How to Get Back Into Your Routine After a Break

By Ali Luke

March 26, 2010   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

At various times, we take breaks from the normal run of life. Sometimes, this is due to work itself (e.g. a conference) and sometimes it’s a vacation. Whatever the reason, there’s always going to be a transition period where you need to get back into your regular working routine once you come home.

Instead of getting hugely stressed trying to catch up, here’s a simple five-step process to getting back into your normal routine:

  1. Clear Urgent Tasks Before You Leave
    When you’ve got a planned break like a vacation coming up, make an effort to prepare for it. Most of us do this naturally, but it can be too easy to stick our heads in the sand and hope that everything will magically come together!

One crucial thing to do is to clear anything urgent before you go away. Obviously you’ll take care of tasks which need to be done before you go – but look ahead a bit for deadlines that occur soon after your return. You don’t want to be frantically trying to complete that big report on your first day back in the office.

Sometimes, of course, a break may be unplanned – due to illness or a family emergency, for instance. In that case, you may need to hand over or delegate any tasks with upcoming deadlines: don’t assume that you’ll necessarily be back in the office as quickly as you’re hoping.

  • Plan a Couple of Catch-Up Days
    We often think that we can go straight from vacation mode back into work mode – but it’s worth planning some transition time. Book an extra day off so that you’ve got time to get over your jetlag and catch up with your laundry. At work, don’t schedule meetings for your first day or two back in the office – treat these as “catch-up” days: you’ll need to clear that email backlog! 

If you work for yourself, this is just as crucial. You may even want to tell clients that you’re away for a bit longer than you really are … this gives you a chance to catch up on things without dealing with phone calls or sudden requests.

  • Ease Yourself Back In
    Have you ever come back from a conference or vacation and thrown yourself straight back into work, only to end up feeling exhausted? You may well have been busy – even if it’s not directly on work – during your vacation, and the switch back into your regular routine can take a toll. 

Instead of trying to be superman or superwoman, how about easing yourself back into work or life gently? Tackle some simple tasks instead of something high-powered; where you’ve got control over your own schedule, try working a half day or two at first, in order to get back into “work mode”. If your break was partly for stress-relief, there’s no sense in coming straight back to the usual busyness!

  • Make and Follow a To-Do List
    I find that after a break, it’s hard to remember exactly what I was working on or what needs to be done next. Rather than grabbing the first task which presents itself to your mind, sit down for ten – fifteen minutes and make a list of what needs to be done. This helps you prioritize, so that you don’t end up trying to cram loads into your first days back at your desk. 

A to-do list is also a good way to battle overwhelm: you won’t be worrying that you’ve forgotten about something vital, and you can focus on just completing one task then moving on to the next.

  • (Re)-Establish Good Habits
    If you’ve had a long break, it can take time to get back into your usual good habits. Perhaps you find yourself chatting too much when you should be working, or your mind wanders constantly when you’re trying to focus. Work on getting back into your good habits. 

In some cases, you may want to use your return from a break as a chance to establish some good habits. Often, a vacation or other break from work can help us to come back into our “normal” life with a fresh perspective. Is there anything which needs to change? Perhaps you want to make a real effort to finish work on time each day, or maybe you’ve realized that if your inbox can survive untended for a week, you don’t need to check emails at 8am every day.

How do you get back into your usual routine (or even a better routine!) after taking a break? What tips would you add?

Written on 3/26/2010 by Ali Hale. Ali writes a blog, Aliventures, about leading a productive and purposeful life (get the RSS feed here). As well as blogging, she writes fiction, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing. Photo Credit: jonycunha
Ali Luke

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