Monday Mornings with Madison

Getting Back in High Gear after a Vacation

Word Count:  1,613 

Estimated Read Time:  6 min.

Everyone needs a vacation every so often.  According to countless studies, people need time to disconnect from work and allow time for “play.”  For some, play might mean just relaxing at home, reading a book and doing some gardening.  For others, play may constitute high-adrenaline sports such as snowboarding, skydiving or bungee jumping.  For the vast majority, play is all about changing scenery and exploring a new place and all that entails.  Culture; architecture; cuisine; language; history; the arts.  Whether it’s an adventurous vacation or a calm staycation, the one thing all vacations have in common – if done right — is a complete disconnect from daily grind of work.  It’s a mental break… as in breaking away from the day-to-day routine.  Even people who love what they do for a living and thoroughly enjoy their jobs need an occasional vacation.

But, from a global perspective, Americans are among the worst at taking vacation time.  They are notorious for not taking all (or sometimes even any) of their vacation time each year and for often working during vacations.  Americans vacation less than workers from most other industrialized nations of the world.  Consequently, by the time Americans do take a vacation, it is often desperately needed and long overdue.  The tough part is that once a person finally gets relaxed enough to be really enjoying their time off, it’s time to return to work.  At that point, it is hard to shift back into high gear after letting go of it all.  Some find it hard to bring their A Game after a week or two break.  But there are ways to shift back into high gear quickly and easily after returning from holiday.  Here are some tips to make the transition smoother.

Planning for the Return from Vacation

For many, returning to work after a vacation is dreaded.  Filled with boundless energy and restored creativity to fuel new projects, most employees return to work only to find themselves spending countless hours (or even days) processing a deluge of emails, voicemails and paperwork, while fielding questions from coworkers about “how was your vacation”, and falling further behind on tasks that have built up in the interim and facing looming and past-due deadlines.

Those who don’t plan ahead are faced with a mountain of work and a cartload of irate clients, coworkers and superiors.  This can be entirely avoided if as much time is spent planning for the return from vacation as is spent planning the vacation. Preparing for the return from vacation is a key factor in not only being able to fully disconnect from work knowing that things are handled and under control, but also for being able to return to work without dreading what’s ahead.

1. Be Creative when Scheduling Vacation Time.

If an employee wants to take a two-week vacation, there are ways to reduce the impact of a 10-day holiday on the rest of the company.  Instead of taking two consecutive weeks (Monday to Friday each week) take Wednesday to Tuesday each week.  This ensures the employee is at work for two days of the week in which the vacation begins and three days of the week after the vacation is over.  Thus, the employee is out for only one full “Monday-Friday” week.  If there is a holiday either at the start or end of that two week period, the time off will be even less impactful to the company.  It will also consume fewer actual vacation days while still affording a nice block of time off.

2.  Work Ahead, if Possible.

In some jobs, it is impossible to get ahead on work.  And many jobs afford little or no “slow” time to make “getting ahead” even possible.  But there are some jobs where it is possible to work in advance.  For those who have a weekly or monthly task, take time before going on vacation to get that task done in advance, even if it means working late.  This ensures there is a little more wiggle room in the post-vacation schedule to catch up on urgent tasks that surfaced during the vacation.

3. Push off Projects and Delay Deadlines BEFORE Going on Vacation

There is nothing worse for an employee than being assigned a project a day or two before starting a vacation and then returning from the vacation to be told that the project has now been pending for 2 ½ weeks.   A month before going on vacation, tell coworkers that you will be accepting new projects up until a week before the vacation in order to ensure the work gets done and there is time to wrap up loose ends before leaving.  This ensures there is a fairly clean slate before starting a vacation.  Any projects that are assigned after the vacation will start with a fresh date and will not automatically be overdue.

For long-term projects that were assigned well before the vacation, communicate to the manager or client that the deadline for the project will need to be pushed out two weeks.  Communicating that in advance will allow for a discussion of what can (and cannot) get done and by when.  This ensures that any work-in-progress doesn’t end up with an overdue deadline during or immediately after the vacation, creating automatic stress for the employee upon return to work.

4. Spend a Day Clearing out the Inbox before Returning to the Office

Even though some may balk at the idea of using a vacation day to deal with work, it can be peaceful to deal with emails before heading to the office.  Just taking the time to delete spam and junk mail, review email threads, and identify the major tasks ahead can help get one’s head back in the game, and ease back into work with less stress.  While some might resent using vacation time for work, it is certainly better to do that than to check emails periodically during a vacation (which defeats the entire purpose of disconnecting).  By checking email a day before going back into the office, it ensures that there are no surprises on the first day back at work.

5. Block out a Catch-up Day” for the First Day Back in the Office

It makes sense to build in some transition time after returning to the office to respond to emails, return calls and open mail.  Instead of scheduling meetings and a full workload for the first day back in the office, put that off a day.  A manager returning from two weeks of vacation might schedule to return to the office on a Wednesday, but not schedule any meetings, client appointments or site visits until Thursday.  This would afford a day to not only get caught up, but also to plan out pending projects and new work according to need. This prevents coworkers and employees from overloading and short-circuiting a calm, methodical approach.

6. Use the Auto-Responder Message to Control Demands

Instead of deleting the out-of-office autoreply message on the first day back, the employee can leave it up through the catch up period.  Coworkers know the employee is available but it will help stem the tidal wave of outside inquiries, or at least reduce the expectation of an immediate response.

7. Prioritize Work

This may seem like obvious advice.  After all, most everyone needs to determine which tasks need to be handled before other tasks at work.  But prioritizing work after a vacation is particularly important.  After reviewing all tasks, it is important to determine which tasks are most likely to create issues if not handled immediately after a vacation.  They may not necessarily be the hardest tasks, or the largest projects, or even the ones that usually are highest priority.  It might be tasks that usually get handled within a day or two of receipt, but sat unattended for 9 days due to the vacation.  It is important to look at the date the work was requested, the usual turnaround time for that task and how long it has been waiting to be done.  Based on that, decisions of what has the highest priority should emerge.  If planning was done before the vacation to push off deadlines, there shouldn’t be any past due or critically late projects.  (Refer back to point 3).  If no preparation was done in advance of the vacation, then it will be necessary to work on the most urgent items first and send notices to others of when they can expect pending work.

8. Set Realistic Expectations for New Requests

That brings us to the next tip.  Make sure that, immediately after a vacation, deadlines set for pending work and new work are realistic.  That means affording a bit of extra time to complete work, even work that is routine.  That’s because after a vacation, all that energy and excitement may cause a person to overpromise thanks to all those endorphins generated by the vacation.  And there is nothing worse than overpromising and under delivering after taking time off.  Employees often get a rap for being distracted and unfocused after being away.  In truth, usually it is the effort of trying to make up for lost productivity during the vacation that makes an employee look less productive after a vacation.  By controlling expectations, work can be done on time.

By following these tips, anyone can avoid the worst of the post-vacation crush and hang on to that refreshed post-vacation verve and vigor a little longer.  With just a little planning and preparation, everyone can be ready to bring their A game right after a nice vacation and take advantage of all the creative juices and productive energy that comes from taking time off.

Quote of the Week

“The breaks you take from work pay you back manifold when you return because you come back with a fresher mind and newer thinking. Some of your best ideas come when you’re on vacation.” Gautam Singhania


© 2017, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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