Back on Track: How to manager Your Post-Vacation To-Do List

Some people return to hundreds of unread emails, dozens of unaccomplished tasks and the to-do list from hell. What started as an enjoyable time away from the office ends with skyrocketing stress levels and a sense of dread. While there might not be a perfect fix for taming the post-vacation to-do list, there are a few strategies you can employ to make sure your first few post-vacation workdays are manageable.

Limit Obligations.
Don’t schedule a handful of meetings for your first day back from vacation, at least not early in the day. While it may help you understand what you missed, it’s best to spend a good portion of the first day working through and planning your to-do list. If you wait to organize your work and push off responsibilities, you may find yourself even more stressed out two or three days after you’ve returned. That being said, you don’t want to overdo it your first day back.

Manage your inbox.
One of the most dreaded post-vacation tasks is going through the hundreds of emails received while away. You can quickly catch up on your overflowing inbox with the this process:

  1. Sort by subject. For multiple messages with the same subject line, delete everything but the most recent one, and then, after taking all your “passes,” read that one from the bottom up. This will likely eliminate dozens of messages in just a minute or two.
  2. Sort by sender. This will allow you to quickly delete or file the newsletters, coupons, advertising and any other mail that isn’t from an actual person.
  3. Sort by date received. Work from the oldest to the newest. This may be contrary to how you usually view your messages (newest to oldest), but when you’ve been out, think about who’s been waiting the longest for a reply.
  4. Respond. When processing what’s left, resist the urge to “skim and skip.” It’s important to deal with each message, because it won’t get any easier if you leave the message there to read again later. If there’s anything you truly can’t handle now, move it to your task list for later completion.

“The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.” I regain focus on work using a few simple steps. In order to prevent being overwhelmed after coming back, and the daunting, never-ending list, keep in mind that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. I make a ‘brain dump’ list of all the tasks and projects I intend to accomplish in the  months/year ahead and draw from it by adding three items to my general weekly list. This allows for flexibility in planning, but more importantly, it always keeps my bigger goals in focus through attention, intention, and action. I budget time for self-care each day by doing things like: meditation, exercise, going for a walk in nature, engaging in my hobbies, and more. If it’s difficult to carve out an hour to accomplish this, do two 30-minute or three 20-minute sessions. Sometimes, it’s more effective to split these activities in order to promote relaxation, restore energy, and boost creativity.

Above all, you do not want to do too much during your first days back at work. Keep in mind that there have been colleagues doing your work and that no one is truly indispensable. Charge your batteries, enter with energy, organize yourself well, prioritize and within a week you’ll be all caught up and ready to pick up from where you left off. Forget the nostalgia of being on vacation and those crystal blue waters of Ibiza. It is time to go back to real life.