We all know that first day of work after a long summer break, right? Your alarm clock goes off way too early, you are ‘forced’ to wear regular office attire once again after being used to swimwear and flip flops, and instead of having your morning commute from your bed to the beach, you find yourself in a good old traffic with hundreds of other grumpy people. And then your work day hasn’t even started yet… The real challenge actually arises when you open your inbox and find hundreds and hundreds of emails to work through. Let’s get a coffee first.
How do you go about those first couple of days after your summer break?
Do you have some strategies down to help you get back into the swing of things sooner than later?
If not and you need some inspiration, here are 10 productivity tips that have you covered:
Start that first day with a short self-care routine
You may wonder how adding just another point to your to-do list for that day could actually help. And you are right, at first glance it seems counterintuitive. However, remember that productivity is not just the sum total of all the items you are doing on a daily basis, but also the way you perform those tasks. The efficiency, the progress, and whether or not you actually tick off the right things on your list, bringing you actually one step closer to your goal.
When mindlessly starting your day you are more likely to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of emails, tasks and deadlines. This might lead to reduced productivity and increased frustration as at the end of the day you will probably wonder what you have actually done all day and why, if the answer to that first question is: seemingly nothing, you still feel totally exhausted.
Starting your day with a self-care routine is always a good idea, but especially on days that promise to be extra stressful. You set yourself up for success by prepping your brain into a calm state, giving yourself space to oversee all that needs to be done and realistically setting priorities. You free yourself of the clutter hanging around in your brain and make room for pathways that will lead to your desired outcome.
Add a cheat-day
I mean, what do you do when you need some feedback from a specific person and you get an out-of-office message showing you that you need to be patient just a little way longer? You mark their return date in your agenda so that you don’t forget to follow up. But have you ever wondered what the result of that is for the person currently on leave? If anybody in need of an urgent feedback calls in the morning of their first day, they get nothing done and everybody has to wait longer for their answers.
Being on the receiving end of those requests, you can do one thing to creatively free up some time for yourself without interruptions. And that is to build in a buffer day in your out-of-office message giving the impression to be unavailable just a couple of days longer. Think about how far-reaching you want the ‘deception’ to go: will your peers know that you are actually available? Will you communicate with your team that they can come with any questions during that time? Or will only your boss be aware and the rest will be kept in the dark? This is of course all up to you, but don’t forget to not give yourself away during this extra time. Write emails but don’t send them, stay offline in your team chats, and work from home if possible.
Start on a Friday
Starting just before the weekend is not so much a direct productivity booster, but indirectly might make you feel lighter and more optimistic on the day which in turn can enhance your productivity levels. Can you imagine how nice it is to start your first day after the holiday and already know in the morning that you can have a little lay-in the next day again?
Set yourself 3 priorities for the day
We often start our first day rather random, not knowing what to expect. We dive into all kinds of communication channels (email, voicemail, slack, other chat services, etc.), play catch-up with the latest office gossip at the coffee machine, and overall dip our toe into the various issues that have been coming up during your time away. Most of all, we do everything a little but nothing really.
You could also plan even before going on your break what the highest priorities could be for the first couple of days when you return. You might even communicate this to your team / department that i.e. email will only be dealt with by the end of the week and you first of all will concentrate i.e. on slack threads.
Generally speaking, make up your mind about what has the highest priority on that day and stick to that. Don’t try to know it all and don’t even dare to think that you can reply to all the urgent messages you received. Concentrate on only three things, but do them well.
Schedule a catch-up meeting first thing in the morning
If you have someone you can trust to give you the run-down of everything important, schedule a catch-up meeting in the morning with them. Bring coffee and make sure to listen to their opinions and assumptions on what it is that actually needs your attention, and which things can wait a little longer. This way you already have some background knowledge and first idea of what it is that might await you when opening your inbox.
Bonus tip: try to schedule this meeting outside the office to underline the idea of feeling informed when starting your actual day in the office.
Clean space - clean mind
It’s an oldie but a goodie… but it really does work. If you haven’t managed to clean up your working space before going on your summer break, do it first thing in the morning when coming back. Your mind will thank you for it.
Take smaller breaks
If you ever have heard of the pomodoro technique, you already know that our brains can not concentrate on a huge chunk of input for a prolonged period of time. We need to give it little breathers in between to make sure that we can continue with the same concentration and dedication as before.
Make sure to plan in smaller breaks of around 5 minutes every 30 minutes. Get up, stretch your legs, get some new water to hydrate yourself, and then continue with whatever you were doing. Mind you, 30 minutes will be over faster than you know. So a) set a timer to not forget your time limit, and b) don’t think that you only want to work for another 5 minutes. Those 5 minutes will turn out to be 10 and then the purpose of the idea is lost and your productivity levels will go down.
Download our Intentional Work Planning Guide here to get additional information on the pomodoro technique and other productivity tools.
Plan some extra time
If you have the possibility to plan your time rather flexibly, already reserve some extra time on the evening of the first day, taking those hours from i.e. the coming Friday afternoon. You could definitely use them and when they are planned and expected, you will feel less frustrated and annoyed as well as less guilty of coming home late.
Have something to look forward to
Our brain releases dopamine when we anticipate reward, which could easily be the next holiday, something fun you will do with family or friends coming weekend or a nice dinner you want to cook when coming home. Dopamine has been called the “pleasure molecule” so naturally we want more of it. Important is that dopamine is released in anticipation of a reward, not when the reward is experienced. So when you want some extra hormonal incentive on your first day, have something planned to look forward to. And think about that, as often as you want or need.
Be kind to yourself
Last but not least… maybe even the most important one after all: be kind to yourself. Instead of judging your doings during the day, just observe, take note and do better next time.
Productivity tips aside, remember the last time you came back from an extended break? Your well deserved rest, tranquillity and feeling of being present have been shoved aside in no time at all, leaving you stressed and annoyed already on day one. If you make yourself one promise this time around, then let it be that you won’t let that happen. Take whatever advice from above that is useful to you, add things that on top of that will help, and have that one priority straight of bathing in the peaceful holiday feeling just a little while longer…