Top five tips to beat the post-vacation blues

Aaaahhh… Summer vacation. Depending on your fancy it’s time to lie on the beach with a good book, wear out your shoe soles exploring a strange city or scream your head off skydiving or in some other adrenaline-driven pursuit.

But invariably the vacation ends and you go back to work, and that transition can be a little rough.

Do you know that feeling? You come back to work happy and full of energy but by the end of the first work day, you’re already feeling tired an unhappy. It’s almost like you didn’t have a vacation at all.

So here are a five tips to help you stay happy when you get back to work.

1: While you’re away, get away

Don’t take the company mobile and laptop on vacation. Don’t check your voice mail and email.

The point of a vacation is to get away and go to a different mental space, and if you’re preoccupied with work, chances are you’ll both enjoy your vacation less and get less relaxation out of it.

2: Let yourself get behind

When you get back from your vacation, you will invariably have fallen behind and have a lot of work to catch up on. There will be a ton of voice mails, emails and tasks that need your attention. THAT’S FINE!!! It’s unavoidable and it’s not your fault.

Look at it this way: If you can leave the company for two weeks and there’s no work waiting for you, you’re not really needed there.

So don’t expect to have a clear desk on your first day back allow yourself to be behind and to catch up steadily.

3: Start with some easy tasks

When you get back to work, don’t immediately throw yourself at the toughest, hairiest most complicated tasks you have. Ease into work by doing something easy and simple something you know you can do. Once you’re back in full swing you can go at the tough tasks.

4: Don’t overwork to catch up

It can be really tempting to work long hours to catch up after your vacation. DON’T!!! Work regular hours and stick to point 2 above.

5: Ask for help if you need it

If you find it difficult to catch up, don’t be afraid to ask your co-workers or manager for help. It’s important for you to be aware of any outstanding tasks that may have become critically late in your absence, and if you could use some help it’s your responsibility to ask for it! It also greatly increases the chance that you will actually get help.

If you use these tips, you may find that your vacations feel more like vacations and that you can be even happier at work.

But on a fundamental level, there is something wrong with the idea that work drains you of energy and weekends and vacations recharge you. I know that this is how most people feel – but that’s not how it should be.

If work typically drains you of energy – if every week ends up draining you of life so you barely make it to Friday afternoon where you can finally relax – then something’s wrong. Don’t accept that state of affairs just because everyone else does.

When you’re happy at work, work can actually be a regenerative activity that leaves you with more energy so you leave the workplace with a spring in your step most days!

And THAT is the ultimate way to beat the post-vacation blues: Have a job you actually like!

Your take

Do you ever get the post-vacation blues? What do you do to beat’em? Have you also noticed that vacations these days seem to be more tiring than work (as this article says)?

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18 thoughts on “Top five tips to beat the post-vacation blues”

  1. This is why I’m a fairly lousy employee, but a great entrepreneur (in my opinion, anyway.)

    – I couldn’t imagine going away and “leaving behind” my work, not because I’m NEEDED, but because I LOVE what I do so much, and can compress things down into “15 minutes to check email… done … hit the slopes” before breakfast.

    – I couldn’t imagine coming back to a “huge pile” of work. If I’m away for 2 weeks, then I expect my team to have dealt with EVERYTHING that was time-critical. My job is to make the business better… not do the day-to-day stuff.

    – The fact that work like this means that I typically only work about 3 days / week while I’m “in the office” in any case.

    Things might be different if I wanted to grow the “next Google”, and certainly would be different if I had external shareholders to worry about – but in my world, I could take the children (3 and 6) to the park for 3 hours yesterday afternoon, for a pre-arranged “summer play date” with about a dozen others. Notably, only 2 dads there (including me), and an awful lot of mums whose husbands were “at work”.

  2. I wouldn’t take a vacation unless I was out of touch from the office. I always needed a mental vacation more than anything else. I ran to Mexico where I hoped my cell phone wouldn’t work and I couldn’t get to a computer.

    I didn’t get the post vacation blues, because I was too busy when I got back and didn’t have time to be depressed; fearful maybe, but not blue. I’m sorry, but I could never rest until I got caught up; so my first day back would always be a long one. Actually, to avoid the whole problem, I usually only took one week off at a time.

  3. I get the post vacation blues, but this isn’t a bad thing (for me). It’s always a rough transition from one lifestyle change to the next. Even if the vacation is only a four day weekend, it still gets me out of my routine. I also get the vacation blues. Work gets me so pumped up that I miss that feeling. It takes a few days to unwind.

