Five ways to ease the pain of returning to work after the Christmas break
It’s the first week of January and all we really feel like doing is submersing ourselves in a king-size duvet to sleep off that lingering Stilton hangover.
Instead, we are forced to roll our Quality Street-suffused bellies out of bed, dust off our shoes flaked with leftover tinsel and make it in for Another Day and indeed, Another Year, in the office.
It’s a sad and thankless task, and those two weeks of merrily guzzling Cava at all hours cannot easily be shrugged off. Nor can the ever-lingering temptation to hibernate.
But with a little bit of forethought, the return to work doesn’t have to be that painful. Here are five ways to ease the transition, from keeping your out-of-office on to creating motivational treats.
Create some breathing space
There’s no need to run around like a headless chicken on your first day back. Make things easier for yourself and everyone around you by taking it slowly. Cliché it may be, but “keep calm and carry on” really is your motto here.
First things first, make yourself a cuppa. Then carve out a little thinking space by keeping your out-of-office on for the first few hours, and turning your phone off.
This tactic is double-edged. You give yourself time to catch up on team news and emails AND you avoid those poor, panic-driven souls who are determined to inflict everyone with a sense of needless urgency and back-to-work anxiety.
Start with smaller tasks first, in order to flesh out your to-do list and build up steadily to the more challenging (and headache-inducing) duties later in the week.
“Build in some transition time. Don’t book anything for your first day in the office, allot the time,” says productivity consultant Julie Morgenstern. “And block off the time in your calendar. If it looks like you’re available, people are going to put things on your calendar. These are meetings with your to-dos.”
Tackle your emails head-on
The prospect of an overflowing inbox looms like a cloud over the post-Christmas comeback. The quicker you confront this gloomy task, the quicker you get rid of it.
Channel your inner Alicia Florrick and tackle your emails with a stern, ruthless mind-set. The likelihood is, few people will have emailed about something very important during the festive period – or if they have, they’ll chase it up.
Set yourself a realistic time limit and move swiftly through your messages, deleting as much as you can, filing where applicable and replying where needed. This could easily take hours, so avoid the temptation to dawdle or get drawn into conversations that have long since been resolved.
This is also a good time to inject some discipline into the way you tackle emails, if you don’t already have a system. Create folders, delete out old conversations, set up rules to prioritise certain senders and block out others, unsubscribe to alerts you no longer need and update your spam settings.
“The first step is to sort your messages out by sender [using the tab at the top of the messages]. You know who sends you rubbish, so you can quickly delete their messages in blocks,” says email consultant Bob Hallewell. “That breaks down your emails down into conversations. With any luck, the latest email should have the full history of the whole conversation, and you can delete the previous messages.
“An email is rarely urgent for the person who receives it, although it is often urgent for the person who sent it. Deal with those that are most important to you – or somebody important to you, such as your boss.”
Resist the temptation to chase people, or hold meetings
Just as you feel a bit sluggish or low on your first day back, so does everyone else. This is not the best time to start chasing up on outstanding projects, or to jump in with the finer details of a bold new campaign plan.
Some people won’t be back yet and among those who are, it’s best to accept that they are still playing their own games of work life catch-up.
Use the first day back to plan in future brainstorm and strategy sessions and think about what projects you may like to work on in the months ahead – but hold off putting them into action.
Chances are, there won’t be anything to do that can’t wait one more day and allowing that hold time for you and your team will give everyone some much-needed transition time.
“The tendency is to try to make up for all the meetings you miss,” says Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. “As much as possible, try to push those to the second day or the afternoon to give you a little bit of space.”
Make a change, or a challenge
New Year is a time for change, and change brings with it a renewed sense of purpose. We’re talking big dreams and broad-stroke thinking, as well as changes to your everyday routine.
Give a little boost to your first day back by planning something different or new. This could be as minor as rearranging the position of your desk or walking to work, to bigger changes like setting a challenge that will take you out of your work-based comfort zone.
Think about what scares or worries you in your work place. Is it presenting in public? Working on a particular project? What changes can you make in the New Year to become bolder and more ambitious?
“Think, what are the key priorities you should have between now and Christmas?” says Barney Jones at XLN Business Services. “What do you need to change that will make a big difference? Where have your energies been wasted in the past? Write these big ideas down in capital letters on a post-it note and stick it somewhere prominent.”
Plan an end-of-day treat
You’ve made it to the end of your first day back. Hooray! That is an achievement worthy of reward in itself. And it doesn’t need to be anything costly, or alcoholic, in nature.
Do something relaxing and indulgent, like a long bubble bath, an early meal out with friends or a minor binge date with your favourite TV show. Anything that constitutes being kind to yourself will do the trick.
Depending on your budget, you could create something bigger to look forward to and bring you through the dark few weeks of January, such as booking a city break, or planning in your holidays for the year ahead.
More than pure indulgence, this treat system will play an important part in sustaining your post-Christmas levels of motivation and productivity.
“Treating ourselves can lift our spirits, renew our energy and clear our minds, leaving us better placed to live happier lives, and able to make easier and better decisions,” says confidence coach Jessica Hylands.
“It’s a bit like putting on our own oxygen mask first. In looking after ourselves, we are more able to look after and help others.”
So relax, take it easy – and let the good times roll!
As published in Stylist Magazine on 5th January 2016