How to prepare yourself for going back to work
The most common reason I hear from people I work with as to why they don't take their annual leave or take full proper holidays from work, is that they don't want to drop everything, only to then have to prepare themselves for picking it all back up again. If you like, it's the ultimate "Sunday Night Syndrome"
And the thing about taking leave at Christmas is that most of us really NEED it. It takes us a few days to fully let go but after about day 3, we're waking up at lunchtime, we've been in our PJs since who-know's when, and we've truly embraced the break.
Then it gets to 1st January and the Sunday night gremlins start creeping back in. I know, I'm feeling them myself!
So how to you prepare yourself, gird your loins and get ready for the big return?
Here are my top 10 tips
1) Get your sleep back into your work sleep pattern - for me this usually means making sure I get up extra early a few mornings before I'm starting back so that I'm tired by my usual bedtime. I can't suddenly go to bed at 9.30 when I only got up at lunchtime
2) Focus on the positive - rather than worrying about the things you don't want to happen or the things you know you're going to struggle with, decide what these would look like in an ideal scenario and then plan for them to happen that way. If you're worried about your inbox, decide how you're going to cope with it before you open it and then go through and do the plan before you start answering any of them (spoiler alert - if your inbox is anything like mine, it will just be full of sales ads and nothing too scary at all!). If you've really enjoyed having a break and don't want things to get back to the way they were, make a plan of how you can stop that from happening. Set an alarm for the end of your work day. Set boundaries around the time or effort or perfectionism you will and won't allow in different areas and hold yourself to that plan. Better still, share your plan with someone else and have them help keep you accountable
3) Plan your first morning - part of our fear of "going back" is that we don't know what to expect and we know just how fast we were working pre-christmas. Make a plan for that first morning so you know exactly what you're going to do regardless of the contents of your inbox, slack, Teams or any other communication channel.
4) Compose your OOO and use it "Hello and Happy 2022. Like many others, this is my first week back in the office and as well as a full work diary, I also have a full inbox to go through. I want to do my inbox justice so please know I've received your email and I will respond when I get to it"
5) Hydrate as well as caffeinate - Make sure you drink lots of water as well as the tea or coffee you will need to get you through the day. Dehydration is one of the biggest causes of loss of focus and concentration so make sure you keep your water bottle topped-up
6) Delete like a demon - I have clients who turn white when I share my screen with them and they can see I have more than 4,000 unread emails in my inbox. Or, I did, before I spent a few hours over Christmas and deleted like a demon. And now I'm keeping on top of it. Do, Defer, Delegate or Delete is now applied to EVERY email in my inbox. Don't worry about going back too far, but start from your last day in the office and use it from then onwards
7) Make a date with your work bestie - have something to look forward to in your work diary for that week. Have a cuppa with them (virtually if necessary) and ease yourself back in with a good old catch-up as well as with the things on other people's urgent lists
8) Set some goals for what you would like to achieve - do more of, do less of, start doing, stop doing, try, learn etc - over the first 3 months of the year and set about making small steps towards doing so every week
9) Take regular breaks - don't jump out of the frying pan into the fire and worry about how you're going to restart your engine and then not actually take any breaks. Make sure you take 1/2 an hour away from your desk at lunchtime and that you have at least one 10 minute break in the morning and one in the afternoon. And then keep this habit up. It's good for motivation, concentration, focus and productivity
10) Plan and book your next holiday / leave - in his book Rest Alex Soojung-Kim Pang recommends that we prioritise taking our full annual leave entitlement and that we spread it out through the year, taking a good break at least once a quarter. While you may want to weight your leave towards a particular time of the year, booking in extra long weekends NOW will help you have another break to look forward to, and the more often you take better breaks, the better you will get at returning to work
Here's to a healthy, happy and balance-focussed 2022!