Another View: Five steps to recovering from vacation

Mimi Browning

Summertime means vacation. Whether you take long weekend breaks or are fortunate enough to go on an extended holiday, you know that coming back to work is daunting.

Going from an idyllic vacation to work's stark reality can be a jolt. Awaiting you are the familiar problems, hundreds of e-mails, dozens of voice mail messages, a few shocks and the bittersweet knowledge that you still have your job (in most cases). Although suntans fade, there are a number of strategies to maintain a sunny outlook as you re-enter the work world.

Build in transition time between vacation and work. The best time to return home from a long weekend is early Sunday morning, and the best time to return from a long vacation is Friday afternoon. On Sunday, you have time to tend to personal and professional chores before you hit the barbecue grill. Coming back on a Friday gives you a head start on TGIF.

If you return at midnight on Sunday, there are really only two options. The best is simply to get a good night's rest and face the morning's onslaught refreshed. Worrywarts could stay up all night answering e-mails, paying bills, washing clothes and writing overdue reports.

Ease into your first day back. It is best to be low key and unflappable on your first day back. While everyone else is running around in crisis mode, remain calm and focused. Defer major decisions until later in the week if possible.

Also, your first day back is not the time to tell your boss, 'Take this job and shove it,' nor is it the time to unmask your archenemy as a fraud. Bottom line: Keep cool, accomplish priority items and stay out of mischief.

Thank those who covered for you while you were away. Pre-vacation planning with your colleagues substantially increases the chance for a painless re-entry. By coordinating plans for your absence with peers, subordinates and bosses, you can prevent nasty surprises, project delays and thirsty plants.

A secondary benefit is that such planning builds trust and learning. Your colleagues acquire new skills and relationships. When you return, be sure to personally thank all involved in keeping you employed.

Triage e-mail. Recover from e-mail shock by starting triage quickly. High-priority e-mails are those from your supervisors, friends/family and serendipitous sources (lotto winnings, promotion offers, love notes, etc.).

Next is normal work stuff. Take care of important action items quickly and file reference items. Last, zap unimportant or outdated news, irritating messages, and anything that doesn't affect your position, pay or prestige.

Carry with you a token of fun times or exotic places. Put that beach shell, Euro coin or mini-menu from a favorite restaurant in your purse or pocket, and occasionally toggle to it as a touchstone for delightful memories ... at least for the first few days. After three days, when you have reacclimated to the work environment, you can place it where it belongs in a scrapbook or on a shelf. On the fourth day, start planning your next vacation.

Mimi Browning is a former Army senior executive who is a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton of McLean, Va. She can be reached at

About the Author

Browning is a former Army senior executives and former Booz Allen Hamilton principal who now leads Browning Consultants.

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