Please forgive me if this post reads a little bit “rambly,” as I write it I’m coping with a wicked vacation hangover.
Tell me I’m not the only one to experience this phenomenon. You scheduled your time away, unplugged as planned, and enjoyed your time off. Then when you’re set to dive back into work, your brain is groggy and foggy. Though you’re happy to be back in the routine and feeling re-invigorated, your spirit is still operating on island (or cabin in the woods, or theme park with the family) time.
How to Cure a Vacation Hangover
Since this year has been jam-packed with travel, I’m becoming all too familiar with navigating the inevitable vacation hangover. I’ve become quite the expert, and have even begun to prepare for them. I’ve come up with a few tricks that allow me to thrive and be more productive than I would be otherwise, all while in the midst of the fog.
Step one: accept that the vacation hangover is going to invade your brain space and it’s ok.
I’ve wasted a lot of time in the past beating myself up over my post-vacation fog. I’ve felt guilty that I’m not on top of my game after taking time away. Wasn’t the point of the vacation to refresh and recharge? Why am I not firing on all cylinders right away? I’ve even worried the hangover meant that my love affair with Chicago is beginning to fade. What does it say that I’m not exclusively feeling excited to be home and am still partially dreaming about the wonderful time I had with my friends and family?
Even if jetlag isn’t at play — re-entry can be tricky. Although you love your career (and I hope you do!) getting back in the habit of waking up to an alarm clock, being accountable to that inbox, and checking things off your to-do list other than “relax” can be a jolt to the system. Instead of feeling guilty, reframe the fog as gratitude for time well spent and pause for a minute to enjoy it. Don’t waste time on guilt, instead, cherish a moment of gratitude.
Step two: take advantage of the post-vacation gifts you left for yourself.
Is there anything more freeing than setting that “out of office” email auto-reply or changing your voicemail to reflect time away from work? I always exhale so deeply when I do. Of course, returning to an avalanche of messages can be a real vacation buzzkill, but in life, we must take the good with the bad, mustn’t we?
Here’s a trick I’ve started to use to make the “bad” a bit better. It’s a gift I give myself that I know I’ll appreciate post-vacation. I always tack on an extra day when I set the “out of office” return date. I give myself time back in the office with the “out of office” reminder still active. What if we all agreed on this rule of thumb, one extra day for every week away? That sounds fair enough, doesn’t it? I spend that extra day deleting what I don’t need to read and prioritizing what I need to tackle first. On that first day back, I’m kind of invisible. By giving myself that margin in my schedule, I’m able to see what lies ahead for my first few days back in the trenches.
Step three: integrate the lessons learned and move forward on new initiatives.
Time away from the daily grind can do wonders for creativity and spark lots of new ideas. I’m sad to admit that I’ve been guilty of letting the fruits of those creative sparks wither on the vine when I return to the daily grind. Instead of cultivating them, I put them on the “someday soon” list as I immediately begin to climb my mountain of catch-up work. Happily, this is a mistake I no longer make.
Now I schedule an integration day/period when I return from every trip. I block time on my calendar to review, reflect, and set aside some follow-through time. I’ll admit that it’s a tad strange to schedule time to schedule time, but if I don’t do just that, the ideas get lost. When I block time on my calendar to acknowledge them as soon as I get back, and use that time to consider how to integrate these new initiatives into my schedule, I’m much more likely to convert the ideas to something tangible.
Step four: take a swing at a few softballs and ride the momentum.
As a perpetual maker of to-do lists, I’m a sucker for crossing items off said lists. I’ve even been know to add already-completed items to a list so I can cross them off and start out strong. Can I get an amen? List maker or not, step four seems like a logical coping mechanism for a vacation hangover. Set your sights on a few easy-to-accomplish tasks, knock them out of the park, and take advantage of the momentum to clear those cobwebs. Get back into the groove with a little busy work. After some time off, you certainly have a little to accomplish. There’s no shame in waiting a minute to tackle bigger projects that require more attention and effort — save them for when the fog has cleared.
Those first few hours back after vacation can be a slog. But with a little bit of pre-planning and some selective productivity, you’ll be back in the swing of things in no time. Once the vacation hangover has worn off, the long-lasting benefits of your time away can be reaped.