5 tips for dealing with e-mail overload after a long flight

Jun 21, 2016 by Ronnie Apteker

We all have anxiety due to digital overload. E-mails left, right and center, social media activity, keeping up with all the different messages. Not so long ago it was more about e-mail, but these days it is WhatsApp texts, messages on Facebook, Twitter updates. and more. And when you land and get online after a long flight it can hit hard and sometimes it is overwhelming.

The irony is that I am writing this at 46,000 feet, on an SAA flight to London, with no WiFi on board. When I land in the northern hemisphere and get online and sync up there is going to be a burst of download activity and it is gonna be intense. It is amazing what can accumulate during a night. I know I am not alone in this modern day struggle. I have travelled with many friends and colleagues before, and when we land, there is always a rush to get online and see what’s cooking. Things to take care of, problems to sort out, people needing answers, decisions to make. And when you are groggy and tired from a long flight it can really stress you out.

I remember once arriving with my friend Saki in NY to meet our friend Dave who was coming in from Boston that afternoon. Saki and I arrived at the hotel in lower Manhattan around 10 am and Dave arrived at about 2 pm and he says “How you guys finding New York” and the two of us barely say a word as we are sitting in the lobby lounge buried in our laptops, hitting the keys like there was no tomorrow. Crazy world we live in. We were only in New York for 2 days, and we spent that whole morning online, working. Well, we call it working, but who knows. Like Dave jokes “Yeah, when people ask me what I do I tell them that I read e-mail for a living.”

There are more and more flights with WiFi on route so perhaps this being offline thing will not be there forever. But what does that mean? There is never ever any switching off – even in the air. But that is another story. Until WiFi in the air becomes all pervasive, here are a few things to consider when landing after a long flight and sinking, er, syncing up.

Charge them batteries

Most flights these days have power adaptors on board, but some don’t, especially in coach. So make sure your laptop is fully charged and have that tablet and mobile phone sorted too. It is amazing how much one can accomplish on a long flight with no incoming calls or messages to distract you.

My laptop battery lasts about 5 to 6 hours, so on a flight like this, which is just over 10 hours, I can get a lot done. I also get a chance to read longer e-mails and attachments, that I was saving for a rainy day, er, long flight.

Send and you shall receive

Working offline on a long flight can be very productive. I wrote and replied to many mails while high in the air. And when we get online in the northern hemisphere then the mails will be sent on their way. But, keep in mind, that the more you send the more you will receive. So, if you send out a dozen or so key mails asking various things, etc., then don’t be surprised that by the time you have unpacked, there are a dozen or so answers. And, after a long flight, when you’re not well rested and all, this can tend to make you giddy.

One good trick I sometimes do is to compose the mails but only send them when I am well rested and ready. I write them and leave them in my drafts and send them when I know I will have time to process the response.

Out of sight, out of mind

The drafts folder is a great psychological tool. Not only does it let you check on an important correspondence before sending it on its way, but it helps to clear out the inbox. Sometimes sleeping on a mail before sending it can really help a situation. And, to have an inbox that looks like a reasonable number is good for stress relief. So, write the reply, but don’t send it right away. Rather leave it in your drafts folder to send when you are good and ready. Then you can file the inbox item away, and you are one step closer to feeling on top of things.

The thing about working on planes is there is often noise and distraction and occasional turbulence. I sometimes struggle to get my head around complex numbers are strategic notes when there are a lot of noisy passengers around. So I always have my earphones close by, and I have some white noise apps that help me to think clearly. Reminds me of the old “Sound Soother” device you could buy in the 90s in places like RadioShack or The Sharper Image.

Mobile morning syndrome

I read this term “Mobile Morning Syndrome” in a few major publications this past year. The sensation of waking up in the morning, putting on your mobile phone, and just sitting there in bed, for an hour, trying to digest all that happened during the night. Now, throw in a long flight, lack of sleep, battery not fully charged, roaming costs perhaps, and it all adds up to more of the syndrome.

The stress of staying up-to-date in this digital world is common for modern citizens. We are probably all a bit mad, but if you are reading this, then I am sure you can relate.

One thing I sometimes do is plan my business trip to travel on a weekend. That way when you land on the other side, you are not bombarded like you would be during a working day. As the champ once said “Make the day count” – ok ok, I thing I may have got things a bit muddled up here. I am probably stressing for when the plane lands and the phone syncs up and the e-mail flood strikes. Yes, travelling over a weekend may mean less time for site seeing, but it also means less digital stress when you arrive on the other side.

When in roam

Roaming costs can be intense, so be careful when travelling with data roaming set to the “on” position. Most major airport offers free WiFi, so get to know the landscape. Places like Starbucks are always good for getting online.

I have often used the WiFi on board Lufthansa and it has been around 30 Euros for the entire flight. Not the cheapest Internet access, but it does save you time. And at least when you land, you don’t need to put on your roaming right away, because you should be up-to-date for a while.

Summing up

I remember using the “out of office” feature on my Microsoft mail client in the late 90s and into the new millennium. But for the past 10 years I don’t use it anymore. The office is wherever you go. Good or bad, this is the modern world. Globalization is about never switching off. E-mail overload, and all the rest, is not a problem we are going to solve anytime soon.

My mother always tell me to stop working so hard, but I don’t see it as work. I am driven by a strong sense of purpose. It is something I believe I have to do. If you love what you are doing, I never see it as work. But my mom is right – it is all a bit too intense.

Travel safe and fight the digital devil – we can beat this thing (I hope). We are all in this together. The more we send, the more we receive. Or is that the other way round?

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