How to plan for a stress-free return from your vacation

One way to beat stress is to regularly take time off from work, but returning to work after your vacation can often have the exact opposite effect — it can be a source of stress. How do you pick up where you left off so you can hit the ground running? With a bit of planning, you can actually come back ready to work and ease back into your typical routine without feeling discombobulated and anxious.

Add an extra day

If you’ve ever found yourself wishing for an additional day of vacation so you could recover from the days you spent away from work, it’s not a bad idea. Schedule your return home a day earlier so you have an extra day to the end of your vacation, which you can use to catch up on emails, get reacquainted with projects, and get settled in at home. Knowing what to expect before you head back to work the next day will give you a preview of what your week will be like as well as the opportunity to put some plans in place.

You might also want to think about adding an extra day before you leave to clean up at home (empty the garbage, wash the dishes, turn on the Roomba) or even get your clothing ready for the morning you’ll be returning to the office. That way, you won’t even need to think about these tasks when you get back.

Put your desk in order before you leave

Clearing your desk, putting away files, and leaving your office or cubicle in an organized state before you leave helps you in several ways. First, you won’t have to clean up when you get back so you can start working straight away (less time cleaning means more time being productive). And, not only will it be a welcome sight, but you will likely have a better chance of getting stuff done.

Schedule meetings several days after you get back

Before you leave, you’ll probably need to add meetings to your calendar. Be realistic about how much time you’ll have to prepare for those meetings, particularly if you need to share a report or take on the role of facilitator. Consider postponing meetings three to five days after returning (or longer, if possible).

Stay away from extra tasks

You’ll also want to refrain from participating in activities that were not planned prior to you leaving. Unless they are urgent and require your focus, unplanned tasks can increase your work load and be overwhelming. Instead, focus on your most important projects and then, as you get back in the swing of things, you can gradually add more to your plate.

Delegate some tasks

Before you leave, hand off a few or your to-dos to a colleague to manage while you’re away. That way, you don’t come back to a long laundry list of tasks and you can keep some of your projects moving along in your absence. At the very least, brief a colleague on where to find things in your office so he or she can locate them quickly while you’re gone and won’t have to call you while you’re spending time with family or sipping a fancy drink on a beach.

8 Comments for “How to plan for a stress-free return from your vacation”

  1. posted by TV James on

    Start your vacation on a day other than Friday at 5 pm. That allows you to treat it (and the week) differently than just ending week and means you’re racing to done separately from your co-workers.

    End your vacation on a day other than Monday at 8 am.
    That allows you to ease into a shorter week and have your return be heralded differently than your co-workers who are all returning from the weekend.

  2. posted by lee on

    i’m with tv james. i hate coming back on a monday. by mid-day it feels like i never got time off. i try to come back to work on a thursday. that gives me two days to get caught up on voice mail and email and get organized for the coming week. then it’s time for the weekend and another two days off.

  3. posted by Carla on

    I’m a little confused by the “stay away from extra tasks” idea. Maybe it’s just that it doesn’t fit with some jobs, but the “extra tasks” aren’t generally optional. If there was a change in direction or a new set of work that popped up while you were gone, you don’t normally get to say that you won’t be involved. Your management decides that.

    If you are self-employed and don’t have a manager, I would think that something wouldn’t just pop up for you to take on without your knowledge while you were on vacation.

  4. posted by Celeste on

    I agree with James, completely. I also think making sure there is some clean laundry for your return is golden. Re-entry is hard enough without having to stay up and do laundry just so you can function the next day. Depending on how long you’ve been gone, it may be worth making a milk run on the way home from the airport just to be able to be able to have breakfast the first day before you can do a proper grocery trip. Bread, milk, eggs…the fresh things you probably used or tossed before you left home. Your list might be different, but to me, if I can have milk in my coffee or fix a bowl of cereal, it’s just better.

  5. posted by WilliamB on

    My suggestions are:

    – Don’t leave things undone before departure. Ideally all dishes are not only clean (duh) but put away. Laundry folded and put away. Mail taken care of (that’s my personal bugaboo). Dry cleaning delivered to cleaners or picked up and put away. Makes it easier to find the physical and time space to unpack.

    – For a longer trip, put magazine and newspaper subscriptions on hold. Most organizations will extend your subscription for the equivalent period of time, and you won’t have a stack of reading to catch up on.

    – Return on Saturday or first thing Sunday morning. Not only does this give one a bit of unpacking and decompression time, but flights are less expensive as well and less likely to be delayed or overbooked.

    – Before leaving work, write a list of what you’ll need to attend to upon return. It could be as simple as “turn off out of office messages.” Or more complicated, with people to talk with and projects or sales to check on progress. On a good vacation one won’t be thinking of these things, I find a list helps me get back into the swing of things at work.

  6. posted by djk on

    good advice above.
    DH wonders why I have to have the house scrubbed to bits before we go away. It’s so I can keep that vacation hotel feel going. If I have left something undone, I have a harder time directly unpacking and washing clothes, getting prepared for the next day etc.
    He gets it now.

    Unpacking immediately is really important. Our washer is in the bathroom so I haul the cases in there and unpack and throw things directly into the wash.

    I’ve mostly had holidays in Europe, leaving from western Canada. That means usually from my front door to my accommodation was between 22-24 hours of travel. It really truly is imperative to build in a day off for preparation before you go and a day off after you return to deal with your travel exhaustion issues. A weekend away to a neighbouring town will not have the same requirements.

    One thing which I’ve done my entire adult life is write up notes titled “what worked” and “what didn’t work”. I used to use tiny travel notebooks for this purpose, analysing my entire holiday (what I packed, ate, did, scheduled, critiques on guidebooks, how I prepared, etc.) on the flight back, then moved on to simply adding it to my travel journal, and now I use my iphone notes app for the same purpose.

    Reading last vacation’s notes for the next vacation is a good refresher course.

  7. posted by SMJ on

    Some nice tips there Deb. Returning back from a vacation can certainly help relax one, but it also makes it a but difficult to get back to the working mode. Speaking about myself, I always make sure to schedule some of my tasks when I go on vacation so that the work load does not get too much to handle later on.

  8. posted by Tradd on

    “Delegate to coworkers”? Oh, that sounds lovely, but I have a difficult time with coworkers covering essential items while I’m gone, let alone delegating extra things to them. That goes for many people I know as well.

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