No one finds it easy to return to work after a vacation. Even executives struggle to clear their heads and reacclimate to the hustle. But though they might leave you feeling disoriented by the thought of a deliverable, let alone a meeting, vacations can actually sustain your performance at work and improve your ability to innovate.
So don’t let the dread of “going back to work” keep you from refueling. Take the vacation… but also take these steps to ensure a smooth re-entry.
Prepare and Protect Your Time
Your first day back at work starts the night before. We know…it’s hard to cut your vacation “short” by plugging back in a day early, but doing so will help you ease back in without completely undoing the relaxation you scored.
Review your calendar to remove non-critical meetings, schedule important updates, and block out free time for catch-up work. Pro tip: if you block your calendar in this way before you go on vacation, then you can skip the “night before” assessment.
The biggest shock upon returning to the office is being blindsided by the “unknowns” that accumulated in your absence. While there will certainly be things to catch up on, the more you can anticipate this and take charge of your time to absorb it all, the less intense your day will feel.
Remember: the team survived without you for the length of your vacation…certain things can wait, and it’s in your hands to set boundaries for your workload as you get back up to speed.
2. Get There Early
Not only does arriving early on your first day back allow for extra time to evaluate the day’s priorities, but it also sets a great example.
If you can channel the energy from your vacation and hit the ground running, you can fit time into your day to share your experience and make deeper connections with team members.
If the vacation was part of an office-wide closure, consider sending a “Welcome Back” email to your team first thing in the morning. Share personal anecdotes about your vacation and remind team members of top priorities.
Even if you’re not an executive and won’t be sending that email, remember that high-performing leaders strike a balance between personal and professional. Being the first person in the door after a stretch away tells your colleagues that you’re refreshed and remain committed to the team.
3. Use Your Vacation to (Re)Set Your Priorities.
As you come out of vacation, look at your calendar for the day and week ahead, but also look back at what you did before the vacation.
When you get into a grind, your focus can easily narrow down to the next deadline or quarterly goal. Oftentimes, it’s not until we pause to take a step back from work that we can really see where we stand with our personal and professional goals. Use your time away to think about the big picture, and consider how that perspective could inform the month ahead.
What’s working for you right now? What can you change? What are your key deliverables and meetings in the weeks ahead? Take time at the end of your break to review your initiatives, and set new goals based on any new perspective you may have gained of your priorities.
4. Check In with Key Players
Once you’ve done some reflection on your new or renewed goals, check in with the key people who can help you reach them.
Another lesson we can learn from top-performing executives: they schedule regular check-ins with strategic partners and team members (especially if they’ve been away). Think about whose actions and opinions hold the most weight at your org. Clients? Other team members? People outside your department?
It’s always a good idea to share your goals with your manager, but building a holistic view of initiatives within the org as they pertain to key stakeholders will set you on course for sustaining career success.
Sitting down for these meetings with key players upon your return from vacation will help you focus and acclimate faster. It’s also a great excuse to ask: what did I miss? And offer: here’s what I’ve been thinking…
Remember: despite what “hustle” culture may imply, work/life balance is important.
If your vacation felt almost too good, like you were running on a deficit of family or real “me” time before you unplugged…take note. Establishing a schedule and workload that allows for a healthy personal life begins with taking command of your time and setting boundaries.
Utilize the clear headspace you glean from time away to recenter your personal values and mind where you allocate your energy. Being career-driven is one thing, but burning out to climb a ladder that doesn’t actually serve your best interest is a lifestyle we need to stop glorifying.