    I’m used to these feelings, so I don’t take it too seriously. I just get back to work at my own pace and within a day or two I’m rolling right along all over again, but a little more refreshed with new ideas jumping around my brain.

  4. Alex

    A constructive and helpful piece – for those that feel they want and/or need help, which clearly not everybody does.

    I have just returned from a two week break (where I had no email or phone contact) and (more by luck than judgement) somehow followed many of the tips prescribed in the linked piece about getting the most from a holiday. I have therefore returned totally refreshed and replensihed and raring to go.

    This of course means that I am in great danger of not following this advice because I am throwing myself into catching up on the inevitable backlog, as much so that I can press on with the important things as anything. I have, again through instinct rather than conscious planning, managed to avoid the pitfall of hitting the downward spiral depicted on your graph, by simply holding over the less urgent things and not straining to get everything done. For example I still have 44 unread emails, but they are all things that I can address at my leisure.

    I would therefore quibble with your graph. I don’t think it is returning to work per se that causes the massive downward spiral you show. I think that is the result of returning to work and finding that objectives, tasks and deadlines set, have not been met. If, as Mark says, the team has done all that was expected while you have been away, there is no problem. If not this means that one effectively returns to the same issues that one had before disappearing, and that will cause an immediate reversion back to the same emotions and thus the same mental state, with the fatigue and ennui that one had before, undoing much of the benefit of the holiday.

    In the bigger scheme of things and in the context of your crusade for happiness at work, I guess that means it is important one has the right environment to work in, including people that you can trust and rely on!.

  5. Great Tips! I’ll agree that these definitely work. Staying completely disconnected from work I think if the most important point. If you do that on a regular basis outside of your normal work day however, its even EASIER to avoid those downer days whether its just after vacation or not.

  6. Yes some very good points. Just back from a break and I brought my laptop and mobile. So was it really a break?

    By the way – another way to get over the post-vacation blues – ANOTHER HOLIDAY!!

  7. Boy oh boy did I experience this recently. I was in Europe for two weeks in June-July and did not do anything work-related while away. It was such a marvelous, eye-opening experience, and I was in four countries in two weeks. Let’s just say coming home to a place with terrible public transportation, no universal health care, minimal vacation days was hard enough, but returning to a cube after two weeks of day after day in the outdoors was difficult. What did I do to beat the blues? I kept looking through my pictures from the trip over and over again, trying to relive the wonderful moments from afar. I also blogged about many of the things I learned while abroad, both for my work and personal blog, so that made me sooort of feel like I was still on vacation. But I’m not sure there’s any real cure for the post-vacay blues….who wants to go back to work after a kick-ass trip? I could have stayed in Europe for a few more months — then maybe I’d be really ready to come home. I was starting to miss ice and air conditioning.

  8. This is easier said than done for some. When you are more or less the guy that the business depends on, it is tough to get away in the first place. The work does pile up when you are gone and it can be very hard to deal with the giant pile of work that is there when you get back. I try to take smaller vacations but take more of them. However, with these gas prices, I haven’t gone anyone in months.

  9. I find that I usually need a vacation after my vacation! Trying to pack so many fun experiences into a couple of weeks is exhausting…

    I love that you mentioned asking for help. It’s something we’re not trained to do, but can benefit everyone. It helps develop team bonds and well, it’s fun to play with others! I definitely need to work on asking for help when it’s merited.

  10. When our vacation ends, there’s the depressing return to the stresses of everyday life.The longer a trip lasts, the more intense the post vacation blues may be. To prevent adding unemployment stress to your post-vacation depression, it is recommended to get back from your vacation a few days before you have to go to work again so you can shift to early riser routine. Meditation helps you to regain your concentration.

  11. It takes a long time for me to synchronise mind with work after long holidays. My job requires me to work 2-3 weeks straight and take 1 week replacement leaves afterwards. I enjoy working. It is challenging and there is tonnes to learn. However, i feel overwhelmed at times after the replacement leaves. This is especially evident whenever the project is reaching its milestones.

    It is hard to control things when you are on leave. I shared work with a collegue and the guy always do things on his own. I do not know whether it is intentional or not. But i always felt being left out of the blue whenever i am on leave. The guy is not so crazy about handover notes either.

    Any tips on how to tackle this and get me up and running when i am back to work?

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