Post-Vacation Productivity

Summer vacations give us time to relax, recuperate and reconnect. But eventually we also have to deal with reality.

If you’ve ever sat at your desk trying to recall what it was like to spend the morning reading a novel instead of an opinion letter, here are a few ways to ease your transition back into work mode.

Before you leave

  • Jot down a to-do list sorted by priority and deadline that you can refer to when you return.
  • Communicate clear expectations about your availability while away. Some lawyers refuse to create vacation alerts, lest clients or colleagues think they’re human. Don’t fall into this trap – you won’t relax and you’ll likely annoy the people you’re on vacation with.
  • Avoid setting up appointments on your first day back. This gives you time to deal with the unexpected and to prioritize your workload.
  • Filter email newsletters, subscriptions and social media alerts to specific folders in your inbox. It will ease information overload while you’re away and when you return by ensuring that essential communication reaches you before any other type of message.

While you’re away

  • Meeting requests and solicitations for input sent via email might be best dealt with when you return or delegated to someone else with clear instructions.
  • Maintain some of your good habits. Exercise. Nutrition. Waking up early. If it makes you feel good about yourself, then stick with it. It’s easier to maintain momentum than risk staying off track if you get derailed.
  • Ask administrative staff to prepare a written summary of what you need to pay attention to during the first few days back in the office.

When you return

  • If you’ve achieved the modern miracle of not checking email for a few days, then you might feel overwhelmed by the volume of messages waiting for you. You could adopt a “read now, respond later” approach. This can be useful especially for messages that follow a conversation thread that you’ve been copied on, but have been dealt with or don’t require a response.
  • If you tend to be tired after vacation, schedule an abbreviated workday on your first day back. Some might work eight hours instead of 10. Others might recover from jet lag by working according to their natural clock until they become time-adjusted. Do the best you can, rather than aim for perfection.
  • Give yourself time to think. One of the best things about stepping away from work is the perspective we gain and the conclusions we draw. Hang on to those thoughts. Write them down if you have to. Find ways to incorporate them into your work as soon as you can.

Whatever your strategy is, the important thing is that you take time off in the first place. One long-term study found that men who don’t take vacation are 30 percent more likely to have heart attacks than those who do. And women who don’t take vacation are 50 percent more prone to depression. Both situations have a much more deleterious effect on productivity than a slow transition back into work after a well deserved break.