Returning to work after a vacation or long weekend rarely goes smoothly. If you’re oblivious to the chaos because you’re still in a vacation haze on your first day back, the mayhem will settle in on day two or three. Your to-do list is more extensive than usual, the backlog of email seems overwhelming, and your reaction time to even the smallest of problems is as if you are immersed in a bowl of thick maple syrup.
The easiest way to avoid this stress and disorder is to prepare for it before you leave:
- Notify the people you regularly interact with that you will be out of the office. When people know you’ll be gone, they often don’t try to contact you for the small things. This helps significantly to reduce voice mails and emails for things that are resolved before you return.
- Clear your schedule so you don’t have any meetings or appointments the first day (or two) you’re back at the office.
- Clear the inbox on your desk and your email inbox so it will be obvious what new items you must attend to when you return.
- Try to wrap up all action items so you have nothing old to finish up when you return. This may be impossible with the type of job you have, but if you can do it, I highly recommend it.
- Do as much preparation work for your first day back as you can. Any automated tasks or work you can do in advance, try to do it. You want your load to be as light as possible when you return.
After you return, these strategies can help you to regain order and your sanity:
- Arrive an hour early to work so you can find your footing before everyone else arrives in the office.
- Scan the contents of your physical inbox, your email inbox, your calendar, and anything else that has appeared on your desk. Get an idea of all of the new items that you’ll have to do and what old items are still on your task list.
- Gracefully bow out of as many obligations as possible that would take you away from your desk for the day (or next few days).
- Schedule deadlines for all of your new action items on your calendar — and keep these deadlines realistic. It will take awhile to get back into the rhythm of your work, so be sure to pad in more time than usual for tasks.
- As you’re working, alternate between old action items and new action items and between mindful and mindless tasks. Take a break at least once an hour, and don’t forget to eat (your brain and body need the fuel).
- Mind other people’s expectations of when to receive work from you. Now is the time to under promise and over deliver.