Vacations are good for you. Several studies have touted numerous health benefits for the heart and the mind. For the latter, time off can improve cognitive function as well as build self-control and resilience. Bonus: What we experience while on vacation can affect our current state of happiness.
Coming back to work is another story. It’s tough to hit the ground running after spending days doing whatever you please, on your own time. Even if you haven’t been on vacation yourself, the lull that ensues when multiple colleagues and clients take time off could morph into a slump if not held in check.
To help you fend off counterproductive tendencies, we’ve pulled together a series of strategies from a variety of executives and experts.
To ease the transition out of your weekend or vacation, Christine M. Allen, a psychologist, executive, and coach recommends taking no more than an hour from your Sunday to anticipate the week ahead and get organized. Check your calendar, email a note to a coworker or yourself, and make a to-do list prioritizing tasks you expect to face first thing in the a.m. "This will help you free up head space and reduce worry," Allen says.
Mike Williams, CEO of the work-life management firm the David Allen Company, says a strategy is to book a meeting with yourself for the sole purpose of catching up. "If you normally take 30 minutes to go through your inbox in the morning, multiply that by the number of days you've been out—or whatever good chunk of uninterrupted time you can carve out to collect, process, and organize what's come in, to get clear and current," he advises.
You may have been able to unplug while you were away, but strategically distancing yourself from push notifications will also help you be more productive while you work. Researchers from Florida State University found that even if you don’t look at your phone when it buzzes, the sound can derail your efforts to focus. Ditto for email pings. So silence your phone and shut down your inbox (once you’ve cleared the backlog) so you can concentrate on completing your to-do list.
The first day back in the office would be a good time to tackle some of the tasks that don’t require heavy thinking. Consider organizing files both digital and paper. Fast Company contributor Laura Vanderkam suggests, "Organize all receipts and expenses from the first half of the year. Pull together documentation of what you’ve accomplished so you’re half-done for any year-end reviews."
Science proves that digital clutter can be just as anxiety-inducing as piles of junk, because it makes us feel guilty and signals that our work is never done. It’s a productivity killer too, because we waste time slogging through stuff to get to what we need.
As we progress through the workday, many of us succumb to the afternoon haze. That’s because the time between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. is when our bodies are struggling mightily against the urge to sleep. The National Sleep Foundation indicates that it’s a natural response to circadian rhythms and a drop in blood sugar levels. The antidote to nodding off is to do the opposite: Get up and move around.
Several companies combat drowsiness by encouraging employees to do a little light exercise. From one-minute planks to three-minute "brain breaks" or a step outside for a breath of fresh air, the shift gets blood flowing and the brain engaged.
After 3 p.m. everyone’s on the home stretch to end the day. Nathan Ellering, content marketing lead at CoSchedule suggests setting up a meeting during that time could boost participation, because it’s off-peak time.
"Your team members may also experience afternoon slumps where they're actively looking for distractions themselves, making it a perfect time for collaboration and creative problem solving," he says. Combining this with the last bit of advice, Ellering says, "Try to book a conference room at an inconvenient distance from where your team sits; even the break of walking to the meeting may recharge some of your creativity."
Read More: Six Ways to Stay Productive After 3 p.m.