Even in the U.S. — where we’re notoriously reluctant to take time off — many of us take at least a little time around the summer and winter holidays. I always look forward to my time off. It’s going back to work after a vacation that leaves me with regret. That’s when I get clobbered by the backlog. It usually takes less than 24 hours before I feel as if I’ve never been away.

So, I was intrigued to come across two recent articles about limiting the impact of time off — one about how to prepare before you leave and one about the first day back from vacation. The first one comes from consultant Val Wright and includes the following tips:

  • Don’t try to achieve the impossible. Only deal with what is truly time-sensitive.
  • Check for false deadlines. Often you can renegotiate a deadline to take the pressure off.
  • Be clear if you will be truly out of communication and designate who will make decisions in your absence.
  • Make your last day of work meeting-free if you possibly can.
  • Don’t just run out the door. Have an end-of-work ritual.
  • Schedule your first day back to work after the vacation before you leave.

The second article comes from The Chicago Tribune. In it, author John DiScala advises:

  • Take a day after your return before going back into work. Tidy up, run errands, and tackle your email mountain before you head back to the office.
  • Make and prioritize a to-do list for your first day back at work after the holiday. Don’t schedule any big meetings. Start with the projects you were working on before you left first, then tackle new projects.
  • Bring a souvenir from your vacation into the office.

I especially like that last point. Psychologists call that a “transitional object” — a tangible thing that helps you connect to someone or something you care about. I have a picture of Italy on the bulletin board above my desk that does me the world of good.

But I disagree with another of DiScala’s suggestions — talking to your co-workers about your vacation. In my experience, most colleagues aren’t that interested in hearing the details of your adventures. Save the stories for your friends and family.

DiScala’s last suggestion is to take breaks during your first day back. This is a great idea — but you should be taking breaks every day. There’s a whole bunch of research showing that peak performers know how to work hard and then take a break. DiScala recommends every three hours, but the research says we need breaks more often — about every 90 minutes.

The core point of both articles is one we should all be following —be good to yourself, not only during your vacation but before and afterwards. It will make you happier, and it will make you more productive.

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