You had a wonderful vacation for the last two weeks skiing in Steamboat Springs and then visiting your sister in Northern California. But now it’s Monday morning and you’re back at work. There are 200 unanswered emails in your in-box and your voice mail message light is blinking ominously. There is a stack of new files on your desk teetering to the point of tipping over and a line of people outside your door. Some to hear about your vacation, some needing your help with work. Suddenly, Steamboat Springs is quickly becoming a fading memory as you’re thrust back into work. Now is not the time to think, “Was there something I could have done earlier that would have made this easier?” Yes … yes there was.
While there is no way to completely prevent after-vacation overload, you can do something to lessen the barrage. Here are a few steps we recommend before you head out:
In the days, or even weeks, leading up to your vacation:
- Let everyone know you’ll be gone. Sure, you asked for and was granted the time off by your superiors, but everyone else you work with needs to know that you’ll be gone. Don’t assume word will get spread around. That way if they foresee issues for themselves while you’re gone, you can discuss before you leave.
- Do extra work before you leave. However much you can get done before leaving on vacation is less work for you when you get back. If you’re really inspired and productive, you can make your first week back a breeze.
- Leave a voice message on your phone and an out-of-office email reply stating that you are out of the office, the date you’ll return, and contact info for one or more co-workers that people can call if they need something.
- Delegate what you can. If your office is well-staffed, there should be people that can take care of certain responsibilities for you while you’re away. Even if you think you’re the only one that can handle something, chances are good that someone else can step in temporarily.
- If your office gets a temp to handle your work, spell out your daily responsibilities in writing. Then, leave a list of important phone numbers and write down who the temp should contact with questions. Finally, ask a friendly co-worker to show the temp where the restrooms, break rooms, copiers, printers and more are located.
While you’re on vacation:
- Forget the office. Almost without exception, leave the office behind. You’ll enjoy your vacation more and your companions or family will definitely enjoy it if you’re not checking emails from the office.
- Unplug from technology. Even if it’s just one day, it’s good to get away from phones, the internet and more. If you have a family, try to remember what your kids look like. Oh, and take their electronics away as well. All humans should unplug from time to time.
- Adjust your sleep schedule. Hey, sleep schedules often get thrown out the window during vacation. But when it gets closer to the time to return to work, get back on your normal sleep pattern. If you normally go to bed at 11 p.m., but have been staying up until 2 a.m. then you have to re-adjust three hours. The first night, go to bed by midnight and then the second night, go to bed at 11 again. If you’ve been on vacation for 10 days or more, give yourself a little more time to get back to normal.
- Get back home a day or two early. There’s nothing worse than getting home late Sunday afternoon and having to be back at work in twelve hours. Give yourself time to decompress.
When you return from vacation:
- Don’t necessarily let the outside world know that you are back. If clients, customers, or vendors know you’re in the office, you could get swamped with calls. Unless it’s critical, there’s nothing wrong with letting them think you’re back on Tuesday, or even Wednesday, when you really got back Monday.
- Deal with whatever is most likely to need your immediate attention. Is your voice mail or your email more important? Does your mail require your immediate attention?
- Prioritize your emails. Use the subject line of your e-mails to prioritize those you need to read today versus those that can wait for another day.
If you still can’t get back into the swing of things at work:
If you’re going through a funk when you come back, don’t despair. It’s only natural to need some time to readjust. Check out a few of these quick tips and you’ll be back to yourself in no time!
- Ease back into it. Don’t pull a double-shift on your first day back or try to catch up on everything you missed. You’ll burn out quicker.
- Change up your work environment. You don’t have to paint the walls and bring in couches to breathe life into your space. Add a plant, a new picture (of your vacation, maybe) or do that workspace reorganization you’ve been putting off for the last six months. Dust out that corner of your desk with the gargantuan dust bunnies that no one ever sees but you and the IT guys.
- Begin with the end in mind. It’s easy to get pulled under by the ho-hum monotony if you have a long-term or repetitive project. Before you start your day, remember why you are doing this project. Ask yourself, what’s the big picture? How will this project help me and my organization succeed? Then jump in.
- Turn it up in the middle of the week. You should hit your stride again two to three days after getting back. If your vacation was as good as you hoped, mentally you’ll be able to kick it into high gear a couple of days later.
Vacations don’t have to be the end of the good times. Just remember that you can have fun and feel energized in your regular responsibilities as well. It just takes a bit of planning on your part.