The vision of returning to the office after vacation and the reality usually have very little in common. While many of us expect to sit down at our desks after time away filled with boundless energy and restored creativity that will fuel new projects, what usually ends up happening is that we spend several scattered hours (or days) trying to process a deluge of emails and falling further behind on tasks that have built up in the interim.
“You’ve got to set yourself up, so there’s the minimum pileup while you’re gone,” says Julie Morgenstern, productivity consultant and author of Never Check Email In The Morning. “Once you invest in that process once, it becomes an automated process. ‘Every time I go away, this is my coverage bible.'”
How can you avoid the post-vacation crush and hang on to that refreshed glow?
Actively plan for your return.
When planning time away from work, most people focus on getting organized for departure. Avoid undoing all that restoration by treating your return as something that needs to be managed in advance as well.
While many of us try to maximise vacation time by coming home Sunday night, Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, suggests considering an earlier-than-last-minute return.
“Consider coming back on Saturday instead of Sunday,” says Vanderkam, emphasizing that time to unpack, pick up a few essential groceries, and get a quiet, uninterrupted jump on email can lessen the impact that the first day back in the office.
Factor in some triage.
Don’t just walk back into the office after a vacation without a plan of attack–unless you want to be steamrolled.
“The tendency is to try to make up for all the meetings you miss,” says Vanderkam. “As much as possible, try to push those to the second day or the afternoon gives you a little bit of space.”
Morgenstern suggests you protect the time you’ve set aside to get caught up the way you would a meeting or a presentation. It’s just as necessary–so treat it that way.
“Build in some transition time. Don’t book anything for your first day in the office, allow the time,” says Morgenstern. “And block off the time on your calendar. If it looks like you’re available, people are going to put things on your calendar. These are meetings with your to-dos.”
Your out-of-office response is your first line of defense–wield it to your advantage
Your out-of-office autoreply needs to be straightforward (ditch the phrase “much-needed vacation,” please), helpful, and honest–but not that honest. Vanderkam recommends leaving it up through that catch-up period; your coworkers will know you’re available, but it will help stem the tidal wave of outside inquiries or at least lower the expectation of an immediate response.
She and Morgenstern agree that an out-of-office message directed at external parties should include directions for who to contact according to contingencies. Assess who’s going to be emailing you along two or three broad categories and let them know who to reach out to instead or when they might expect a response.
Morgenstern adds that it’s ok to suggest people follow up because you just might not get to their email.
“Everybody who emails understands the volume problem and that things can get lost when someone is away. It’s not a shock to anybody—you’re just warning people: ‘It may get lost or buried, please feel free to follow up with me.'”
Feeling especially brave? Skip the days of wading through email and nuke your inbox.
The very thought of losing the contents of your inbox likely sends a chill down most spines, but some argue that a post-vacation email purge can be just the thing you need to get back on track without losing an entire day to email maintenance.
“Some people take a quick look at what’s flagged, see what’s interesting, and then delete everything,” says Vanderkam.
You should try to be indispensable–but realizing that you’re not might make you a better employee.
Vanderkam says planning for and returning from a vacation can be a good time for an adjustment of your professional outlook. We’re all striving to be the go-to team member, but believing the company actually can’t function without us can be damaging in the long run.
She describes a five-day vacation she once took where she believed WiFi would be readily available and discovered it was not. Having done all she could to prepare for time away, she realized her only option was to change her outlook on needing to be connected.
“No armies were waiting for my word to invade countries,” says Vanderkam. “I missed a few things, but I could apologize to a few people when I got back. I missed a few opportunities. There will be others.”
Learn to plan ahead, rely on your coworkers, and understand that sometimes, it’s inevitable that you’ll miss out on that last-minute request, and you’ll be that much more productive when you return.