How to avoid falling into a post-holiday slump at work

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Set yourself up for a (relatively) painless reentry to work after the holidays with these expert tips.

It’s the day after your holiday break. You’ve had a few days off (maybe more if you’re really lucky) and work feels like a foreign land. You can’t remember your password. You crave a mid-morning nap—and then another one after lunch. That sudden change of pace from living room to boardroom, also known as the dreaded return to the 9-to-5 after the holidays, is a slog. But it can be overcome before anyone notices you’re off your game. And the time to get ready is now.

Finish high priority to-dos

Before leaving work for the holidays, rather than reaching a middle point on multiple projects, finish the projects with the highest priority.  For the projects you don’t finish, write a recap on what you completed, what your plan is to finish, and how long it should take you to finish those projects when you come back.

If time management is a concern, have a candid conversation with your boss about what you can realistically accomplish, and what will have to wait. That way, you can reprioritize tasks together if needed.

Set a proper auto-reply message

When you’re away from usual lines of communication for an extended period, (like the holidays), it can be stressful for those who might be trying to get in contact with you. The best way for you to be professional (and have a worry-free vacation) is to set a proper (and expectation-setting) auto-reply.

A good message strikes a nice tone, informs callers (or emailers) the dates you will be unavailable, if you will be unreachable or periodically available, when they can expect to hear back from you, and a contact person to reach out to for immediate assistance in your absence.  Take it a step further and have specific coverage for individual accounts and projects.

Clear your calendar for the first day back

The first day back from holiday break can be overwhelming: there are dozens (sometimes hundreds) of emails to read and reply to, projects to resume, and coworkers to check in with. As much as you can, plan for this melee by blocking off catch-up time in your calendar.

Set expectations that you are back and available after that catch-up time. This strategy doubles as a helpful way to give you breathing room while you’re on vacation so you feel less compelled to keep up every second of the day.

Break down larger projects into actionable tasks

It’s likely that your list of post-holiday projects is pretty high level. How nice would it be if you had an actionable list of tasks to start checking off when you got back to work? That will let you segue back into work life by completing specific tasks rather than big abstract projects that your vacation brain might not be ready to handle.

Right before your return, evaluate your departure to-do list and turn it into more specific tactics (no more than 10 or you will feel overwhelmed).

This is a great exercise to do especially if you have a long flight or train or car ride back (just no planning behind the wheel, please).

Find a time management strategy that works

Do work days seem to get away from you? Do you have a hard time keeping focused on tasks? For 2018, make it a goal to use a time management method that works for you.

Find a time management or goal setting program that will fit your workflow and really make a difference in your new year.  These can range from David Allen’s Getting Things Done to Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever book and webinar.

Clean up your desk before you leave

What’s the biggest gift you can give yourself this holiday season? A clean, organized desk when you return. Seriously. After all, a clear desk leads to a clear mind and increased productivity, according to a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

But having a clear desk might give you even more than that.  You may potentially find documents or checklists that need attention.  So take the time to clear your clutter before you go and wipe your mind free of work woes at the same time. If you follow these tips, you’ll be ready to tackle anything that comes your way when you get back to business in 2018.

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