By Cindy Krischer Goodman
You are on your way back from vacation feeling rejuvenated, but after a few days, you feel like you need another vacation. The tsunami of work comes flooding back with a vengeance. Projects and deadlines you had sidelined now are front and center, and dirty clothes still await your attention.
Is this just the inevitable evil of vacationing from work, or is there a way to return from time off without stress?
“It is possible,” said Eric Rogell, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., business coach who calls himself The Executive Wingman. “But it’s a mindset. If you get in the mental and physical space where you are rejuvenated and ready to hit it when you return, that’s what you’re going to do.”
What you might want to know heading out the door is that taking a vacation pays off. People who take all of their vacation time have a 6.5 percent higher chance of getting a promotion or a raise than people who leave 11 or more days of paid time off on the table, according to Project: Time Off, the U.S. Travel Association’s research-driven initiative to prove the benefits of taking earned time off.
An April 2015 “Project: Time Off” survey of 1,214 adults living in U.S. households where someone receives paid time also found that 90 percent of workers believe time off helps them relax, recharge and makes them happier.
Assuring your smooth return starts before you leave. Rogell recommends getting into the mindset that work may pile up, but you will be going forward with a fresh outlook and a better state of mind. He also advises you create a “first day back” plan before you leave. “It’s easy to get sucked into emails and phone calls, but those are time and energy drains. Hold off on those and do the important things first. Stick to your plan.”
Workers cite returning to a mountain of work and the feeling that nobody else can do their job as the top reasons they leave vacation unused in a 2014 study by the U.S. Travel Association. To avoid this trap, you may need to ease up on the “do-it-all-yourself” mentality and delegate. If someone else can do it, make sure someone else is doing it.
While vacationing this summer in Napa Valley, Kathryn Orosz, a Miami insurance broker and winery investor, designated an associate to cover for her. During her 10-day vacation, she forwarded email messages that need handling to that person: “They copied me back so I could stay in the loop on how it was being handled. I had to remind myself not to answer anything, just to move the email along.”
By delegating, Orosz said she avoided a backlog of correspondence and could jump back in on transactions when she returned, without much stress: “I was just responding on the end of the continuum rather than going back in time.”
Steve Tsatas, owner of a restaurant in Boca Raton, Fla., recently left on a trip to Spain and delegated many responsibilities to his team. As a boss, counting on your team makes for a better vacation and keeps issues from requiring immediate attention your first day back, he said. “They do their job right and make yours a little easier upon your return.”
Deciding how to handle email during your time off also can make all the difference in your level of post-vacation stress.
Rogell said if you’ve created an out-of-office message for your vacation, include directions for whom to contact while you are out and keep the message on for an extra workday. An extra day gives you space to get things sorted out without new expectations piling on. “Use that day to get to the priorities you want to get done,” he said.
Even with an out-of-office message, most people check their emails, even if only sporadically. If your emails have piled up, consider making a quick scan, flagging priority messages and deleting all others. Chances are, if it’s important, someone will follow up with you.
Professional organizer Diane Hatcher said a buffer between vacation and work makes the return much easier. Some people try to maximize their vacation by returning the night before they return to work. They sit on the plane or in the car dreading the next morning and the harsh return to reality it represents. Hatcher advises against that approach. Give yourself a day to unpack, wash clothes and open mail, she said. “Sure, unpacking signifies the end of vacation,” she concedes, “but there are consequences of not emptying your suitcase right way.” An unpacked suitcase, unopened mail and unpaid bills become another thing piled up to tackle while readjusting back to work. “Get it over with, close the door, get dirty clothes into wash, clean clothes put away so you don’t have it hanging over your head,” she said. Instead, you can return to the office ready to take on the workweek.
This summer, Lilibet Shojaee gave herself an entire weekend as a buffer after returning from two weeks on vacation visiting wineries in France. The time off was a much-needed retreat, aimed at indulging her hobby after she had spent two years earning her master’s degree while working full time. Still, as marketing director for a real estate developer, Shojaee needed to stay on top of marketing materials for five residential projects in various stages. She delegated all but the most crucial decisions to team members and handled most important matters by text. However, she said it was the two-day cushion that made a difference: “I had the weekend to recap on everything so by the time Monday came, I was caught up on what I had missed. Even though I was in communication on urgent matters, I still things had to print out and go over.” While it’s never easy to return from vacation, Shojaee said that by disconnecting some and easing back into work, she has been able to hold on to her renewed outlook.
Scheduling properly can help, too. Rogell, who loves to take adventure vacations, plans something relaxing the last day of vacation and something fun to look forward to the first post-work evening. He also cautions against packing your work schedule your first day back. Be OK with giving only 70 percent, and don’t force yourself into a 10-hour day, he advises. The goal should be to hang on to that vacation recharge as long as possible.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life.