Vacations are a much-needed balm to weary souls. A few days of sun, friends and rest can help banish the stress of urgent requests, crabby colleagues and unreasonable deadlines.
But you don’t want your post-vacation high to become a post-vacation crash when you see the pile of work that awaits you. To keep your restorative mood intact, you want to make the transition back to work as smooth as possible.
Here are some of the best tips productivity experts shared on what they do when they come back to work from vacation to avoid feeling stressed by the grind. Their answers were lightly edited for clarity and length.
1. They admit they can’t respond to everyone at once.
“One of the most important things that I do before I go on vacation to keep me from being overwhelmed after is I put up an autoresponder that is a little bit more detailed than ‘Hey, I’m out of the office from this day to this day.’
Instead, I have a really detailed out-of-office message that lets people know when I will be unavailable, whether I will be checking email intermittently or if I am not going to be available at all. And then, based on who you are, I let you know when to expect a response.
I find that creating that autoresponder with all of those details helps set expectations from when people can expect to hear from you. Then you don’t return to five messages from the same person wondering why they haven’t heard from you yet. The sooner that you recognize that you can’t respond to everyone at once, the easier it’s going to be to prioritize based on importance and urgency.” –– Anna Dearmon Kornick, time management coach and host of the “It’s About Time” podcast
2. They take an extra day of vacation just to switch their mindset.
“Organization for me starts before I even get back to the office. Typically, I take an extra day of vacation to get used to the fact that I have to return to work!
Once I’m there, I begin to make a list of tasks and I’m not overwhelming myself with everything that undoubtedly needs to get handled.
Next, I prioritize that list. Is this task past due? Does this task need to get done today? Can this particular task wait until another day? Now I have everything organized in my brain, it is written down, and I can finally start conquering the tasks at hand.” — Pamela A. Reed, time management coach and author of “Unfinished Business: How to Finish What You Start ... Faster!”
3. They tackle a to-do list they created before vacation.
“Before I leave for vacation, I make my to-do list for the week that I’m coming back. It can be overwhelming walking back into work and not knowing what’s on your plate. Making your to-do list ahead of time will allow your mind to truly rest when you are out of the office, knowing that you have a game plan for your return.
It’s also a good idea to run the list by your supervisor or teammates so that you are on the same page about your post-vacation priorities.” — Katie Wussow, business coach for creatives and host of “The Game Changer” podcast
“It took me several days to unwind and relax; similarly, it’s going to take several days for me to get back to my regular routine.”
4. They first do tasks that only take a few minutes.
“My first day or two at work would go mostly to collecting, organizing and prioritizing the pile-up of work. I’d write down all of the tasks and use the Eisenhower Matrix to organize and prioritize them. As I process the tasks, I’d do only tasks that take less than five minutes. For tasks that take longer than that, I’d block time for them on Google calendar. Tasks that others can do better than me would get delegated or outsourced, and distractions would just get eliminated altogether.
These practices help get me back in control in just a few days. The key is to put your organization skills to use. You should have the courage to be realistic about whether you can take on more tasks or negotiate a reasonable deadline.” — Samphy Y, productivity coach
5. They remind themselves it’s OK to have a slow start.
“I give myself a pep talk. I tell myself I just returned from vacation. It took me several days to unwind and relax; similarly, it’s going to take several days for me to get back to my regular routine. This helps me keep my vacation and work in perspective. I then work on tasks one at a time.
I write my thoughts down on paper. I find the process relaxing and calming. Often, things don’t look as bad on paper; you can clearly see things in black and white versus turning over things in your mind.
I quickly review my emails in reverse chronologic order. This may be counterintuitive, but it works for me. I start with current emails and work backwards, simply reading them and not taking any action. This way, I get a big picture view of things. When I come to the end of messages, nothing is a huge surprise because I’ve already reviewed everything. I then prioritize my work requests as needed.” — Rashelle Isip, productivity consultant
6. They mark everything as ‘read’ to eliminate stress.
“I have really tried to let go of the idea that I have to spend my first day back after a vacation frantically ‘making up’ for the time I was off, which feels antithetical to the point of the vacation. Instead, I tell myself, ‘Today is going to be a slow day. Obviously. I’m just getting caught up.’
If I’m in an all-team meeting that first morning back and everyone has to say what they are working on for the day, again, I’ll say out loud, ‘Today I’m getting caught up.’ I think this helps reinforce the idea that of course people need a day to catch up on emails and Slack messages and tend to the most urgent items. I think the more people who can reinforce that attitude, the better it is for everyone in a workplace.
I’m also someone who hates having unread emails, and opening my inbox and seeing dozens of unreads stresses me out immensely. For a long time, that was the worst part of returning to work after vacation for me. Now, I’ll just immediately do a ‘mark all as read’ in my inbox, just to remove that feeling of, ‘Oh no, I have so much to do and I have to do it all immediately!’ Then I spend my morning working through the emails at a regular pace, without that faux sense of urgency. — Rachel Wilkerson Miller, Vox senior editor and author of “Dot Journaling—A Practical Guide”