Getting Back in the Groove After PTO

According to a recent survey by The Vacationer, nearly 85% of Americans polled planned to travel this summer. That’s a good thing. Whether it’s a long trip that requires a plane ride or a short venture by car, it means people are using their PTO. (If you’re not, by the way, you should. Here’s why.) As necessary as taking time off is, coming back to work after vacation can add its own layer of stress and busyness. The good news is there are steps you can take to ease yourself back into the groove without the extra anxiety.

Plan Ahead

A little pre-vacation planning will make a smoother transition back to your post-vacation day-to-day routines. Before you head out, delegate, communicate, and plan. Instead of rehashing all the details here, we’ll just refer you back to our recent article on the subject: Prepare for Take-Off

As we noted in that piece, sometimes we avoid taking our PTO because we imagine how much work we’ll be creating for ourselves when we return. Making a plan, delegating tasks that can’t wait to specific folks who can handle them, and setting expectations ahead of time can mitigate some of that post-trip stress upon your return.

Get Up Early

Set your alarm about a half-hour (or more) earlier than usual. Listen, the last thing you want to do the first day back in the office post-vacation is get up late and feel rushed. And yes, you could skip that sense of overwhelm and rush by getting up on time, but this is even better. Trust us. 

Get up a little earlier and give yourself time to linger over your cup of coffee. Find something that makes your heart sing a little and make space for it before you go back to your day-to-day routine. Create space for some quality me-time before you leap back into things.


Speaking of those folks you delegated tasks to before you left. . . when you return, set up a time to touch base with them. Get the rundown of what may have (or may have not) gone on while you were gone. You’ll want them to update you on the specific items they covered for you, as well as any other pertinent activity related to your clients or area of responsibility. It’s easier to manage the return workload when you’re not jumping in blind. 


There’s probably a small collection of mail and messages that have gathered in your absence. There may even be new papers that found their way onto your desk. There may be notifications alerting you to voicemail messages you’ll need to listen to. Here’s the good news – some of those things don’t actually need your attention. Take the time to skim through what waits. 

Items you need to pay attention to sooner rather than later can be flagged. Items you can review when you’ve got more time to look them over can be filed in the appropriate spaces for follow-up. And those things you don’t really need to spend time on can be deleted. 

Prolong Your Unavailability

Granted, this takes a little pre-trip planning, but it’s worth it. When you’re setting up your “out of office” auto-reply and voicemail message, give yourself an extra day. In other words, your trip may conclude on a Saturday and you may walk back into the office on Monday, but your away messages can tell folks that you’ll begin returning messages on Tuesday. This gives you some extra time to review what you’ve missed, triage what needs your attention now that you’re back, and make a game plan to follow-up on those items before having to jump in and get it all done.

Be Realistic

You took a week off. The tasks that are waiting for you upon your return don’t need to be done in a single day. Get your arms around the list of things that need your attention and then set reasonable deadlines to get them done. Pro-tip: “immediately” is not a reasonable deadline, nor is “end-of-day today” a reasonable expectation for the full list. Prioritize your projects. Make a game plan. Delegate tasks where appropriate. 

Leave on Time

It can be tempting to put in extra hours when you first return from the trip in an attempt to catch up on what you’ve missed. It’s not as helpful as you think. Again, be realistic. If you took more than a single day off, it’s going to take more than a single day to catch up on whatever is waiting for you. 

Set those deadlines, make that game plan, and then leave on time. Don’t negate your time to rest and rejuvenate by punishing yourself with longer hours now. Do what can be reasonably done in the time you have to do it today. The rest can wait.