The flip side of taking a break, though, is that feeling of being overwhelmed when you return to the office. That happened to me in a big way this summer. I had a week back home between two major international trips, and — wouldn't you know it? — I got sick during that time. When I finally did get back to work, I was buried in emails and projects I was behind on. Here are the three strategies that helped me manage my stress and conquer the backlog.
Set Some Priorities
When you go back to work after a break, there's so much going on that it can be hard to know what to do first. If your mind is churning over everything on your to-do list, you might get overwhelmed and paralyze yourself into inaction. Remember that you don't have to do everything immediately. Start by identifying the top two or three things you should tackle first — where you can have the biggest impact. Once you get those done, you can worry about the next three.
Manage Your Energy
You just "refilled your tank" with some energy, so you don't want to drain it again in your first couple of days back at work! Even if you feel pressure to get caught up, take breaks. Don’t forget that the quality of the break matters much more than the quantity of time you spend taking it. Five minutes every hour and a half can do the trick (energy peaks and valleys go in 90-minute cycles). Even work you usually love can feel stressful if you're trying to slog through too much of it at once. Research shows that people who work 60-70 hours a week don’t have higher productivity. So, be mindful not to let fatigue set in because even simple tasks can take much longer to complete. Get that much-needed rest through breaks and a good night’s sleep.
Remember What Works For You
You probably already have some go-to time management or productivity strategies that consistently get results for you. But when we feel overwhelmed or stressed, our best practices can go straight out the window. Before you dive back into work, think about what has worked well for you in the past to get through hectic times. How can you put at least one or two of those practices into play now?
Keep these tips handy for the next time you return from time off. Some small steps in the right direction can make catching up a lot easier and keep that post-vacation glow going just a little longer. You'll find more tips on always being at your best in my book "Show Up. Step Up. Step Out. Leadership Through a New Lens."