For many of us, while we love a holiday as much as the next person, the idea of getting everything done ahead of it and then what you return to afterwards fills us with dread. It sometimes feels that you don’t actually take time off work, more that you work twice as many hours the week before and then twice as many the week after your holiday. So your refreshed and zen like state lasts less time than your tan.

You can’t magic away a week or two of work, it will always be a juggling act but I have collated some excellent organisation tips over the years to make getting away easier and coming back less painful. I hope that you find some of them useful.

Be Prepared!

Not just for scouts this is great motto for us planning time off. You probably told your boss, your clients, your team and everyone else who needed to know about your holiday months ago. Whilst it is very high up on your radar they will almost certainly have forgotten. Or be in total denial if they are anything like my old boss. Remind them! Two or three weeks before. Set expectations, discuss any projects and work that may need a timeline working around or others to get involved in your absence. Don’t for a second assume they will have thought about it, they almost certainly haven’t. Your life will be much easier if you remind them early enough that you don’t end up with a pile of stuff on your desk 24 hours before you head off.

Lie (just a little bit)

I don’t mean lie outright but depending on your work a little lie to yourself about when your holiday starts might not be a bad thing. This is easier for us self-employed types. So I’m flying out Wednesday morning at 6AM. I’m going to tell everyone I’m off on Tuesday – because there’s no way I’m going to fit a normal day of work and packing and painting my nails on Tuesday. So whilst I might decide to do some work on that spare day, I’m going to tell myself I am off and give myself a buffer to tie up any loose ends. I don’t want to be sitting in the airport bar still trying to finish off client emails.

The same for when I come back. I try and build in a day for catching up before anyone sees me pop up on Skype and starts giving me more work!

At the very least. Put your out of office on your emails and phone from lunchtime of your last day. That should stop a few of the “before you go can you just”s. And block that afternoon so it’s free of meetings so you can clear the decks properly and give yourself a fighting chance of returning to calm.

Manage your diary before you go

If you have a PA or a VA give them some guidelines to make your exit and re-entry as smooth as possible. Otherwise commit a bit of time two or three days before you go away to plan your first few weeks back. If you know you have particular work on projects to do when you get back, block in time for them now.

Accept that leaving a perfectly empty desk and task list and getting to inbox zero is never going to happen. It just isn't – life is too messy. And even if you did have nothing outstanding and a big shiny halo, it won't last until you return anyway. Getting stressed about not having 100% finished things is no way to begin a break. Work to an 80/20 rule of getting most things cleared and reevaluate whether you can delegate anything. This doesn't mean you skip out of the office Julie Andrews-like, ditching anything and everything, leave others to sort out your mess and come back to hell, this is a realistic assessment of how much you can actually accomplish before you go. If you use a To Do List or task system, start adding a "when I get back" list. Again, if it is a big chunk of work you are having to defer, look at your diary now and block time to get it done.

Don't book any meetings on your last day in the office, or your first morning back. Give yourself some desk time. Then, during your first afternoon back you will want to be catching up with your VIPs , your clients, PA/VA, boss, project leader, co-workers - anyone who needs to give you an update on things. Keep it to a snappy 15 minute call each and ideally, have them booked before you go so you just have to turn up day one and do what it says you have to in your diary.

Be kind to yourself! Returning from holiday is a hard landing, don't book yourself 3 work evenings out and 2 early starts in week one. Wean yourself back in gently.

And to get through day one and keep your sanity? Here's a quick and dirty guide to hitting the ground running

  • Make a strong coffee
  • Show off your tan to anyone who will let you before finding your desk.
  • Decide now on a ‘clock off time’ today and stick to it!
  • Change all your ‘out of office notices’
  • Open a pad and get writing.... Three columns, "diary, delegate (or ask), do"
  • Check your diary for the week ahead; quickly note any prep work needed
  • Emails. The biggie!
    • Do an initial whizz through and delete all junk and other rubbish.
    • Start at the oldest emails, where action is needed mark them (flags, categories etc). If it is an urgent action, note them separately on your pad.
    • Separate “things to read” from “things to do” if that helps you and add to your list anything that is “delegate to others”
    • As you work through, make sure that any threads are followed (organise by thread / conversation to help) in case the initial action isn’t the end action. Note any questions to follow up on later when you do your 20 minute calls (delegate / ask).
    • Make any changes to your diary.
    • Once you have made it through, start work on the most urgent first.
  • Write yourself a reminder for next time you take a break to get a Virtual Assistant to support you – they can take much of this pain away…

If you want to know more about how a super organised VA can look after your inbox while you are away, you can read about it here.

Kathy Soulsby, Personally Virtual

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