How to Disconnect While on Vacation and Plan for an Easier Return

By Harvard Business Review
June 8, 2018

As much as we all need vacations, the first days back can often leave us wondering whether the time off was worth it. Here are some ideas to better reap the benefits of a holiday. 

Vacation time is meant to be refreshing, so you can arrive back at work with renewed vigor. Studies have continually shown that taking time off makes us better — professionally, physically and mentally.

The problem is, while many of us are using paid time off, we’re not using it to its fullest potential. And the day or week after we get back can often leave us wondering whether it was worth hassle of returning.

These suggestions can let you make the most of your time away and plan for the transition back:


Triage and queue your tasks. Use the week before your annual or semiannual vacation to do a ruthless cull of your to-do list. Give priority to what you actually need or want to tackle in the first week or two after vacation; then make a separate list of fun or easy tasks. It’s important to give yourself some light, enjoyable things to do while you wait for your work brain to turn back on.

Park on a downhill slope. It’s easier to return to a project that’s already underway than to start from a blank page. And if you’re trying to decide which projects to wrap up before vacation, save the most interesting ones to complete when you get back.

Ask your direct reports for a recap. It can be a challenge — and a bit of a rude awakening — to return from vacation and try to get a handle on all you’ve missed. To combat the post-holiday blues, ask your direct reports to send you a briefing the day before your return with a bulleted list of the most important info gathered while you were gone.

Lower expectations for your return. Set up an auto-reply email that tells people that while you’ll try to get to their messages promptly as you work your way through the backlog, you can’t guarantee it, so they should send their emails again after your return date if they want a quick response.

Plan for your first week back. Set aside significant chunks of time in your calendar so that you don’t find yourself with a week of back-to-back meetings.


Fib on your out-of-office message. Even if you plan to check in occasionally, tell people you will have limited email access and to expect a reply upon, or shortly after, your return. You might also want to set up a schedule for yourself. For example, you can decide to check your email once midweek and once at the tail end of your vacation, allowing yourself to respond to urgent messages.

Conceal your technology. Gain some freedom from your device by finding a designated space − like a hotel safe − to store it. Keep it out of sight, so you aren’t as inclined to reach for it, and set up a schedule for when you’ll check in.


Stay in stealth mode. Avoid your intraoffice chat network, and either keep away from in-house and external social networks (like Slack, Twitter and LinkedIn) or limit your participation to one or two short windows a day.

Make work fun. Put your first week back to good use by doing neglected tasks you actually enjoy.

Use technology as a distraction  seriously. Listen to a new Spotify playlist or intermittently check Twitter to entertain yourself while you catch up on mundane tasks.

Adapted from “3 Ways to Control Your Phone Addiction on Vacation” and “Ease the Pain of Returning to Work After Time Off” at

Copyright 2017 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

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