How To Come Back To Work After A Vacation Without Being Miserable

Work after a long vacation is like Monday on steroids. Here's how to tackle the work that's piled up—even your overflowing inbox.

Vacations are great, but they exact a price. You come back to such a pile of work that you wonder if going away was worthwhile.

The answer is probably yes, but even so, there are ways to make re-entry less traumatic.

1. Plan ahead.

Managing the post-vacation plunge starts before your vacation does. You may be tempted to pile on meetings and projects as soon as you get back to make up for lost time, but a better approach is to stagger the catch-up work over a longer period. At least don’t aim to do it all on the first day. Accept your limitations. A lot of stuff can wait.

2. Set boundaries you can live with.

I work for myself, so no one ever “covers” for my vacations. That’s why I don’t see anything wrong with working for a few hours, especially over longer trips. If you really need to get away, or if vacation work upsets the people you’re vacationing with, then disconnect. If that doesn’t describe you, then maybe every other day you get up early, and work for half an hour on only the most urgent matters. Then you disconnect for the next 47.5 hours. That trade off can make the post vacation plunge less plunge-like.

3. Come back before you absolutely have to.

If you’re going away for a week (or two!), there’s a lot to be said for returning Saturday instead of Sunday. Not only do you get a chance to unpack, catch up on the laundry, and sleep off jet-lag, you can do a few hours of work on Sunday night. Getting a grip on the week’s schedule, and triaging your inbox, can help you feel more on top of things.

4. Keep the out-of-office message on.

Speaking of that inbox, if you’ve created an out-of-office message for your vacation, keep it on for an extra workday. Sure, the people sitting next to you know you’re there, but there’s no need for the world to figure that out. An extra day gives you space to get things sorted out without new expectations piling on. Of course, you can also just . . .

5. Delete everything.

This technique is only for the brave, but you could just make a quick skim of the inbox stack-up, flag a handful of messages you do want to read, and delete everything else. Chances are, if it’s still important, someone will follow up with you. And if they don’t, you can just miss an opportunity. Getting to take a real vacation may be worth the trade off.

6. Schedule something fun after work.

The first day back can feel like a slog. Plan something you genuinely enjoy for that first post-work evening—even if it’s just watching a favorite TV show—so you have something to look forward to. It’s not quite as good as a vacation, but it’s not a bad way to end the day, either.

[Image: Flickr user Alexandre Duret-Lutz]

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  • It's difficult to fully disconnect from work these days so rather than pile it up, it does help to check on the important items periodically during vacation time. My favorite tip of them all? "...6. SCHEDULE SOMETHING FUN AFTER WORK. The first day back can feel like a slog. Plan something you genuinely enjoy for that first post-work evening..."