Getting back into your regular routine after a vacation without sacrificing the rest and relaxation you gained can be a challenge. Here are some thoughts on how (and why) to do it.
Photo by Sai Kiran Anagani on Unsplash
Productive re-entry after your vacation
Does this ever happen to you: You go away on vacation, have a wonderful time, and feel rested and relaxed, but then when you return home, it’s a challenge to be able to jump back into real life without succumbing to the stress of it all again?
Recently I asked The Productive Woman community Facebook group what kinds of things were on their minds, and someone commented that they wondered how to recover from vacation, and how to keep the peaceful, relaxed frame of mind once you return home. As summer winds down here in the United States, this is on a lot of people’s minds.
I’ve joked in the past that it takes me a week to prepare for vacation and a week to recover and so at times it seems like it’s not worth it. Statistics show that’s not true, though. Even if it’s a hassle to get yourself out of the workplace, the benefits make it absolutely worth the hassle.
One author said, “Overworking yourself isn’t going to make you more likely to succeed. If anything, it may make you resent your work, lower its quality, and negatively impact your happiness. Take those vacation days, get some rest, and go somewhere exciting.” So true, yet so many of us don’t take a vacation.
According to several articles I read, more than half of Americans don’t take their vacation days. “Americans left 662 million vacation days unused in 2016 alone.” This is a real loss to us, because studies show that employees who take most or all of their vacation days perform better, are more productive, and are more satisfied with their jobs, than those who don’t.
There’s a lot of research about the productivity value of getting away from work. The rest we typically get on vacation refreshes us and lifts our spirits, time in nature (common while on vacation) does the same, the novelty of new sights and experiences and locations spurs creativity, and visiting new places broadens our perspective.
One of the challenges of enjoying a vacation, though, is the finding ways to get back into regular everyday life while somehow maintaining that relaxation and refreshment that we got when we were on vacation.
Before you go
Every article I read about managing that re-entry after the vacation recommended planning ahead. For example, consider:
- Organize your workspace before you leave, so you can come back to an orderly space. This will help you slip back into the routine without feeling stressed and frazzled as soon as you walk into your workspace. Make time before you leave to tidy things up.
- Prep the people who’ll be covering for you. Prepare contact lists for people involved in matters you’re leaving behind. Show them where files or supplies are.
- Set up your out-of-office auto responder on your email (work and personal) and your phone — managing expectations while you’re out. I use templates so I don’t waste time reinventing the wheel and use tools like TextExpander to make setting the messages up simple.
I’ll be out of the office from _______ to __________. I’ll be monitoring and responding to emails to the extent I can, but I’ll be traveling or in meetings much of that time, so my normal response times might be delayed. If you urgently need to speak to me, please call me at ____________. If I’m unable to answer when you call, please leave a message at that number and I’ll return your call as soon as I can. Otherwise, I’ll respond to your email when I’m back in the office.
Hello. You’ve reached the office of Laura McClellan at ___________. I’ll be out of the office / traveling on business on ___________ (day of week), _________ (month and date), returning to the office on ___________. I will be traveling or in meetings much of that time, and will not be checking voicemail at this number, but if you urgently need to speak to me, please call me at ________. If I’m unable to answer when you call, please leave a message at that number and I’ll return your call as quickly as I can. If you need immediate assistance during business hours, you can press 0 to reach an operator, or you can call my assistant, _____, at ______, and she’ll be happy to assist you. Otherwise, please leave a message at the tone and I’ll return your call on _________________ when I am back in the office.
- Plan something fun (but not strenuous or complicated) for your first week back, such as lunch with a friend, a trip to the bookstore, etc. Having something to look forward to will ease the re-entry.
- Use one of your vacation days for the day after your return. This gives you time to rest after your travels and re-acclimate to the home environment, as well as to tend to post-vacation tasks like laundry and restocking the fridge.
- Be intentional about getting yourself ready to relax and enjoy yourself.
One writer encourages us to think ahead: “Which version of yourself are you going to take on vacation next time? Your overworked self that finds it hard to be happy on vacation or the version of you who has applied the lessons of vacation mindfulness? You want to be relaxed and happy on vacation — not stressed, worried, distracted, etc. Use vacation mindfulness to reduce the negative emotions (the baggage) that come with having a busy work and home life.”
While you’re gone
How can you make the most of your vacation and prepare yourself to transition back to “regular” life without losing the benefits of the vacation?
Manage your rest. Rest as much as you can and stay on a good sleep schedule. If you are in a different time zone, consider acclimating yourself to your home time zone a few days before you go home. This is another good reason to use a vacation day for the day after you get home.
Getting exercise can help burn off stress and boost general well-being and releases endorphins, helping you create and maintain that positive mindset. While you are on vacation, go for a run, or a swim in the hotel pool. Do something active, and continue that activity after you return.
Discipline your mind to not worry about work. One article I read encouraged us to “Stop believing that you are the only person at work who can do your job, and handle your unique responsibilities. Your employer is relying on you, but they are also relying on you to take sufficient time off to de-stress, re-energize, and return refreshed. The productivity and creativity improvements (not to mention getting a promotion) from taking a regular vacation are well-proven, so don’t fret!”
Spend a little time working? This seems counterintuitive but can minimize the pain of the return. If consciously choosing to work for just an hour will help you to not worry all day about not working, it might be a good choice. For example, last month I was gone for a few days for a writing retreat. I wasn’t working during this time, and tried to stay out of my email most of the time. Work carried on without me, though, resulting in hundreds of work emails in my inbox. The day before it was time to leave, I spent an hour triaging email — skimming my inbox, deleting things that didn’t matter, responding to a few that needed only a brief reply and then filing them, and adding some key actions to my to-do list. This reduced my inbox to a more manageable, less stressful size. This was an hour of my vacation well-spent to make things less stressful when I returned.
