so because they “felt better knowing things are going OK at work.” Do you know what could make you feel better instead? This vacation-rescuing email hack, also known as a targeted “out of office” response, possibly combined with an archiving technique that will cut down on the deluge of emails.

Vacation responder to the rescue

The idea of setting your email to deliver a “vacation responder” is a solid one. A lot of the emails that make people fret while they’re on vacation are entirely avoidable. Set an automatic “out-of-office” reply using Outlook and everyone peppering your inbox with messages will at least know the basics: You’re not here, but you are still a viable employee expected to return after a bit. Be sure to tailor different messages for colleagues and outside vendors and contacts using the appropriate tabs. Each message should include information that notes how long you’ll be gone and whether there’s anyone else to contact in your absence. Also politely, but firmly, establish that you will not be checking email or responding to messages while you’re gone.

If you use Gmail, you’ll find options for “vacation response” among the “Settings” on the top right of the screen.  But if you’re a remote or self-employed worker, your Gmail, Yahoo or other POP or IMAP account won’t support the Outlook Automatic Replies feature. If you leave Outlook running while you’re gone, though, you can still set up a “rule” that will send your “gone fishing” type response in reply to incoming email. To further minimize the sheer volume of emails staring you down on the first day back, consider setting your Gmail to archive all your incoming mail while you’re gone, using the “Filters and Blocked Addresses” options that are part of Gmail “Settings.”

Make sure emails resume when you’re back

Just like nothing is more annoying than getting that months-old voice mail message saying your colleague is on vacation, remember that no one wants to get a vacation response from someone who’s back in the office. So kindly select the “Only send during this time range” option on your vacation responder so the free flow of emails returns when you do. And if you’ve used this email hack to help you resist the urge to check in during this time, you have two things to look forward to. Not only will you have fewer emails to cope with after vacation, but you’ll also be refreshed and ready to productively deal with the emails you do have and the rest of your work. Until next time…