Vacation is over, you’re back to work and stressed out

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Keep your stress free vacation feeling

Feeling stressed out at work is particularly noticeable right after the holidays.

You just came back from vacation and got used to getting good sleep. You finally feel a bit human again.

For a little while, anyway.

I heard someone say the other day that they felt so relaxed and back on top of things during their holiday vacation time.

Just one day back at work erased it all.

Yikes.

Has this already happened to you?

It doesn’t take long after coming back from vacation to feel the pressure again. It’s almost immediate.

How does that happen? There are several reasons, but here’s a big one.

We put too much pressure on ourselves to get it all done when we get back from vacation.

We way overestimate how much we can really do when we get back. We come back from vacation with plenty of vim and vigor and resolve that we’re going to get on top and stay there.

This is especially true after the New Year when we’re armed with resolutions.

In the back of our heads, we know quite well that we’ll have to play catch up on the very first day. But we feel amazing so we rise to the belief that we can get it all done. We ask ourselves why we were stressing all that before we left.

It’s great to be hopeful, I certainly don’t want to crush that. Setting that expectation to get it all done, however, is asking for failure.

And at the end of day one, we already feel defeated.

Most of our vacation mojo gets away from us like a red balloon in Paris. Here are a few things to consider.

Drop the idea of complete and getting it all done.

Except for projects that have a finite completion date, accept that you will never get to zero.

Never.

Sorry, but that’s just how work is now. The Industrial Revolution is over, and there’s no longer an end of the line.

Part of conquering stress in our modern workplace is losing the idea of finishing the last widget before you go home.

 

Your inbox will never get to zero.

You may have several HUNDRED emails when you get back from vacation.

Why would you waste your valuable time and newfound energy trying to handle every single email just so you can delete 80% of them? You’re going to get several hundred more by the end of the week!

Stop playing the professional version of “Stop Hitting Yourself.” Here’s a template for you to start your first day back from vacation.

  1. Filter your email inbox by name. Address the stuff from the people important to you. I would recommend starting with your boss’ name.
  2. Then, scan the subject lines of everything else for anything that looks intriguing or that describes a specific action they need from you.
  3. Leave your email app and start your actual work.
  4. If someone calls you because you didn’t answer their email, you can use step 1 to quickly find it.
  5. Wait for your email app to flag you (probably months from now) that your box is getting full and it’s time to delete some emails, according to your IT and compliance department’s schedules.
  6. If you miss something important from someone (like the person in step 4), you can coach them on how to use more directive subject lines to get your attention right away. Just sayin’…

No one ever died because they didn’t answer all their emails.

Please don’t die on this hill on your first day back.

Trying to answer or touch every single email is the quickest way to feeling super stressed because you are letting others drive your work day with their priorities.

Your to-do list will never be 100% complete.

I would assume you didn’t go to college just so you can spend your days completing a list of tasks. I think you want to do amazing work that will make you feel purposeful and create new opportunities for you, right?

You won’t do all that today, though.

You will not find that place where you can cross your arms over your chest and raise your glass to another satisfying episode of “My Completed Day at Work.”

That’s now how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

 

David Allen’s terrific book and methodology is called “Getting Things Done,” not “Getting All Things Done Today.”

Of course, you need a to-do list, but only to track and measure the work, not as a device to deliver stress and misery to yourself and others.

No matter what productivity system you use, your to-do list should include only the items that will move you and your team forward. (Side note: paying attention to your boss’ goals will move you and your team forward; that’s why you should check her emails first. 😉)

All else is a nice-to-have.

Be brutal about how much you can really accomplish today.

Include margin for things like:

  • interruptions,
  • daydream time,
  • lunch (yes, lunch) and
  • running to the bathroom from your New Year’s resolution to drink more water.

Set some boundaries for yourself.

Just because you are awesome at a hundred things doesn’t mean you should actually try to do a hundred awesome things. And certainly not today.

Pick just a few, squint your eyes and focus, and completely crush on your small list of priorities.

Staying an extra two hours on your first day back to get caught up on stuff that doesn’t matter is the easiest way back to how crappy you felt before your vacation.

Near the end of the day, check off the things you crushed, high five yourself, and move the rest to some other time.

Then grab your coat and hat and go the heck home.

Shock and awe your family with the return of the same happy, contented person they were with on your vacation.

You simply must develop a vacation sleep discipline.

How many times did you wake up on your vacation with that amazing rested feeling? You know what I’m talking about.

It’s that feeling where your chest doesn’t feel like a baby grand piano is sitting right on top of it and your gut feels calm and relaxed. (This is my experience, anyway. I may have said too much. 😂).

You’re less irritable, maybe even happy 😲, and it seems like you can focus on a dime. You may even feel like a completely different person.

That’s a problem.

You shouldn’t feel so stressed that vacation feels more like the real you.

That’s not going to help you feel purposeful and create new opportunities for yourself.

I know I harp on exercise as the closest thing to a magic pill for mental health and stress.

But sleep may have it trumped.

  • Sleep drives all your other actions, even how motivated you are to exercise.
  • Sleep powers your cognitive and critical thinking skills.
  • Sleep allows your brain to pressure wash all the toxins away.
  • Sleep affects your physical health.

You’re an educated professional. None of this is new to you.

We all know how important sleep is, and we all say we know we need to get more of it.

Hear ye, hear ye: Sleep is the best thing you can do to stop feeling stressed out and miserable at work.

It won’t change how many emails you get or how many fires your boss drops on you to put out at the last minute.

  • It may keep you from going off on a coworker who asks you an innocent question.
  • Or feeling completely overwhelmed and defeated by 10 a.m.

To keep that sleep mojo going from your vacation, you have to develop a specific discipline for sleep.

A discipline implies that you are in training. If you’re in training you have a plan so that you can accomplish a specific feat.

It’s not unreasonable to plan your whole day around training for sleep.

LeBron James reportedly gets 10-12 hours of sleep during the regular season.

You’re no different than LeBron James. He’s just more disciplined than you in a few key areas. That’s all.

Develop a plan for how you will get good rest every day and work that plan every day.

Now what?

These are pretty tactical steps you can take today to keep some of your vacation mojo going.

You spent the past year earning valuable PTO to give yourself a much-deserved break.

It’s up to you to change some things now to help you stay rested and feel a bit more in control.

 

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2 replies
  1. Craig
    Craig says:

    Great suggestions to keep sanity in our lives after vacation. I am happy at work, we sort of work through vacation so we do t get over whelmed, you are opening my eyes to others that really do struggle

    Reply
    • Lori
      Lori says:

      Thanks, Craig! Yes, so many do struggle and I’m hoping to be able to shed a little light on that this year to help! Thanks for your comment!

      Reply

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