September is the time of year when our kids go back to school, schedules “normalize” and summer vacations are truly at an end. Commuter traffic picks up and everyone braces for a more rigorous life schedule. As someone who has recently returned from a lovely long vacation I can attest to the pains of “real world re-entry”; it is never as easy as we think it will be. So here are some tips and considerations to make your re-entry back into the “real” world a little easier.
E-mail. If you haven’t looked at your in-box in a few weeks this is going to be ugly. In some cases coming back from vacation means you boot up your computer, try to remember all your passwords and then…wait. Wait for it all to load. Some people try to alleviate this concern by logging in the weekend before they are back. Don’t. Spend that weekend basking in the last rays of vacation bliss, get yourself organized to head back to work by planning meals, getting things prepared and re-committing to all those things you said you would do (or would stop doing, like working late) while you were in an objective state of mind on vacation. When you do log-in, keep your out of office notice on but change it to read that you are back, but in the process of catching up, letting people know there will be a delay in your response. This will buy you some valuable time (at least until coworkers start showing up at your desk). You should also scan your e-mails from newest to oldest just in case the concerns that were raised in older e-mails were solved by your very skilled and wise staff/colleagues. You wouldn’t be the first person to send a well-thought out response to an e-mail that was a week old, only to discover 5 minutes and 4 e-mails further up the stack that your colleagues sorted things out nicely.
Calendar. If you haven’t done so already then schedule time to triage work priorities during the first day you are back. Admittedly this is easier to put in your calendar before you leave on vacation. If you have meetings first thing in the morning of your first day back check to see if you can move them out by a day so you have time to get up-to-speed, frankly you’ll be more productive if you can take that bit of time. Seldom do we have the luxury of a day, but it is important to give yourself the time you need to get back into the game. This day also allows you to get on top of your e-mail (really on top of it, like actually reading messages all the way to the end, not just the stuff in the preview window). It gives you time to sort out your calendar (meetings booked on top of meetings…because you weren’t there to accept things into your calendar and “tentative” time is still fair game for scheduling at most companies). I am aware of a few executives who actually book one extra day of “vacation” and then work from home that day “in stealth mode” to get on top of everything before going back into the office. If you are doing this, remember not to respond to any e-mails (draft them and send them the following day), or the next thing that happens is your phone rings…
Body. While on vacation your body adjusted to eating when it wanted to (and likely what it wanted to) and will not be happy with the stricter schedule of meals upon return to work. Plan for this and bring snacks, at least for the first few days. It is no fun feeling overwhelmed by everything at work AND starving at 10:30 a.m. (you know, when “vacation you” usually had pancakes or omelets after sleeping in). You will also experience a level of sleep deprivation as you adjust to your work-based schedule, which for most of us means rising significantly earlier then we would while enjoying leisure time. You will also need to give your body time to adjust to an earlier bedtime if you were going to sleep later while on vacation. In general you may feel restless and a little cheated that you have to go back to a tighter regime of sleeping and eating. Case in point a close friend of mine e-mailed me last week upon her return to work stating ”…I am confused, it’s 3:00 and there is no martini in my hand…”
Mind. As you’ve read through this blog you may have nodded your head or taken note of a few things that resonated for you, and then you actually get back to work and it all quickly goes pear shaped despite your best intentions. If this happens (or if you are expecting this to happen) ask yourself if you were planning on helping others to understand how you can best help them? No one is going to walk into a meeting at 9:00 a.m. on his or her first day back and dazzle. Yes, the ebb and flow of work is relentless and will continue and of course you HAVE to go to that meeting…but what if that meeting had taken place while you were on vacation too? Work will always be relentless; the use of 4-8 work hours to allow you to re-immerse yourself in what is happening and become fully engaged in what is being asked of you is a reasonable request because it is in everyone’s best interests. So before it all gets nuts, decide how you want to go back. What commitments did you make to change things as you lay on the beach and could fully embrace the concept that no one goes to their grave wishing they had spent more time at the office? Did you decide to work less overtime? To be home for dinner? To get out and walk at lunch? Then spend some time turning those intentions into a plan that can withstand even the most demanding work schedule, because those new commitments are really good ideas - you think more clearly when you are on vacation, you are far more objective. Do what “vacation you” tells you to do… you’ll live longer and be happier.
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I believe in giving back to others in many tangible ways. When I learn something new, or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website. You can always find my latest blog entries here, on Face Book or Linked In.