The First Day Back After Vacation

Vacations are wonderful, but the getting back to work can be brutal. Chances are you're tired from traveling and from having a different sleep schedule. Sometimes the anticipation of all the work it will take to catch up can be overwhelming.

Don't end a perfectly good vacation with stress over going back to work. It doesn't have to be hard. Like any other problem, take it one step at a time. What follows is a very workable, step-by-step plan to get you quickly back on track. For the best results, work the plan in the order that the steps are listed. 


Click chart to enlarge.

Click chart to enlarge.

1. Show up for work early to give yourself the time you need to get back into the flow. But don't use this time to have a cup of coffee with your buddies, telling them all about your adventures. Instead go to work in stealth mode. Get to your work station as quietly as possible, saving all the chatter until later. If someone wants to chit chat, briefly explain that you're getting caught-up. Instead, you might suggest getting together at lunch.


Stay focused. Turn off your cell phone. Shut down social media. This is not the time to catch up on the news. Be sure to stay hydrated – keep a water bottle nearby.


2. Handle emergencies first. How to tell what's important enough to handle before anything else? Your assistant or your boss met you at the door with it. For the purposes of this article, we'll assume that there are no immediate fires to put out.


3. Start a TO DO THIS WEEK list. This isn't an exhaustive list of every possible goal. It's very specific to your first week back. This is where you list those things you need to do to get yourself back into your normal schedule. You'll use this list on the next steps.


4. Check your calendar. Don't assume you remember. After time away from work, chances are you'll miss something. There's no faster way to lose that post-vacation bliss than missing a deadline. Note any tasks on your TO DO list, as needed.


5. Gather any materials you need for any immediate meetings. You might set a timer for your first appointment if it's especially busy while you're catching up.


6. Clear your work space. There's likely to be mail, notes, files, and other office items that piled up while you were gone. Take a few minutes to process these. Open envelopes, toss junk mail, file paper, and put into your in-basket any work that will need your time later.

Add new items to your TO DO list as you process through these items. Remember that you're organizing right now, not stopping to work on any specific task yet. Getting rid of this clutter helps you ensure that you haven't missed anything important in a pile.


Again… Stay focused. No showing vacation pictures. Drink some water. Really.


7. Check email. Don't spend too much time here.

Remember: reading email is not the same as being productive.

 Don't read email chronologically. Sort by sender and/or subject. Read the last of any thread first to get a view of the current status. Immediately delete or archive anything that is already done.

Add action items to your TO DO list. Only respond to items that are time sensitive.


8. Check in with staff, coworkers, and your boss. Ask about any major events or changes that happened while you were away.  Add new items to your TO DO list.


9. Prioritize the TO DO list you've created. Enter tasks on your calendar if necessary.


10. Set your email and voicemail messages back to normal. Technically this is late. However, you've just given yourself a morning to catch up. This is a good thing.


11. Meet friends for lunch. DO NOT eat alone at your desk. You wouldn't expect "going to lunch" to be a priority on this list. But it's important that you catch up on what's new at a time when it's not going to set you back. Remember, you're avoiding interruptions for personal chit-chat until the right time. Lunch is that right time.

This morning you got the overview of what happened when you were gone, where you are now, and what's coming next. After lunch it's time to get back in the game.


12. Complete any work that needs to be done today.*


 13. Next, prepare any work that needs to be completed tomorrow.*


 *I'm not talking about work that it would be nice to have done, or even work that someone else wishes you would have done. I'm talking about work that has a firm deadline. When you're overloaded with work, it's easy to get distracted by whoever is making demands the loudest. Beware. The demands that are the loudest, do not necessarily belong to the most critical task. Keep your priorities straight.


REMINDER: Focus. Drink water. Breathe.


14. Check in with your top customers to let them know you're back. Find out if there's anything they need now, and what might be coming up soon. Your clients will appreciate that they come high on your priority list on your first day back.

This step comes before anything other than the most immediate demands on your time. Taking the time to call your best customers is one of the reasons they think you're one of their best vendors!


15. Before the end of the day, set up your desk with the next task on your prioritized list. When you come in tomorrow, you'll be ready to hit the ground running.

Notice all you did today! Focus and water seem to be a good combination!


16. Finally, go home on time. Set a timer to remind you if you have to. You want to get back to your normal schedule as soon as possible. Plus, you don't want to lose all the benefit of your vacation by overdoing your first day if you don't have to.

Give yourself a break tonight. Most things will keep for another day. Relax, get some sleep, and go back to work tomorrow rested and ready. You've got this!