Back to the real world: how do you return from vacation?

By the time this posts, I will likely have landed back at the Atlanta airport, home from vacation and from the ABA annual meeting.  First, I’d like to thank Peter Vajda publicly for his posts.  Relationship is always an interesting topic, and I believe that in many ways our relationships shape and promote or inhibit professional success.  Especially since I’m a married lawyer as well as married to a lawyer, I’ve found Peter’s posts thought-provoking, and I hope others have as well.

Next, a plug for bar activities.  Most of my time at the annual meeting was engaged in business meetings, and I’ve been exposed to a variety of legal issues far outside my area of expertise — robotics and their legal issues, e-privacy issues, VOIP, so on and so forth.  And I had wonderful conversations about the future of the profession, the roles of maturing lawyers, and more.  If I’d had a realtime brain scan going, I’m sure my neurons would have been firing in neon colors!  It’s intellectually stimulating in a way that will enliven me for weeks to come.  Moreover, I met and reconnected with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, and it was a delightful time for both professional and social networking.  It’s a terrific way to spend some time, and it represents a marvelous opportunity for professional development and perhaps business development.

As I anticipate returning from my vacation, I’m thinking about what I can do to hit the ground running and maintain (at least to some degree) my relaxed state of mind.  Here are my favorite tips:

1.  Set a time to plan my “return to work” activities, and don’t anticipate that time.  I’ve found that one of the quickest vacation mood-killers is thinking and planning what I’ll do when I get back, which has the effect of accelerating my return.  I’ll spend about an hour tomorrow while I’m waiting to board my flight setting my “to do” list, but aside from that (and writing this post) I won’t do any work until I return to the office Monday morning.

2.  Plan a “vacation recall” signal.  Have you ever felt that the relaxation from vacation fades all too quickly?  I discovered that choosing something that reminds me of a pleasant time on vacation lets me hit a reset button and recall that pleasure.  I’ve set up a screensaver that will show some of my vacation photos, selected specifically to bring me back to a dusky moment, just past sunset, watching the last ray of the sun slip away from the California coast.  Bingo — I see it, and I’m there.  (The photo at the top of this post is one example.)

3.  Arrange my first few days back so I hit the most important, hardest tasks first.  This is a practice I follow on a regular basis, but I find it even more important when returning from vacation.  This lets me reap the full benefit of my energy on being back in the office, and I get quick rewards.

4.  Plan something to look forward to in the first few days back.  It’s easy to get sucked back into the flurry of work, to start feeling stressed, and to see the next few weeks or months as a long, grey tunnel with no escape until it’s vacation time again — or, worse yet, to think that taking time off was a mistake because of the necessary catching up that follows.  To counteract that, I plan something to look forward to no later than the first weekend back.

5.  Set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-based) goals.  The to-do list that I generate as a part of tip #1 above will set out precisely what I can realistically expect to accomplish, based on the urgent/important method of prioritization.  This level of specificity and realism gives me a concrete and feasible goal, and that keeps me on target; making sure that I’m attending to the important tasks first guarantees that my time will be well-spent.

I’ll share pre-vacation tips soon, too, because (as is surely no surprise) front-end planning facilitates the return as well.  Meanwhile, readers, any good tips that help you ensure a successful return from vacation?

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