Let’s first start with the concept of actually taking a vacation: I’m hearing that as a collective workforce, we’re taking fewer days off. There are plenty of reasons why this trend is flat-out wrong, but I love how one of my favorite leaders succinctly explained the problem with vacation-avoidance to an entire conference: “Who here feels they are paid too much? No one? When you don’t take your vacation days, that’s what you’re telling the firm.”
One possible reason we aren’t taking vacations might be the brutal punishment of returning to work afterwards: it’s like having a taste of retirement, then waking up to realize you still have 30 more grueling years to go. While the doldrums of getting back to work can’t be entirely avoided, here are a few tried-and-true tips for making it easier to get back to the daily grind:
Before you leave, work ahead and secure a trustworthy backup resource
In a nutshell, overwork yourself the week before – schedule and host meetings ahead of time, finish projects and presentations, and tie up every possible loose end. Find a backup resource, and provide them with step-by-step instructions for handling the ‘what ifs’ (e.g., ‘what if so-and-so calls and needs this file?’ or, ‘what if the presentation we delivered a week ahead of time comes back with edit requests?’ etc.).
Make a detailed ‘first week back’ to-do list
You need a first week back to-do list for everything you can’t tie up before you leave.
This will make it easy to hit the ground running when you get back. Your existing priorities will already be laid out, and it will give you a starting point to layer in and prioritize the things that came up while you were out.
Keep your out-of-office message running while you’re back
An invaluable tip would be to keep your out-of-office message up all morning on your first day back and use the ‘space’ to plan your week. Use this time to run through emails and make your to-do list for the rest of the week. I like to use my favorite ‘Getting Things Done’ trick to help with priorities:
For each email you review, make one of three decisions:
Delete immediately: be cutthroat here; if not absolutely essential for you to ever take action on, get rid of it.
Take action immediately – can you get it done in less than 30 seconds without diverting all of your attention for the morning? If yes, take care of it so it never makes your list.
File for future action – need to call someone back or review a report, but can give it a few days? Drag it to your tasks folder with a label and timestamp, or flag it for revisiting later.
Once you’ve gone through your entire inbox, pull out the priority list you made before you left for vacation, add everything that ended up in category #3, and reprioritize your list. I like to make a full priority list for the week, and then break it down into a day-by-day plan.
Schedule some fun
Schedule some mid-week fun to give yourself something to look forward to after your week of vacation. My favorites are a mani-pedi at my favorite salon, a massage, dinner with pals, etc. It helps you to maintain a positive attitude and serves as a great reminder that it’s important to have a little fun every day!
Start a post-vacation detox plan.
Your humdrum daily routine is actually one of your best health and wellness assets. I love having a routine because it helps me to plan out healthy, nutritious meals and exercise. On vacation, my diet and exercise habits typically take a backseat in favor of indulging some of my favorite vices (wine tasting, long dinners, lazy brunches, etc.). On my flights home, I like to plan out a few days of post-vacation detox tricks (starting with a Bikram yoga class, my go-to method for sweating it out and resetting my motivation for healthy eating).