When you return
When you return from vacation, the first thing to consider is managing your mind. Be conscious about how you’re thinking about your return. Are you thinking about it in a negative way? Or are you thinking of it with gratitude that you have a job to return to? It’s not the circumstance that creates the emotion. It’s how we think about the circumstances. One writer said, “with regular practice you can change your frame of mind to appreciate the experiences you’ve had, rather than mourning the inevitable return to your daily life.” In other words, instead of dreading having to go back to work, we can choose to focus on the experiences we had on vacation and carry that positivity with us in our daily life.
Remember to ease the re-entry process. Don’t schedule any meetings or appointments for your first day back. Block that time out on your calendar so people won’t schedule things for you. Leave your out-of-office email responder and voicemail message up for a day or two after you return.
Consider getting to work a bit earlier on the first day than usual, so you can deal with some of the backlog before co-workers start coming by and asking you about your vacation. While it’s still quiet, survey the situation, decide what needs to get done, do a brain dump — write down everything you know needs to get done in the first few days, and then prioritize it. Have a plan in place to deal with that barrage of people asking for things and the pile of work waiting for you–get out in front of the potential overwhelm.
Remember to do something fun (that something you planned before you left, right?).
Be sure to protect your rest. One of the great things about vacations is the chance to sleep in and catch up on our rest. Protect the rest you got on vacation so you don’t use it all up your first few days home.
Bring the vacation benefits into your day-to-day life by doing things such as taking better breaks (or actually taking a break at all). Get outside if you can. A 2008 study published in Psychological Science found that subjects perform cognitively better after spending time in a calm, natural setting.
How to have a mini-vacation mindset
Build mini-vacations into your life, incorporating the indulgences, novelty, and spontenaiety that makes vacations so restorative.
A vacation mindset usually includes some indulgences such as sleeping in, desserts or treats, etc. Pick a day each week where you indulge… if your eating is disciplined all week, let yourself have dessert, or book a massage at a local day spa or hotel.
Novelty and adventure
On vacation we’re trying new things and enjoying new adventures. That novelty spurs creativity and sparks enthusiasm. You can do this in your everyday life by seeking out the different and unusual sights or experiences near where you live.
The vacation mindset also often includes spontaneity; bring some of that home. Put your workday routine on hold and take an impromptu trip. Perhaps skip Tuesday night TV and go see a movie or visit a local theater production or music venue. This spontaneity helps with our enthusiasm for life.
Cut the cords
Finally, another piece of the vacation mindset is the cord cutting and disconnecting from technology. Bring that practice home, too. Disconnect and spend less time online and more time in the here and now. Try banning tech in the evenings or on Saturday. I just had a Saturday like that. After a few busy weeks with a wedding and house guests, I left my iPhone and iPad on their chargers and just hung out with my family. It was refreshing. Getting away from our screens and being in the moment is a big part of that vacation mindset.
What do you think?
How do you make the adjustment of returning to your regular day-to-day life after a vacation? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman community Facebook group, or email me.
Resources and Links:
- “How to Shake Off Post-Travel Fatigue and Get Back to Real Life in Record Time,” by Hipmunk Staff, Tailwind
- “After Vacation: Tips to Bounce Back Fast,” by Tom Valeo, WebMD
- “How to Overcome the Post‐Vacation Blues: 10 Steps,” WikiHow
- “5 Tips For Getting Back To Work After A Vacation,” by Kathryn Dill, Forbes
- “7 Tips To Get Your Body Back After Vacation,” by Michelle Alcon, mindbodygreen
- “20 Ways to Bounce Back After Vacation,” by Perri O. Blumberg, Eat This Not That
- “4 tips to recover from vacation,” by Patricia Conte, She Knows
- “7 Ways to Avoid Post-Vacation Depression,” by Rita Anya Nara, Huffington Post
Back to work after vacation:
- “5 Tips For Getting Back To Work After A Vacation,” by Kathryn Dill, Forbes
- “Everyone Should Know These 10 Tips Before Returning To Work After Vacation,” by Rashelle Isip (guest from TPW110), Life Hack
- “11 Ways To Transition Back To Work After A Vacation,” by Carolyn Steber, Bustle
- “11 Ways To Successfully Get Back To Work After Your Vacation,” by Raven Ishak, Bustle
- “Ease the Pain of Returning to Work After Time Off,” by Alexandra Samuel, Harvard Business Review
- “Back to work blues you’re feeling are real, and treatable,” by Jen Christensen, CNN
- “How To Come Back To Work After A Vacation Without Being Miserable,” by Laura Vanderkam, Fast Company
- “10 Tips for Going Back to Work After Vacation With Minimal Stress,” by Natalia Autenrieth, TopResume
- “4 Ways Going on Vacation Increases Your Productivity,” by Jon Levy, Inc.
- “Take a Vacation to Boost Your Productivity,” adapted from Shawn Achor and Michele Gielan, Harvard Business Review
- “Are We More Productive When We Have More Time Off?,” by Jack Zenger
and Joseph Folkman, Harvard Business Review
- “Take A Vacation: It’s Good For Productivity And The Economy, According To A New Study,” by Tanya Mohn, Forbes
- “Vacation’s Impact on the Workplace,” Project: Time Off
- “4 Ways to Cultivate a Vacation Mindset in our Daily Lives,” by Via Jay Deratanys, Elephant Journal
- “5 Steps to Embrace the Vacation Mindset with Vacation Mindfulness,” Work-Life, Vacation Counts
- “Taking a Vacation Soon? Get into a Vacation Mindset and Enjoy Every Minute!,” Work-Life, Vacation Counts
- “How to Make Your Everyday Life Feel More Like Vacation,” by Kristin Wong, LifeHacker
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