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3 strategies to avoid the post-vacation return to work anxiety

Simple but creative ways that will help you make the transition to maximize productivity and minimize the stress on your recently soothed brain.

3 strategies to avoid the post-vacation return to work anxiety
[Photo: Marko Kelecevic/Unsplash]
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It is the last day of your much-needed, well-earned, post-pandemic vacation. What awaits you when you return home: thousands of emails, stacks of mail, piles of laundry, an empty refrigerator has triggered the vacation re-entry blues.

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Meanwhile, you’ve called the front desk to see if your room is available for a few more days, searched for alternative transportation home, and thoroughly studied the local real estate magazine for potential homes—all before you’ve had your first cup of coffee.

You cannot indefinitely extend your vacation and you do not want to go home. I get it.

Here’s how to avoid post-vacation despair and make your transition back to work and life easy and smooth.

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Block the first morning back

Breakfast with a client and six hours of back-to-back Zoom meetings with a vacation fogged brain is not an ideal first day back at work. Before you leave for vacation, block the morning of your first day back at work to get clear, current, and caught up.

On your first morning back:

Clean out your inbox

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  • Turn on conversation view to group and organize message threads in your inbox. Read the first email in the thread, which is the most current one. File or delete the remaining messages by highlighting and dragging the first message to the correct project folder or clicking on the delete icon.
  • Unsubscribe from all emails you delete without reading. Yes, it will take you an extra two seconds, however, it will save you time in the future and make your next post-vacation re-entry easier.

Schedule project and team member catch-ups

To make these meetings efficient and effective provide an agenda. Then, ask your team members to complete the inform, solve, decide agenda template prior to the meeting. It looks like this:

Inform: A brief update on projects, tasks, events, and meetings that occurred while you are away that you need to know about, but require no input, nor action by you.

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Solve A summary of problems, challenges, or roadblocks that were encountered while you were away that require your knowledge and/or assistance to resolve.

Decide: A synopsis of decisions that need to be made by you.

Reflect on the ROI (return on time investment) of your work

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A change of scenery can offer a novel perspective on our normal routines. While your brain is still fresh, take time to evaluate how you spend your time and energy.

  • Do all the meetings on your calendar have a clear objective and require your attendance to achieve it?
  • Have you been hijacked by the “guilts” or the “shoulds” and accepted invitations, events, or meetings that do not align with your priorities and goals?
  • Are there tasks on your to-do list that are obsolete, unnecessary, or could be automated?
  • Are there meetings, projects, and tasks that are not worth the time and energy you’re putting into them?

For some of these items, you might need to get creative and try a different approach. With others, you should eliminate them altogether.

Use your travel time

Depending on how far you’re traveling, you may have significant travel time to and from your vacation destination. If someone else is driving or if you’re flying, use this time to prepare for the week ahead.

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Read emails.

Review your calendar and to-do list and prioritize what you want to accomplish.

Draft a grocery list. Or, order groceries online before you leave for vacation and have them delivered the night you arrive home.

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If you’re driving yourself home, consider returning home mid-day instead of in the evening. Use your afternoon to catch up on emails and mentally prepare for the upcoming week.

Slowly and steadily get back into your work and life routine

In the coming week, give yourself grace as you ease your way back into your regular work and life routine.

  • Don’t schedule difficult, challenging work for yourself for the first two days post-vacation.
  • Pace yourself. The world didn’t stop or collapse while you were away. You’ll catch up on everything you missed, but it might just take a little time.
  • Savor your vacation. Change your screen saver to a photo from vacation, put a vacation souvenir on your desk, or share your vacation photos with a colleague.

Don’t let the vacation reentry blues highjack the last day of your vacation. Block the first morning back to get clear, current, and caught up. Maximize your travel time, tackle the house as a team, and remember you will catch up on everything you missed. Now, go enjoy your vacation!

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Carson Tate is the founder and managing partner of Working Simply, Inc., a business consulting firm that partners with organizations, business leaders, and employees to enhance workplace productivity, foster employee engagement, and build personal and professional legacies. She is the author of Own It. Love It. Make It Work.: How To Make Any Job Your Dream Job.