There you are: sipping a pina colada, staying up late, and floating in a clear ocean when suddenly, it hits you. You have to get ready to work again when your vacation is over. Vacations are great for the workforce – they can help boost your mood and ease stress. They’ve also been shown to improve productivity.1 But at some point, vacations must come to an end.
When your vacation is over, it can be hard to jump back into your old work routine. You may be jet-lagged, or worried that your skills have slipped in your time off. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to make your return to work much easier.
If you’re reading this before your vacation, see if you can set yourself up for success before you leave. If you’re reading this on Sunday night before your first Monday back, you got this. Skip to the second section to pick up advice you can follow now that you’re back.
Before You Leave For Vacation
Tell People You Are Leaving
Your boss and coworkers will have a heads up, but be sure to spread the news of your absence to clients, customers, and collaborators too. Anyone you regularly communicate with should know that you are going on vacation. Try to give them 2 weeks notice or more, depending on the lead time of your work projects. Here are some tips to spread the word:
- Anytime you have a conversation that discusses future dates, make sure you speak up about your vacation.
- Add a short note about your upcoming vacation in your email signature, so people will see it every time they communicate with you. You
don’t have to go into details, just give the dates you are gone and an alternate person to email in your absence if necessary.
- Don’t forget to set up an email autoresponder that tells people you are on vacation.
- If you communicate over the phone, change your outgoing voicemail message to tell people the dates you are gone.2
Clean Up Your Inbox And Work Queue Before You Leave
The last thing you want to face when you return from vacation is a mountain of important deadlines and urgent emails. Before you leave, be kind to your future self, and try to complete as many tasks as possible. You’ll give yourself some breathing room, and your employer will be happy to see work completed early.
- If you use a task management program, look ahead to the week you return. Is there anything you can complete ahead of time?
- Make sure you’re completely caught up on email. Declutter your inbox to make space for what will come in while you’re away.
- Resolve any email conversations that have been going back and forth. If they can’t be resolved before you leave, make sure you give that person a heads up about your upcoming absence.
- Delete old voicemails.
- Organize your desk, and clear off anything you no longer need.3
Make These Two Lists
Have you ever had the experience of returning to work and wondering what it is exactly you do? If you spend a week or more unplugging, you may blissfully forget the nitty-gritty details of your work life. This can be wonderful for your stress levels, but not so great when you’re trying to get back into the swing of things. To support your return, make these two lists before you leave:
1. A List Of Your Current Projects
If you jot down a list of everything you currently work on, you’ll make it much easier to jump back in when you return. Bonus: if something comes up in your absence, a coworker can easily reference your work projects and jump in to help. Include:
- Your morning routine at work, along with daily tasks you do
- Every project you’re working on (and the status of each)
- Regular meetings you attend or lead
- Anything you are waiting on from other people
- Any unresolved correspondence you have with clients or customers
2. A List Of Priorities For When You Return
Before you leave for vacation, quickly sketch out what your week might look like when you return. While you’re at it, keep going, and create a list of longer-term priorities too. This will help you see the big picture when you sit at your desk on the morning of your return.
- Daily priorities, like clearing your inbox
- Weekly priorities, like training new employees
- Monthly priorities, like sales goals
- Longer-term priorities4
Schedule A Buffer Day (Or Two) To Settle Back In
While you may be tempted to stretch your travels to the very last day of your vacation, try to resist and come home 1-2 days early. If you return on a Saturday instead of a Sunday, you’ll give yourself a little buffer to get back into your routine and transition back. Here’s what you can do with that time to make going back to work a bit easier:
- Sleep off jet-lag.
- Unpack, do laundry, and put your clothes away.
- Restart your morning workout routine.
- Call your friends and reconnect so you feel grounded.5
Once You’re Back From Vacation
Welcome back. Whether you’re dreading your return or you’re excited to be back at your workplace, it can be tough to jump back in. Now that you’ve returned from your vacation, here are a few tips to make things easier on yourself come Monday morning.
Plan Something Fun To Look Forward to
Before you went on your vacation, you were probably looking forward to it for weeks (or even months). One of the hardest things about coming back is losing something to look forward to. Don’t be bummed out. Instead, plan some new things to get excited about. Here are some ideas:
- Take a long lunch with coworkers at your favorite restaurant.
- Hit up happy hour with a friend.
- Enjoy an outing to some place in your own town – a museum or a new restaurant – anything that sounds fun to you.
- Start planning your next vacation or trip.
- Even something as simple as treating yourself to ice cream after your first day back from vacation might help.6
Head In Early Your First Morning Back
When Monday morning hits, you may be tempted to hit the snooze button, rollover, and call in sick to your work placement. Try to avoid this. Going to bed early the night before and arriving to work early may help you get back into your workplace headspace.
Bonus: if you get in earlier than your coworkers, you can snag an uninterrupted hour or two to get caught up before the day gets crazy.7
Use A Smart Email Catch Up Strategy
If you tend to get a lot of emails, the sheer size of your unread inbox may feel overwhelming. Instead of starting at the beginning and reading everything chronologically, put a strategy in place. Try this:
- Sort emails by subject or sender.
- Track everything that happened with one particular client or project.
- Make a list of any action items associated with that subject.
- Repeat this for every client or project.
- Once you’ve gone through everything that needs your attention, look at your list of action items and prioritize them. Don’t feel pressured to just jump in at the first thing you see.8
Ease Your Way Back Into Work
Rather than send an office-wide email announcing that you’ve returned, ease into it if you can.
- Remove your “away” messages from your inbox and voicemail.
- Let people who need to know immediately that you are back and available. Decide if anyone else can wait a day or two.
- Prioritize who you tell, understanding that they may have a list of questions or needs from you once you tell them you’re back.9
- Spend some time on tasks that use skills that come easy to you. If writing is daunting, for example, don’t start your day trying to write that report that’s due later in the week. Do easy tasks that you are most comfortable with.
Interact With Your Coworkers
Are you friendly with your coworkers? Your first week back from vacation is a great time to get to know them better and bond with work friends. They’ll have a clear conversation starter, and you’ll likely have some fresh stories to tell about your vacation. Just don’t forget to ask your coworkers about their lives and upcoming vacations too.10
Beyond creating a fun workplace environment, bonding with your coworkers has real benefits backed up by science.
- Studies show that engaging in small talk may actually make you better at your job. Small talk may strengthen your brain’s executive functioning. That part of the brain controls skills like focus, organization, planning, and prioritization.11
- Having friends at work might dramatically improve your job satisfaction.12
- Connecting with others at work could help you present your authentic self. This allows you to present all of your ideas without fear of judgment.13
Take Plenty Of Breaks
While you may be tempted to craft an intense catch-up-on-work program, try to resist. Be kind to yourself, and be sure to take plenty of breaks this week. Here’s why it’s important to take it slow when you get back to the office:
- You may have to build your attention span and energy back up after taking time off.
- Having an easy first day back will give you the confidence you need to finish the week.
- Grabbing a coffee, going for a walk, or chatting with a friend may help relieve some of the stress that comes with returning to work.14
Cut yourself some slack, even if people around you are stressed. The whole point of your vacation was likely to relieve some stress and unplug. Try to hold on to those benefits when you bring your refreshed-self back to work. You’ll be back in the swing of things before you know it.