A slap in the face
Vacations are a wonderful and necessary part of any career, but returning from a vacation can often feel like a surprising slap in the face. Pent-up demand for your time, emergencies, crises and the simple act of getting back to work can feel so foreign after even a few days away. So, while it is important to take vacations to prevent career burnout, it is also important to put some thought into returning from vacation.
Take One Day
The best tack you can make when planning your vacation is to allow at least one day before and after your actual vacation to decompress and re-enter the real world. The day before departure can be stressful enough as you pack and make final plans. Don’t increase this stress by trying to solve every major problem before getting on the plane. This advice comes straight from experience. Before leaving on my most recent vacation to Hawai’i, I spent the last day struggling with DSL problems at one of my client’s offices. By the time I made it home that evening, I was barely able to complete my packing before falling into bed.
Allowing one day after you return from your vacation allows you to re-adjust to any time changes and get your home and life back into some order. There is laundry to do, food to buy, mail to sort and bills to pay, so give yourself at least one day to get a handle on these issues before jumping back into your work life. It is human nature to want to cram as much time into the actual vacation location as possible but by leaving yourself a day at home on either end you can keep the restful feeling from crumbling too quickly.
Most importantly, don’t let work know you are back until the day you return to work. Even if you have allowed a weekend at the end of your trip, if people know you are “in town” they might pepper you with questions and ask for decisions before you ever set foot in the office.
One sneaky way of getting back to work, without the hassles of interacting with your co-workers, is to take a few moments to check email and voicemail that might have arrived while you were away. Don’t spend your entire weekend with this, but do a scan for the most critical issues. This way, you won’t be blind-sided by potential crises the moment you walk in the door. Nothing can be more dis-heartening than returning to the office to an unforeseen crisis. Talk about a smack in the face.
Whatever you do, find some way to protect the rest and relaxation you have gathered about you on vacation. Fretting over bills and money, or worrying about personnel issues should not be your first thoughts. Your goal is to ease back into your work life, while carrying with you as much “mellow” as you can. This week, I have made a point of wearing my newly purchased Aloha shirts to client calls, as a way of sharing my vacation with my clients and reminding myself of the great time I spent in Hawai’i. Share your stories and pictures with your clients, even as you solve their problems. It will lighten your days and provide much needed, non-technology conversation while you work.
If you found something you particularly liked on your trip, locate local sources, if possible. Having a shave ice or a Loco Moco (a surfer concoction of rice, hamburger patty, brown gravy and a fried egg) while in your own hometown is a great way to recall your adventures and regain some peace of mind, even after a hard day at work. Travel should be mind-expanding and invigorating, as well as restful. What new experiences did you have? How can these experiences be used to improve your life and work? Can you bring the “Aloha Spirit” into your work life? How would it improve your career? You might be surprised just how much of your vacation life you can retain once you return to work.
Planning your return from a vacation is just as important as planning the vacation itself. Don’t let the work world drag you back into a deadening routine immediately. Use your vacation as a jumping off point to new ideas and new attitudes. The peace of mind, and the career you preserve, might just be your own.