After almost two weeks of the holidays causing a slower office tempo (if not a complete stop) it’s hard to focus on work again. If you’re feeling resistance to your normal schedule, here are six strategies to help you get back to work when you don’t want to:
Expect to be slow, and plan accordingly.
Allow yourself time to ease back into things by designing your calendar around a slower you. Add time to deadlines you promise people. Ask for more time for deadlines assigned to you. You can always hand in work early, but by expecting to be slow, you build in a buffer and avoid any needless anxiety in your first days back.
Proactively hold off your chatty colleagues.
Even if you’re ready to get back to work, some of your colleagues will still be in social, holiday mode. If you work in an open work space, you will need strategies to proactively find your focus. One way is to decide in advance how you will handle the inevitable colleague interruptions. Decide on a standard response to questions about your holiday that allows you to still respond but continue working – for example, I had a great holiday this year and would love to tell you all about it in 30 minutes (or an hour or later that afternoon) when I’ve had a chance to finish this bit of work.
Commit to smaller blocks of time.
If the bottleneck is not your colleagues but your own inertia, break down your work into smaller blocks than usual, and set a timer (I use an online countdown clock) to prove to your resistant mind that you’re just going to work for 10, 15 or 25 minutes. You can always repeat the time block and continue working if you have some momentum. If you still don’t, take a stretch break (or get back to one of your chatty colleagues), though you’ll want to set a time limit for that too.
Commit to easier tasks.
Along with smaller time commitments, start with smaller work commitments. Plow through the easier emails, filing others that need more than a few minutes of attention. Work on a draft or outline of something, and make filling in the pieces a separate work block. Return phone calls, collect status updates, or review notices that came in while you were gone. You’re still doing work, and you’re getting your environment back in order, but you’re saving the harder thinking for when your work muscle has warmed up.
Confirm immediate, immovable deadlines.
One critical item for your small-time-block/ small-task work period is to confirm any immovable deadlines in the next one to four weeks. You need to know exactly how much latitude you have to ease back into work, if at all. Post the key deadlines and deliverables where they are very visible (e.g., large print posted on your monitor). If you’re not fully in work mode yet, you’ll easily forget. Plan backward to get these done – you still may be able to use smaller time blocks and start with easy items first to get the work done.
Start early or end late.
If your new year’s resolution is to find better work/ life balance, then don’t start the year extending your work day! But you may find it useful, even cathartic, to come in early or stay later than usual to get caught up. Sometimes just the thought of catching up creates an unnecessary burden, and spending a little extra effort right at the start is enough to take that weight off.
It’s normal to work more slowly, even inefficiently when you’re coming back from a break. Trying one or more of these strategies should be enough to jumpstart you back to a more regular routine. However, some people come back from a break and realize they really don’t want to be back. The new year is ripe for new career thinking so that will the subject of my next post: how to know whether you should go back to work at all.