This time last month, I was in the Galapagos Islands, watching sea lions bellow and marine iguanas dive into the surf.

I spent seven nights on a boat:  filled my stomach with amazing seafood and filled my days with great conversation and snorkeling to my heart’s content. It was exactly what the doctor ordered after a busy spring of implementing senior exec leadership development programs and coaching in both Fortune 100 and start-up companies.

While I’ve travelled a lot (24 countries in 2 years) and had my share of ‘back to real life’ blues, this time it was particularly difficult. I’m sure the red-eye flight and 300 emails I returned to didn’t help. I know I’m not alone in this – a few of my clients have said they almost don’t want to take vacations because they can’t handle the stressful re-entry period!

With a little planning, you can skip the overwhelm and make your post-vacation return to work a gentler, kinder experience. 

As we enter the summer vacation season, I thought I’d share a few of my learned-the-hard-way tips to help you avoid the post-vacation slump.


1. Give yourself a ‘soft landing’ day

After 7-10 days of surf and sand, you don’t want eight hours of back to back budget meetings. If possible, schedule your first day back to be meeting free. I like to block time in the morning of my first day back to think and put into action any epiphanies I had while away – so that my best ideas aren’t lost in the shuffle of my return.

Then I spend some time in the afternoon re-connecting with colleagues, remembering it’s the relationships I have that make my work meaningful. You may even want to devote a little time thinking about how you’d like your work to be different going forward. How can you make that happen?


2. Use auto-reply emails to manage expectations

I’m sure you already have your ‘vacation reply’ ready to go, but what if you had a separate auto-reply email for a few days following your return?

You could professionally, politely let your clients and partners know that for the rest of the week, you’ll need a few days to respond. They’ll know that they shouldn’t expect an immediate reply and you’ll have a little bit of breathing room.


3. Enlist help to prioritize

Of those 300 emails that I returned to, only about 45 of them required a timely response, but I didn’t know that when I opened my inbox. I had to find that out by looking at each subject line and sometimes clicking through and scanning the email. Save yourself a headache by having your assistant monitor and sort your inbox while you’re away.

Your assistant can delete spam, but what is even more helpful is to have them sort emails into prioritized folders (“First day back” “Within a week of return” “Scan for information, no reply needed.”)  Have your assitant delete mail daemon messages and all those newsletters. Let’s be honest, you’re not going to read them when any extra time is devoted to playing catch up, and you will get a new one in your inbox before that happens.


4. Return to a clean, organized space

In your personal and professional lives, it’s nice to come back to a clean, clear, calming space. Before you leave for your trip, clear off your desktop (both literal and technical), empty your recycle folder, and spend a few minutes tidying your drawers.

I extend this practice to my home, as well. I like to come back to clean sheets and a stocked fridge (I schedule a grocery order to be dropped off about an hour after I get home.) These seemingly small changes remove a lot of the stress from post-vacation life!


5. Schedule something fun and relaxing for your first few days back

Before you leave, schedule something fun for a few days after you arrive home. Maybe it’s a massage, a game of golf, or yoga – choose something enjoyable and low key that will help you prolong a little bit of that vacation relaxation.

We all know work life can’t always compete with sea lions and crab salad, but if you follow these tips, you’ll be a little bit closer.