Back in the saddle: snap back into work mode

Still dreaming of holidays?

Still dreaming of holidays? Photo: Illustration: Karl Hilzinger

Returning to work after a lazy summer holiday can be a rude, rude shock. Welcome back.

For those slipping on the suit for the first time today we've put together 10 tips to help you survive the post-holiday horrors.

Your concentration power is like an actual muscle – if you don't use it you lose it. 

1. Sort through your emails

You've got up early, popped on some work clothes and even made it to work roughly on time. Guess what, now you have to do some work too.

For many people, the first thing they will be confronted with is an overflowing inbox. But while you may have 4 million emails (or hopefully slightly less) awaiting your attention, you don't have to act on them all at once, says peak performance coach Ian Stephens.

"When people come back from leave they really find themselves getting overwhelmed quickly," says Stephens. What you need is a strategy. He suggests office workers set up three files in their email system: urgent, for tomorrow and later.

"What you do is you quickly go through all your emails that have built up and you just click and drag them into three boxes," he says.

"You haven't got 200 emails in front of you any more, you've only got about 20 you have to action."

2. Get into the right mindset

Your subconscious mind can't tell fact from fiction, says Stephens, so convince it that you're feeling productive to jump-start yourself back into being productive.

Sitting down at your desk or workspace is an "anchor" for you to be in work mode, he says.

"Think about a time when you were really productive. Make that good feeling a visualisation in your mind's eye. The important thing is to feel what it was like to feel so productive."

3. Pick a task and go, go, go

Select something that needs to be done, and set yourself a time limit, perhaps by starting the stopwatch on your mobile phone, says Stephens.

Ignore your email and screen your calls if you need to.

"Your concentration power is like an actual muscle – if you don't use it you lose it," he says.

"It actually speeds up the brain because you're snapping yourself out of holiday mode."

4. Get ambitious

New Year's resolutions are all well and good, if they work. Stephens prefers what he calls "intention setting".

"Think about your job and what you want to achieve in your career this year."

Most importantly, write it down. You'll have a record and it will help spring you into action.

5. Make your time count

Fabrice Beillard, of Australia Business Coaching, says you have two choices here.

"You can be organised and productive, or you can satisfy your ego and be busy, and usually not earning money."

Focus on the end result. What will give you the most leverage?

"Prioritise accordingly and do that first before you start your day," he says.

There's also nothing wrong with saying no occasionally. Value your time and make it count.

6. Plan a holiday

Having something exciting to look forward to can make all that hard work seem worthwhile. So why wait, says Beillard.

"Plan your next break NOW and what you need to have achieved to deserve it," he says.

7. Don't become a hermit

Psychologist Susan Nicholson, a partner with Mentors - Psychology for Business, says it also pays to keep your holiday glow going with after-work activities.

"Have some enjoyable things planned for after work mid-week - just a taste of the type of things you enjoyed on your holiday break such as a meal out, picnic, walk, or movie," she says.

8. Be ready to get cracking

Stephen Covey, the author of best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about the importance of "sharpening the saw if you want to continue to cut wood".

Nicholson says that "is precisely what a holiday break does for you".

"Now that you are back at work, trust the fact that the holiday will have done you some good, helped you to recharge, and enable you to be even more effective in your work.

"Unless you hate what you do, most people will find by mid-week that the old familiar work rhythms return, which on one hand is good because you've moved from that post holiday lethargy but on the other hand try to keep focused on achieving a healthy work/life balance."

9. Do what works

If you're still struggling with energy levels, Nicholson suggests focusing on a short-term goal or your broader goals for the coming month.

10. 'How's things?'

For small businesses, nothing can inspire like the threat of an empty wallet.

Ian Stephens says SMEs need to remember this motto: "No sales, no business, no job".

"My advice for the first two weeks you're back on deck is to really step up your sales activity. Contact your existing client base, have an email campaign."

Cash flow is particularly crucial at this time of year in particular, and Stephens says it's a great time to shake the phones.

"Just literally, touch base, 'how's things? What have you got planned for the new year?' "

A simple call could bring in plenty of extra work, putting you on a good foot to start off the new year.

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2 comments so far

  • The toughest thing about being in the southern hemisphere is that it is summer. It is the season that invites a certain relaxed pace to it - mainly because it is so darn hot. Also, here in Australia, it is only three weeks until the National Holiday Weekend, which engenders even more lethargy because we are still yearning towards that weekend. It appears the pace really picks up once the kids get back to school.
    We are currently having some work done and the tradies that we need to complete these tasks are just not available. One is still on leave for another week, and the other is snowed under - although it may be that he is just pacing himself back into the new working year.
    Good luck to all out there who have arrived back at the office with 180 emails in the inbox. Probably half are spam, or are now so old that they have resolved themselves anyway, and the others are Out of Office reminders from all those people you emailed on the last day of the working year all those days ago.

    In the home office where it never really leaves you.
    Date and time
    January 07, 2013, 4:12PM
    • thanks for the heads-up Larissa - I'm very much in holiday mode/brain strongly resisting thoughts of going back to work - so it's nice to know that once back on board, I'll probably quickly resume normal programming

      use it or lose it - I think my brain functions pretty well even on holidays, but I'll take on board the cognitive difference. I'm pretty sure I don't get 4 interruptions a minute on holidays, which is the norm at work.

      back to work
      Date and time
      January 08, 2013, 3:34PM

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