Here are ten tips to help you get back to work after vacation or the holidays.   You can start planning a day or two before but it’s guaranteed if you keep these things in mind, your transition back to the office will be easier.

The day before returning to work

Returning to work sunrise

1. Get a good night’s sleep

While away from the office, it’s unlikely you were sticking to the usual sleep schedule. The night before you go back to work, plan on being prepared for bed at a reasonable hour.  This will help make it easier to wake up when the alarm goes off.  Remember, the alarm?  Don’t forget to set it.

2. Plan out your morning

Your usual morning routine may be a little rusty.  Give yourself some extra time (15-30 minutes) and have a few things prepared to keep you from getting distracted or stressed.

  • Lay out your clothes the night before.
  • Check your laptop bag or briefcase and ensure the things you need are packed.
  • Check your work calendar in case you have an early meeting.
  • Don’t miss the things that you enjoy the most (a cup of coffee or tea, the newspaper, a morning run).  Ensure you don’t miss the things you look forward to before heading off to work.
  • Check that you have gas in your car.   It’s very stressful to realize you have to stop for gas when you weren’t planning to.

Arriving back at work

Modern Office

3. Deactivate your out of office email message and/or voicemail

Before you get busy, update your out of office messages.  This is  overlooked by so many people.  It’s a good idea to knock this out first and check your voicemail and clear out the messages.  Sometimes people will leave their out of message activated for external callers.  I wouldn’t advise doing this but it’s a common practice for many people.  If you think it will help you catch up, consider it leaving it on an extra day depending on your job and your role.

4. Clean up your work-space 

You may have notes laying around that are no longer relevant, holiday decorations, unopened mail, the coffee cup you didn’t wash that is now growing mold, and thirst quenched plants.  Take a couple of minutes and clean up.  Open your mail, throw away old papers, clean up coffee cup (and fill it!) and set aside anything you notice requires attention to address at some point in the day.  It’s easier to focus when things around you are organized and tidy.

5. Don’t read your emails in chronological order

Do some creative sorting of your email by sender, subject, urgency, etc.  The things that happened while you were out, have already happened.  They are important but check to see what is currently happening.  There could be something urgent that needs to be tended to and if you are looking at your email starting with the oldest, you will miss the present.   Many things that happened while you were out are no longer relevant.  That doesn’t mean don’t look at the email, but be aware something that transpired over a week or two ago is likely to be taken care of.  Focus on the things that need attention and messages from your management as opposed to when something happened that you just want to be informed about.

6. Review your calendar

Check your calendar for the week to ensure you haven’t forgotten about things that were deferred until after your time off.  You may need time to prepare for a  meeting or have a project due.  As you begin to prioritize tasks for the week, incorporate anything that is on your calendar that you need to plan for.   It’s going to be stressful if you are caught off guard and no one wants to hear the excuse “I’ve been away from the office”.   If you look ahead, you will know exactly what you are walking back into and can plan accordingly.

7. Make a prioritized list of tasks

While you review everything, you are going to remember some things that were deferred until you returned and new tasks or issues will be popping up as the day or week progresses.  Make a list of tasks and prioritize.  If you don’t, you may start working on the easiest things to deal with first but they aren’t necessarily the most important.  If you make a conscious effort to prioritize your work, the chances of feeling you have everything in order will come much sooner.  It feels good to cross something off a list and that’s why we tend to work on things that aren’t necessarily the most important.  So, we can feel good and cross it off the list!  However, you will be more productive if you work on the most relevant issues that require your attention.  That may mean some less critical tasks don’t get crossed off your list right away.

8. Remove distractions

Remember you are back in the office so steer clear of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all those things that gobble up time faster than you realize.  This way, you can catch up on things that are work related and not be distracted by what’s going on in your personal world.  It really can wait until later.  If you were addicted to Candy Crush or Cut The Rope while you were away, it’s time to set that aside too.  Often, it helps to put your personal phone on do not disturb and use the phone feature that allows family or other people in your address book to ring through who you always want to receive calls from.

9. Don’t burn yourself out in the first few days back

Don’t work yourself to death and burn out the week you arrive back to work.  Take the time to break for lunch or drop into your favorite coffee shop for a break during the day.  Believe it or not, you will be more productive if you keep things in balance rather than burn yourself out.  Leave the office at your usual time and stick to the prioritized list of tasks and you’ll get caught up.  You may need to invest some time from home filtering through email and that’s fine but don’t sit in your office for the next week until late hours.  You may get caught up faster but it will be at the expense of other things.  If you burn yourself out, you will find it to be quite demotivating.

10. Schedule some catch-up time

Do you schedule time to prepare for meeting or create a presentation?  Why not schedule time to catch up on your email and return telephone calls?  Protect the time the same way you would if you were working on an important presentation.  Block the time off on your calendar and really use it to catch up or deal with impromptu issues that need tending to.


Realize that returning to work after vacation is a transition period.  Plan well and don’t take advantage of the fact that most people do accept and recognize it as a transition period.  It may take several days to get caught up but it won’t take several weeks.  People realize you have been away of from the office.  If you coming back after an extended holiday period, many people are facing the same catch up issues that you are.  Stay organized and prioritize and you’ll be back in the swing of things in no time!

Which of these tips are you going to try when returning to work after vacation or the holidays?  Do you have any tips to share that weren’t mentioned here?   Leave me a comment below!  returning to work after vacation