From what to do before you leave to how to reset when you return, avoid a post-vacation productivity slump—and jumpstart your first week back—with these simple tips.
productivity after a vacation
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Whether you've spent a long weekend on a wine-tasting tour with your best friends, two weeks in Fiji with your partner, or a week at your grandparents' lake house with your extended family, returning from vacation can land you in a productivity slump that's hard to shake. It feels like time away should leave you relaxed and rejuvenated, but that doesn't always mean you can accomplish what you've planned—whether you're tackling the mountain of post-travel laundry or handling a full day of meetings.

But landing back in your routine without a lot of wasted time is easier when you approach it in two key ways: by preparing for your first day back before you leave and resetting your state of mind when you arrive home.

Before You Leave: Prioritize Pre-Trip Prep

Clear Your To-Do List

Tying up loose ends before you hit the road can help you feel more relaxed while you're away, but it can also leave you better prepared to handle your first day back. Ultimately, the piles of vacation laundry won't feel as overwhelming if you're not also folding sheets and towels you left in the dryer.

Specific preparations will look a little bit different for everyone: Some people want a spotless house, a zero inbox, and all their online shopping returns mailed; others want the garden weeded, the appointments made, and the voicemails returned. Checking everything off your list may make your departure day feel more hectic, but it's often worth it: "See it as giving your future self a gift," says productivity expert Grace Marshall.

Plan Your First Day Back

Writing a loose list of what you want to accomplish upon your return takes the pressure off your readjustment, but you shouldn't try to make a comprehensive—or set-in-stone—schedule. "Identify one or two top priorities for when you come back," says Marshall. "What would constitute a 'productive' first day back for you? For some, it might be easing into the week instead of trying to hit the ground running."

Maybe your focus is washing your beach towels and uploading your photos; perhaps you plan to place your grocery order and wash the dog; or maybe it's a quick check-in and recap with each of your team members. "It doesn't have to be stressful!" says Marshall.

Stay Adaptable

No matter how much thought you put into your return from vacation, it's impossible to predict exactly how it will go. Travel delays could get you home hours after you anticipated, clients may come up with new requests, or your daycare provider could get sick. "Make sure you have some margin," says Marshall. "We can't plan for everything. Leave space for the unexpected, give yourself room to be flexible, and roll with the changes. Try to be present with whatever the day presents you with, whether that's a pleasant surprise or a challenging crisis."

Give Yourself a Buffer Day

Arriving home from vacation with an extra day (or two) before you need to get back into your routine allows you to be productive at your own pace. "We always come back from vacation on a Friday rather than a Sunday, so that we have the weekend to unpack, do laundry, get groceries in, and generally acclimatize to home life," says Marshall.

Another one of her favorite techniques: "Blocking out the first day back at work, so you have some time to catch up with your team, emails, or plans, rather than having the whole day hijacked with meetings," she says. "Equally, you can set your email out-of-office to say you're returning a day after (so you have an extra day undercover to catch up before people start expecting your reply!)."

Pencil in Tasks or Appointments You Enjoy

When you're looking ahead to your return, add in a task or two you'll enjoy, like refreshing your pedicure with your best friend, hitting your best local brewery for cocktails al fresco, or catching up on the Sunday crosswords you missed. "Put something in the diary you know you'll look forward to," says Marshall, "whether that's getting back to your favorite park, gym, or coffee shop, getting your favorite breakfast in, or catching up with a friend or colleague or client."

And be sure to leave some room for mental wellness: "Prioritize a bit of reflective time to start thinking about your dreams, plans, and visions for the next season ahead—or simply take some time to yourself, if you've spent your vacation with friends and family," says Marshall.

When You Get Back: Take Time to Reset

The practical side of post-vacation productivity is handled with plans and lists, but resetting your mental state takes mindfulness and intention. "When transitioning from vacation mode to work-and-life mode, there are two major challenges: refocusing on goals associated with your daily routine and altering unproductive emotions that can naturally arise when a vacation ends," says Martin E. Ford, PhD, a motivation scholar, professor of education, and senior associate dean at George Mason University.

Often, says Dr. Ford, simply returning to your usual surroundings can trigger an emotional reset; when you wake up at home, your mind shifts back into its familiar patterns and routines (like make the coffee or feed the cat). But if the end of your trip leaves you feeling depressed, bored, and unmotivated, then—like a sluggish smartphone—you need to turn off and reset using these four steps, says Dr. Ford.

Listen to Your Body

If you're still recovering from the physical effects of your trip—whether it included hours of hiking or cocktails—and your daily routines aren't attractive, get some rest, instead. "If you arrive home from a vacation and work and life goals don't naturally kick in, don't fight it," says Dr. Ford. "Just as it often doesn't pay to fight with an uncooperative device, your best bet is to prioritize rejuvenating sleep and inactivity. Taking care of yourself physically will greatly enhance your ability to successfully make the transition psychologically."

Start Small

"Once rested, think of yourself like a device that has been turned back on," says Dr. Ford. "Are you back to normal? Test this by trying out an 'app' or two—like putting away the stuff you brought home from vacation, or doing a load of laundry, or chipping away at a few emails needing a response. Executing familiar routines often completes the mental reset—and you are good to go."

Focus on Helping Someone Else

If you still can't stay motivated, Dr. Ford suggests finding a quiet spot where you can breathe deeply, relax your body from head to toe, and think about the immediate future. "Sometimes, we get stuck in the past—for example, in vacation mode—and other times, we get stuck in the present as we ruminate about the unpleasant emotions we are feeling," he says. "Start thinking, instead, about what needs to be done moving forward. In doing so, focus on what needs to be done on behalf of others, as social purpose goals are often the most compelling thoughts when it comes to focusing attention and motivating action."

Helping your child prepare for an upcoming first day or camp, checking in on your mother who might have missed your company, or scheduling a call with the employee you mentor—to touch base about his or her goals—are good ways to implement this.

Reframe Reality

As a last resort, says Dr. Ford, motivate yourself by letting your mind wander to plans for your next vacation. "If work or life goals just aren't generating any energy, perhaps retreating to vacation mode—but in a future-oriented mindset—will help trigger positive emotions like interest and excitement," he says. "Those emotions can then displace feelings of depression or boredom, and once that happens, those emotions will naturally help you engage with your goals—especially if you think of them as necessary means to achieving your next vacation goal!"


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