Going back to work can be hard. Here is how to avoid chaos and make the return to work after vacation a not so unpleasant experience.
What to do before leaving for a vacation
Most things go better with preparations. The best way to avoid chaos when returning to work after vacation is to prepare in advance.
Tell others that you will soon be leaving, and when you will be back
By telling your colleagues and customers that you will soon be leaving, you give them the chance to settle any unfinished business before it’s too late. By doing this you avoid people panicking when receiving your out-of-office message. Your colleagues will also be able to inform others about when you are back.
Lie about when you will be back in the office
Yes, that’s right. I just told you to lie to your coworkers and customers. If you are planning to return to work on a Monday, tell everyone that you will be returning on Tuesday. This way, you will have a day to get your email sorted and get on top of everything.
Inform people about who to contact when you are away
Be sure to agree on who will handle what during your vacation. State this clearly in your auto reply message and voicemail message.
What is the most important task when you get back?
When returning to work after vacation it is easy to get lost in whatever is the most burning issue and not the first important deadline. Forgetting the deadline for the upcoming conference, or the quarterly report can be the one thing that turns everything into chaos.
You can avoid this by simply adding this to your calendar on the day you will return. This simple trick can make all the difference between easing into work mode or running around like a mad man, putting out fires.
Working on your vacation
Taking a real vacation can be difficult, especially if you have your own business. We all need downtime. We all need to have periods with a distance from the hustle of work and chores. The question is how to get time off and really enjoy it.
The best way to minimize the need for work during vacation time is to prepare like I described in the start of this post. Delegate and inform.
You basically have two choices:
- Do not work at all. Leave your laptop and work phone at home.
- Check in at pre determined times.
Let me elaborate on item two: I have just finished a two-week vacation. Before leaving, I made an agreement with myself to set aside ten minutes every workday to check email and follow up if necessary.
This is my personal favorite. The reason is that I know that there are no big issues waiting for me when I return to work after vacation. My manager knows this and I find that I have no trouble getting time off even in busy periods, for the simple reason that he has no reason to worry about any potential issues.
What to do when you are back to work after vacation
Start with the oldest email
Start sorting your email, beginning with the oldest email messages. If you are using an email application with conversation view, this can be a useful function to group associated emails together. This way, you can quickly see if someone else has handled the issue in your absence.
Move all emails where you are in the cc field
If you have the honor of being in the cc field, chances are that it is not the end of the world if you do not respond to the email the first day you return to work after vacation.
Personally, I have an Outlook rule that sends all of my cc mail to a dedicated folder. I check my inbox 4-5 times per day. The cc folder I check 4-5 times per week. My colleagues know that if they want me to act on something, they have to put me in the to field. If not, it’s just another email with nice to know information.
Use the GTD two-minute rule
When working through the remaining emails, use the two-minute rule from the Getting Things Done methodology. If it takes less than two minutes to respond to the email, do it now. If it takes more time, move it to your task list.
Have a catch-up meeting with your colleagues or team
This can be a short formal meeting or a conversation over a cup of coffee. Has the inquiry from customer X been handled? What’s the status of the ongoing big project? Have you missed out on some important meeting?
If relevant, have a catch-up meeting with your manager
When you have caught up with your colleagues and are on top of your email, it’s time to have a conversation with your closest manager. Have you missed out on some important information? Have priorities shifted while you were away?
The purpose of this meeting is not only to gain information but also to show that you are back in the game and on top of the most important issues. Personally, I think this is often a missed opportunity to gain trust by showing that you are in control and eager to get back in work mode.
Enjoy your next vacation!