How to Avoid Post-Vacation Stress Once You’re Back at Work

Young female office worker

Your vacation was relaxing, but now you’re back at work and staring at a mountain of emails and work that piled up while you were away. How can you attack the chaos without undoing all the benefits of your vacation?

1. Start by organizing your work space. If you came back to papers piled up everywhere, take a few minutes to sort through it – or at least put it all in a neat stack. It’s hard to keep your blood pressure low and avoid feeling harried when there’s a visual representation right in front of how much work has piled up. Even cursorily organizing the space will help.

2. Use your out-of-office message smartly. Most people going on vacation set their out-of-office message to say something like, “I’ll be back on August 17 and will reply to you then.” But that creates pressure for you to respond to everyone the day you return. Instead, try giving yourself the buffer of an extra day or two, by using a message that says something like, “I’m currently on vacation but will reply to you by August 20” (choose a date several days after you return).

3. Don’t read your emails chronologically. Ever seen the person who comes back from vacation, starts responding to emails, and is weighing in on questions from two weeks ago that have already been answered? Don’t be that person. Sort your emails by sender or by subject, so that you can see the entire thread before you jump in – which can prevent you from spending time on things that have already been resolved or from reigniting a conversation that’s already moved on to a new issue.

4. Get clear on your priorities. You probably don’t need to process your entire backlog on your first day back. There’s no reason that you can’t spread out the backlog over a longer period of time, yet people often come back feeling like they must get caught up instantly. Instead, figure out what’s most important for you to accomplish today and this week, and what can wait. You might consider asking your team members to each send you an email summarizing (with bullet points, not lengthy narrative) the key things you need to know about while you were out, and a list of anything they’re waiting on from you, prioritized.

5. Don’t stay late. You took vacation for a reason – to unwind, disconnect from work, and refresh yourself. If you make up for the time away by working late every night once you’re back, you’re going to undo all those benefits. Vow to leave on time your first week back.

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