Five tips tips to manage overwhelm and quickly get yourself back to productivity after vacation.
There may be a little beach sand still stuck between your toes and, even with your generous application of SPF50, your skin is a little sore from getting too much sun on your vacation.
For most small firm lawyers, feeling overwhelmed and incapable of getting everything done is a permanent state of being. However, on the Tuesday morning after a long weekend (which for many of us was preceded by a full-on holiday), work anxiety may be particularly acute.
According to workplace performance expert Jason Womack, “most of your dread doesn’t come from the work itself—it comes from how you think about the work. The psychological weight of unfinished tasks and unmade decisions is huge.”
But the short week after a Monday holiday tends to be a slow one. This gives solos a perfect opportunity to get a handle on their to-do list and to set themselves up to finish out the remainder of the year strong.
Here are 5 tips to make the most out of your first week back from vacation:
1. Quickly regain work momentum with this simple trick.
For busy solos, taking a vacation is a little like driving a freight train. Like a loaded train moving downhill at top speed, before your holiday it’s nearly impossible to get the work to stop.
How many times are you still tying up loose ends as your plane is taxiing down the runway?
But after a few days of decompressing, it can be hard to know where to get started on your first day back. Building momentum is like getting that freight train moving again.
According to time management expert Laura Vanderkam, “managing the post-vacation plunge starts before your vacation does.” Vanderkam recommends planning for your return before you leave while keeping realistic expectations about what you’ll be able to complete the first week back.
I have personally found it helpful to write down the first three things I need to do when I get into the office that first day back before I leave for vacation. Everything is top of mind the last day prior to vacation, so it’s easy to do. I literally hand write each task on a blank piece of copy paper and leave it on my keyboard so it’s the first thing I see when I get back to the office.
I try to pick tasks that can be completed quickly. Often these are the next action steps on projects I was working on right before vacation.
In the fog of the first few minutes of being in the office, I find that it helps me to quickly build up work momentum without having to think too much about what I should be doing next.
The quick win in the first hour back in the office gives me good momentum to complete all the extra work on my plate.
2. Start digging out the day before you return to the office, but be stealthy about it.
If you are travelling on your vacation, Vanderkam recommends arranging your trip so you return earlier than necessary. “If you’re going away for a week (or two!), there’s a lot to be said for returning Saturday instead of Sunday” says Vanderkam. “Not only do you get a chance to unpack, catch up on the laundry, and sleep off jet-lag, you can do a few hours of work on Sunday night.”
Personally, I like to try to clear out my email inbox as best I can the night before the first day back. I also add any new tasks to my to do list and re-prioritize.
One trick, however, is to schedule any reply emails to be sent on the afternoon of the day you return to the office.
A few Sunday night emails to certain recipients may say “I’m available for work now”, opening the door to work conversations that you may not have the mindset to get into. Postponing reply emails gives you a little buffer to get into your office and back into a work mindset before inviting any chaos from people who may have been stalking you while you were away.
3. Recommit to your routine.
Sometimes the best part of vacation is taking a break from your normal routine. For busy solos, it’s a welcome break from the grind of self-employed law practice that can give you some much-needed perspective about life and why you chose to be a solo in the first place.
But the break in routine while on vacation is also why it can be so difficult to get back to work.
In an article in About.com, social scientist and success expert Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson says that having a daily routine promotes efficiency because it removes the need to deliberate over decisions, which takes time and energy.
When you get back from vacation, it’s likely that you will have extra work to do on top of your usual tasks. By recommitting to your pre-vacation routine, it will free up time and energy for where you need it.
4. Try to incorporate what you learned during vacation into your daily routine.
Vacations provide a much needed break from the usual constraints of routine, daily chores, and deadlines. Often, time seems to expand when on vacation, so it’s normal to feel a bit deflated when you return to the daily grind.
This can be a good time to examine how your vacation routine was different from your day-to-day routine, and see what parts of your vacation routine can be incorporated into your daily routine to improve your overall life.
Some travelers realize they can use their phone less, watch television to find out information rather than kill time, or incorporate more relaxation or exercise into their lives.
Small changes like these can lead to big improvements in long term productivity, but are also helpful in the days immediately following your holiday. They can make you feel more connected to your vacation, which can minimize post vacation blues and reduce decreases in short term productivity.
5. Try to ease back into the workweek.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a 2010 study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that avoiding excessive work following vacation and getting leisure time in the evenings actually prolonged the benefits of the vacation.
Attorneys who return to their solo practices after a vacation without a plan can easily get steamrolled.
In an interview in Forbes, productivity consultant Julie Morgenstern, suggested building in some transition time to get yourself caught up.
That means trying not to schedule meetings or court dates on the first day back. If a court date is unavoidable, treat the first day back as if you are still on vacation and splurge on per diem coverage.
Not scheduling meetings or appearances on your first day back is just one piece of the puzzle. Morgenstern also recommends protecting the time you’ve set aside for catch up.
This means blocking out the date of your return on your calendar and being disciplined about treating it as if you are out of the office.
Try to also avoid slipping down the rabbit hole of incoming emails and calls. Schedule a little bit of time to handle new things that come up the first day, but concentrate on getting yourself caught up so you can be focused and organized the remainder of the week.
Finally, schedule some time for fun into your first week back from vacation. According to productivity expert and blogger Rashelle Isip, scheduling a lunch date or two with friends and being disciplined about getting yourself out of your law office at a reasonable time can make the first week back to work seem a bit less brutal.
Sometimes there’s no getting around it: the first day back to work after vacation is just going to be a little bit sad. But hopefully by following these tips, you’ll be caught up and back into your usual groove well before your tan starts to fade.