Productivity Hacks: Outsmarting the Vacation Sloth

As this June weather heats up, everyone is getting more light-hearted with summer just around the corner, and with summer typically comes the much awaited vacation time.

Whether you escape on your own to find a place to stick your toes in the sand or you head out with your entire family in tow, we all look forward to our binge diet of no email, fewer responsibilities, and much needed recuperation.

It’s strange what we put our bodies through on an annual basis. We take in long stints of stress and work, then go through the carousel of vacation hoping that will tide us over through our next stint of stress and work.

That’s at least the America I know, and for those Americans who haven’t found the oft-mentioned work-life balance, this work-vacation binge diet might be the next best thing.

If you’re heading on vacation this summer, you’re undoubtedly going to have to come back down from your relaxation high at some point. For many, those first few days (or the whole week) after returning from vacation have this drag effect that you can’t wait to snap out of.

I know that there’s no way to completely eliminate the shock from the jolt of going from work to vacation back to work, but there are some things we can do to make coming back from vacation less taxing to our minds and bodies.

We know the obvious stuff to do to prepare for vacation (like turning on our email auto-responses), but no matter how much work we get out of the way before we leave for a vacation, the day of our return always feels like a crazy mess.

Here are 6 things you can do to ease back into work and return to productivity faster after a relaxing vacation:

How to outsmart slothfulness after a vacation *Postcard icon created by Freepik from www.flaticon.com 

How to outsmart slothfulness after a vacation

*Postcard icon created by Freepik from www.flaticon.com 

1. Aim for no meetings on your first day back

Unless there is a major meeting that you just can’t miss happening on the day you get back (and maybe you planned to get back that day just because you had to make that meeting), try to have a meeting-free day when you return from vacation.

You will feel all over the place as it is and attending meetings is a sure way to amplify that feeling. After having been out of the office and out of touch for however long you were gone, you may be more of a deterrent in the meeting than a contributor.

It’s a much better use of your time to catch up on the emails and communications you missed while you were away. Bring yourself up to speed on what’s changed in the office before asking others to reiterate what they’ve likely already sent you over email.

Having no meetings on your first day back is also a good way to not feel rushed through your day spent catching up. When you’ve got meetings on your schedule, you’ll feel reluctant to start tasks that you definitely need to start for fear that you won’t finish them before the afternoon meeting begins.

2. Before you leave on your vacation, make a short list of your expectations for when you return

Make a short list of expectations

Make a short list of expectations

It typically takes me 3 full days of not checking email at all before I start forgetting what I've got going on in the office.

Then, when I come back from vacation, my inbox is flooded, and I’m too overwhelmed to even know where to start. Having a short list on my desk for when I get back of what I was working on before I left and where to pick up really helps to jump start my time back in the office. This list doesn’t need to be a detailed to-do list. It more or less needs to be a personal brief.

Don’t use cryptic acronyms that you won’t remember, but be careful to not go overboard with descriptions either. Writing down what you did the three days prior to leaving and the next steps for when you get back should suffice.

3. Check in with people around the office when you get back

This is different than scheduling meetings with people for when you get back (notice that tip 1 advises against doing that). What I mean by checking in with people is taking time to go by people’s desks or office spaces when you return just to say a quick hello.

You don’t need an agenda for saying hey, and you also don’t need to go on a long spiel about how fabulous your vacation was. Simply poke your head in, say what’s up, ask how their week was, and say you’re glad to be back.

This will build up your commitment to the team and foster a better attitude among co-workers around the office. Waltzing back in as if you haven’t been gone for the week and not engaging with anyone will make you appear cocky and out of touch.

Also, a word of warning, this is not a mission to catch up on gossip or, worse still, to engage in gossip. This is only about your relationship with the co-worker you’re saying “hey” to and building on the camaraderie that’s already been established. If asking about a co-worker’s week gets him/her to release a gossip train on you, figure out a way to get out of there.

4. Make sure to get at least 1 part of your daily routine back in order

The two things that get me the most about vacations are eating excessively and not exercising. I typically don’t pay attention to what I’m eating and pay very little mind to how much I’m eating when I’m in vacation mode. I also tend to have a glass of some type of alcoholic beverage pretty early on in the day which ruins whatever chance I thought I might have at exercising.

When I get back I always feel like a slug: slow moving and plump.

I’ve been out of my normal habits and routine, and boy do I ever notice it. One thing I always try to do when I get back is exercise, taking it a bit easier than I usually do, but returning to some sense of normality nevertheless.

We all have our routines that we fall into and being out of our routines can, at times, feel like an outer-body experience. Similarly, getting back into our routines can be a feat of sisyphean proportions.

After you get back from your vacation, don’t try to just jump right back into the routine you typically follow. Choose the one aspect of your routine to follow through on that you think will make you feel the best. Do just that one thing and know that if you tried to do all of them, you would overwhelm yourself more than benefit yourself.

Another word of warning: as I’m harping on doing “just that one thing”, make sure you do at least that one thing. To choose not to do at least one aspect of your daily routine when you get back delays your vacation-binge recovery even longer. You can make the one thing that you do your favorite part of your routine or just what you feel would best benefit you, but actually choose something and stick to it.

5. Don’t stay late at the office on your first day back

So many times you see people getting back from vacation and they stay at the office sorting out their inbox until 9pm.

Cut yourself some slack!

I’m not saying that you should leave early, necessarily, but giving your body this type of stress is just a bit twisted. You spend time trying to unwind and de-stress as you go on vacation only to come back and immediately re-stress yourself by staying late at the office?

It does sound pretty ridiculous when you think about it like that.

Don’t let the guilt of you having been gone for some time make you feel like you have to outperform everyone when you get back. You don’t.

You worked to earn some time to relax. You don’t have to make up for the time off that you earned by working late when you get home.

6. In your email auto-responder, let people schedule time with you if need be

You can always add a book now button to your email signature, but it might be helpful to link to your scheduler in your auto-response while you are out of the office. The link in your email could be to a specific type of appointment that you are only making available after you’ve been back for at least a day from your vacation.

By linking to your scheduler in your auto response, you give folks the opportunity to actually reserve a time to catch up with you if they really need to. Using a free online appointment scheduling service will allow people to see your availability and reserve an appointment slot with you so that you don’t have dozens of folks dropping by your desk on the first day you get back.


So there are your 6 tips to get you out of the Vacation Sloth mode this summer. I hope they’ll be useful for you as you plan out your time away from the office.

Do you have any vacation plans for the summer but are worried about how taking a vacation may affect your workload? If so, which of the tips above will help you ease that worry? Or, if you have tips we didn’t mention here, what do you do before you leave for vacation that helps you to get back into the swing of things when you return? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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