January 28, 2005
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As I write, I am finishing the last few days of a holiday vacation to
my home state of Ohio and learning that returning from a vacation can
be just as stressful as preparing to leave for one. Despite doing my best
to complete any necessary tasks before I left, a host of new challenges
await my return. The same will probably be true of your next vacation.
If you want to ease your re-entry into the work-a-day world after the
holiday break, here are a few guidelines to keep you on the right track.
Write it down…then forget it
It is likely that you already know many of the items that need to be addressed
when you return from a vacation. In my own personal case, I set up many
to-do items and reminders in my calendaring system before I left. These
will trigger reminders when I return, so I did not have to keep reminding
myself while I was on vacation. Even so, you are probably already thinking
of new items. Start entering these items into your to-do list system,
but then forget about them. The goal is to store them away and get back
to your vacation. Getting them off your mind will help you enjoy the remainder
of your vacation while still preparing for its end.
The first day (and week) back
Your first day back in the office, even if it is a home office like mine,
will be filled with crises and emergency work. This is normal, but it
can make that day feel very uncomfortable. You might begin to think that
going on vacation was a bad idea. Don’t let yourself be caught in
this trap. The work will always be there, whether you take a few days
off or not. The truth is, regardless of the status, position or responsibilities
of your job, everyone needs, and deserves, time off. Preparing for your
departure and your return is the way to insure that you get the rest and
relaxation you need in order to come back to work refreshed and reinvigorated.
Don’t create your own stress by assuming that you will complete
everything in the first day, or even the first week, back from vacation.
Problems have a way of stacking up while you are gone, but trying to fix
everything at once can stress you out and actually reduce your productivity.
Among all the crises, make sure you get back into your daily routine as
soon as possible. You may find that many of the so-called “emergencies”
will be cleaned up simply through your normal day-to-day work. Remember,
the priorities of others need not necessarily be your priorities. You
know what work needs to be done first, don’t let others distract
your from the “important” items merely to focus on their version
of the “urgent” ones.
(For a further discussion on the differences
between important and urgent, see Stephen Covey’s book, The
7 Habits of Highly Effective People.)
An ongoing process
Preparing for a vacation and your eventual return is an on-going process.
Instead of trying to finish up all the important tasks before you leave,
schedule your work with an eye toward an upcoming break. On this trip,
I was caught in a crunch with too much work to complete in too little
time. I knew this vacation was coming for a long time, but despite my
own advice, I did not prepare enough in advance. Sometimes this can happen
due to crises or emergencies arising immediately before you leave, but
more often it is simply because we don’t think about upcoming vacations
and events until they are right on the horizon.
The best way to manage a return to work after your vacation is to prepare
for it in advance. Having a clean desk and a clear mind can go a long
way towards making your vacation the best possible. Good vacations are
one secret to a long and healthy career. Anything you can do to make them
more enjoyable is sure to ease your mind and give you the break you really