How to Make Your Return to Work from a Vacation Less Stressful

A vacation or just a break from work can help you regenerate and replenish your energy levels. But many go into a vacation with mixed feelings: They are happy and look forward to a well-earned break, but they are also dreading the huge of work that will surely await them at their return. It doesn’t have to be like this, because with the right preparation you’ll be able to go on vacation stress-free.

1. Delegate tasks and leave instructions

This key to a stress- and work-free vacation is to look over all your on-going and upcoming tasks. Make three lists:

  1. Tasks you can complete before your vacation
  2. Tasks which are due during your absence
  3. Tasks you can complete after your return

Delegate the tasks in list 2, because they are the urgent ones. But it’s not enough to just give your co-worker(s) a list of tasks without any explanation. Leave detailed instructions and notes that help your substitutes understand what the tasks is about, its progress and who they can contact if they have further questions, e.g. for tasks that concern customers or external partners. You can also include them in the latest mail correspondence, so they have the whole mailing thread to consult, should they have questions.

2. Set an out of office mail

This is a given, but a great way to get things done before and after your vacation, is to keep your schedule clear the last and first day of work. Which is why you should include these two days in your out of office mail. You won’t have to answer incoming emails and can use that time to finish your tasks.

Another tip for out of office mails is to state that your emails won’t be answered or forwarded. The sender will otherwise expect a reply from you while you’re on vacation, or your co-workers have to manage your emails on top of their own workload. It’s better to tell the sender that you won’t be able to answer nor will their emails be forwarded, but they can contact your substitute in urgent cases. Most people will just wait until you return, because most issues aren’t so important and/or urgent that they can’t wait.

3. Block your first day back

Setting an out of office notice is not enough, you should also add a blocker in your calendar. This means no meetings whatsoever and no important phone calls. Your jetlag will thank you. Even if you didn’t go away on vacation, your body will still feel a “mini jetlag” because it has to get used to another sleep schedule. Blocking your day will also allow you to answer all important emails and get an overview over the status quo of your tasks and projects.

4. Prioritize tasks and plan your week

It’s tempting to go through your emails one by one, but that’s not advisable and it’s not the most efficient way. It’s better to prioritize your mails and tasks.

Sort your emails by sender and then sort the emails by importance and urgency. Answer the important and urgent emails first, then proceed with the urgent mails, and in a third step answer the important mails. Archive or delegate emails that are neither important nor urgent.

The same goes for tasks, make a list of all your tasks and prioritize them by urgency and importance. Methods such as the Pareto Principle or the Eisenhower Matrix can help you identify the most urgent and important tasks.

Now plan your week based on your prioritized task list. Make sure that you don’t fill your schedule to the brink, leave enough buffer time and break times. Start slowly and get acclimated to office life instead of overexerting yourself.

5. Leave work at work

The most important tip that will help you return to work relaxed and stress-free is to leave work at work. Do not check your emails during your vacation. If you want recharge and relax, it’s important to unplug and not think about work. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, things will still go on without you and your co-workers will take care of the most urgent issues. You also shouldn’t return earlier to get ahead of your tasks, and do not give in to the temptation to get work done the night before you return to work. 

Returning to Work after a vacation (Gif from tv show Community)

You might imagine coming back to a situation like this, but we can assure you that this won’t happen. Probably. (Source: Giphy)

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