Return to work

How to go back to work after a break

Last night, we arrived back home at 1 am from 9 days out. We have not yet learnt our lesson on taking earlier flights so much is the urge to enjoy the time away. In our defence though, this time it was also driven by the prices of the flights. This was the most popular Sunday of the winter to return to London. As kids were asleep and Hubby B fought the virus that came with us to the mountains, I looked around and took a moment to take it all in. The return to work.

Am I really going back tomorrow? Feels like a lifetime ago.

With a sigh that is not worth reading too much into, I knew I had to be intentional about it this time. And that moment I knew what I would be writing about this week. In previous holidays, I have made rush comebacks to home and work, stomping through the first week of being a bit lost in all fields. In time, I have tested different things, but this time I want to nail it. So I took a large sip of my own advice. Here it goes, with my own self-rating of performance:

Bring back the routine

If you get my newsletter, you may remember how I struggled to keep up with habits through the Christmas holiday. But I still made it. Well, this week, I did not entirely make it. I still woke up ahead of the family for the majority of the days. Except for the last one, as I hid under the blankets in the hope of not being spotted. However, my yoga routine faded, mostly as I was doing so much sport and there was so much pain everywhere. So I did a few stretches but quickly dropped the ball on the yoga. Oh Sara, practice what you preach! Sometimes, habits need to be broken to give a true sense of holiday (or because they are physically unattainable…). So my comeback number one was to restart Monday.

How did I do?

I did my yoga and I was up and ready to go well before anyone called for me. Check!

Take time to unpack

I know it feels like an obvious one. We all need to unpack right? Well, you would be surprised to see bags lying around my floor for at least a week after returning from travelling. The thought is just too daunting. More recently I have started doing it before going to bed, straight after the airport. This time, decided 1 am was not the right time to start. There is always the outsourcing option, which I have chosen for the kids’ bag,. However, that is only possible because I packed according to that intention with the laundry clearly split from everything else. Mental note for next time.

How did I do?

As I decided to wait for kids to wake up before leaving for work, I unpacked the next early morning. This left me with a great feeling of organization before I even started my day. Hubby B was shocked. Check!

Take time to get organized

We tend to rush into our days, half a coffee in one hand, days packed with meetings and frenetically making our way to the emails that accumulated. However, none of the above is a productive return to work. Rushing is by definition irrational and leads to a less than optimal outcome. It helps greatly if you are able to leave in an organized manner. For instance, by setting up in advance what you will have to focus on or organize as soon as you get back.

How did I do?

I had left a focus list ready on my departure. Therefore, as I had my morning coffee I was ready for the team meeting and I added the few bits I may have missed from the time away. I quickly scanned through the ones that were due the first day back and it was quick to have a picture of what needed to be done this week. Note: in parallel, on my way into work I scanned through my February bullet journal list to get the same sense for the home tasks and charity. This way I set up first thing in the morning the bits I wanted to address right away. Check Check!

Don’t rush (especially into email)

I spoke about the rushing in and taking the time to get back on routine, commute in peace and start in an organized fashion. All that is a synonym for not rushing. Now, say you have not gotten organized before departing and you actually need to get organized. Don’t rush still applies, as no level of urgency will sort it out.

Email is the greatest danger alive to getting stuff done, so a couple of strategies may work.

  • Leave it as tidy as possible before leaving. Depending on your inbox management system, that may mean leaving flags on things requiring attention, using colour coding or, in my case, leave emails on my inbox.
  • Clean up on your holiday. Now, there are lots of arguments to not look at your phone during your holiday and please stay away and all that. I have found that doing a 10-15 minutes clean up of my inbox every morning or evening (or both) is key for me to enjoy my holiday, during and after. Not only do I ensure I respond to any potential things requiring immediate attention but, more importantly, I remove as much junk as I can from the inbox. Finally, it also allows me to get a sense of what is going on, how busy it is and things I may want to consider as I get organized.

When I come back, my inbox has obviously grown in size. However, many things are emails I actually want to read but nothing that is obviously urgent. This means I no longer have to rush to go through it and I can work through my priorities without anxiety.

How did I do?

My email inbox was <20 when I left and I did an email clean up most days. I tried to be disciplined about not responding to random stuff. If you do, people ignore you are on holiday and keep replying back. I did address the most pressing items. Today, I went through some emails in bulk or by conversation, such as financials and expense management and it was much quicker to get it back down to 50, from high 400 in the morning. I admit there was a first 15 minutes panic to clear out, but then I stopped and remembered – practice what you preach. Check. Note: At the charity, less check. I did not rush into them, and I did clean up while I was away, but I have not cleared them at all.

Take time to get the bigger picture

It is important to ensure you know what happened while you are away. Sometimes, you run back to your very organized to do list and incur the danger of missing something big that everyone was worried about while you were away. Some things happen out of email (weird I know). And even though they may require no action from you, you just lose the plot if you haven’t figured them out. Big decisions are made away from email traffic, including organizational changes or strategic discussions. Also, most people assume you know what was going on while you were away and that you read every line on the FT and Bloomberg feed every day. That usually is not the case for me on my holiday or even day-to-day, but it is crucial to get the picture right.

How did I do?

I took time to read through a few content emails on the markets. I skimmed through recent events and news for the week ahead. I roamed through financials and look at the calendar for myself and the team to get a sense of what was happening for everyone. It was not a perfect picture, but getting better. Almost check.

Connect with people

People, people, people. The key reason why you were probably able to be on holiday is people, especially those in your team. Take time, run a team meeting if that is what you usually do, re-connect through 1on1s and ensure you get a coffee to find out about their time (not away). If they were away, maybe try and not talk about your holidays alone. Ask away. And even if your holidays were not all the dream that you expected, don’t come back complaining. A lot of people would have been covering and sometimes doing increased hours to allow you to take a break. The least you can do is be grateful, and happy.

How did I do?

My first focus was on the team meeting. I spoke to team members and ensured the first deliverables I addressed were potential bottlenecks for the team or things I asked to be done while I was away. I am missing the coffee run, we will do that tomorrow. Check.

Am I always this structured about my return to work?

Not really. Some of this advice applies to a holiday, sick leaves, maternity leaves,. It applies to anything really that made you be away for a period where you actually wanted or had to disconnect. As simple and obvious as they are, these steps can be helpful to ensure you don’t lose the holiday feeling straight away. They also let you ease back into work in a way that works for everyone.

Did I feel amazing?

Not entirely, but I certainly did not feel overwhelmed. It was likely also one of the smoothest post-holiday Mondays I have had in a long time.

Photo by Omar Prestwich on Unsplash

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