1. Make a running list of your projects before you leave
Being away from the office has a way of getting you out of the daily details, and you will be glad you have a reference point when you return. I recommend making two lists. First, make a list of every project you are working on with its corresponding status. Whether you are waiting for feedback on a proposal draft, a response from a client, or a deadline for a report to become available, commit them all to paper.
Second, make a short priority list for first things you plan to tackle upon your return. Priorities at work can change fast, but starting from a list gives you a better launch point no matter what happens.
This is also a good opportunity to scrub your mile-long to-do list and finally move all those lagging tasks to a “maybe never” list. Be honest — if something has been on your agenda for six months and you have not found the time to address it, it may be time to just delete or delegate it.
2. Delegate the things that can’t wait until your return
You may be sipping Chianti in Rome this time next week, but client cases still need to be moved along, reports delivered, and deadlines met. Be sure you are clear on who is responsible for covering each urgent task, and give your co-workers an overview of the deadline, making sure that they have all the information to do the work efficiently and effectively. Also, brief your boss on who is responsible for each task so that he or she does not have to scramble to make sure all mission-critical tasks are covered.
3. Set up an out-of-the-office email and voicemail message
This task often gets overlooked until the very last minute, so don’t wait. Outlook and Gmail will allow you to pre-schedule your vacation notice days in advance, with many other email services allowing the same. Be sure to set the expectations for whether or not you will be checking messages while you are away and leave an alternate contact to call with urgent matters.
4. Ask your manager to email you the day before you return with an update
Depending on your relationship with your manager, this may or may not work for you. However, having a quick message that lists mission-critical priorities for your first day back can do wonders for your effectiveness and focus. I have found that my managers usually needed a reminder, so I would schedule an email prompt to go out automatically two business days before I would be due back.
A morning huddle with your manager for your first day back to work after vacation is a good alternative. Everyone gets busy, so I recommend getting a slot on your manager’s calendar before you leave. Even a brief meeting can give you a chance to regroup and focus on what is most urgent.
5. Clean up before you leave
This applies to both your workplace and your home. At work, file away those contracts that have been sitting in a stack on the floor, organize the memos on your desk, and put away the mail. This step does not guarantee you will come back to a clean desk, but you will have a better starting point. It is also a great way to ensure that all urgent matters have been delegated.
At home, spend an hour straightening up. I know that your brain is already on vacation mode and it’s tough to focus on everyday chores, but your post-vacation self will thank you. Be sure you take the trash out, clean out the fridge, and vacuum. Personally, I like to check my pantry and stock up on simple non-perishable snacks for that midnight jetlag-powered kitchen raid.
6. Give yourself a buffer day
If you can, try to give yourself a buffer day in between your return home and going back to work after vacation. It may seem counter-intuitive to use a vacation day for simply being at home, but strategically, it gives you the space to get back to normal with minimal pressure. The extra day can be used for catching up on laundry, grocery shopping, meal planning for the week, and napping to get over the jet lag. None of it is glamorous, but taking care of those tasks can make your reentry to work much smoother.
7. Check your work calendar
Look at your calendar the day before you are due back to work so you are not surprised by meetings that have snuck up on you. If you do discover unexpected surprises, look at them one by one to determine if you can attend them with minimal preparation. Alternatively, consider whether they can be postponed so that you can contribute in a meaningful way.
8. Clean up your desk upon return
Even if you left a pristine desk before taking off for vacation, chances are you will come back to a jumbled mess of reports, unopened mail, and Post-It notes. Take a few minutes to sort through everything, get important documents labeled for follow-up and action, and toss out reports that are no longer relevant. This will help you feel better organized as you get into the swing of things.
9. Stay in stealth mode
Sure, your boss knows you are back and so do your immediate reports. However, there is no harm in waiting to broadcast your return across the departments for a day or two. This selective stealth will give you an opportunity to catch up and get back into your normal rhythm without the added pressure.
10. Consider postponing that boot camp or liquids-only cleanse
With airplane travel, time zone changes, different foods, and different activity patterns, your body and mind are already going through significant stress. Don’t make it worse by adding challenging exercise routines or dramatic diet changes to the mix. Even if you feel that you overindulged on vacation, resist the urge to sign up for a Crossfit boot camp right away. Ease your way back with a couple of yoga classes, a swim, or a light exercise routine.
In closing, the secret to keeping your sanity upon returning from vacation is a combination of smart preparation and strategic triage. No matter how urgent the tasks and the pressure, do try to leave the office on time. After all, going on vacation does not automatically mean that you must put in extra hours as punishment! Be sure you build in time to relax and do the things you enjoy, that way the benefits of vacation stay with you longer.