The summer is a popular time to take time away from work, whether you’re going on a trip, seeing your family, or simply unplugging for a few days to rest and recharge. But often, heading back to work and regaining focus after vacation can feel challenging. And instead of hitting the ground running again, it’s important that we take small steps to regain our focus and get back into “work mode.”

We asked our Thrive community to share with us the small ways they regain focus after taking time off. Which of these tips will you try?

Keep your first day back meeting-free

“I’ve instituted ‘meeting-free Mondays’ with my schedule, and I also adopt this boundary for this first day after any vacation or long holiday weekend. This means there are no planned calls, meetings, or interruptions, other than emergencies. It affords me the quiet, focused ability to plan for my week, catch up on emails, and get organized before launching into ‘go mode.’ While it was difficult at first to adjust to, it’s been the most impactful shift in the way I work in over 20 years.”

—Kathryn Sandoe, executive director and entrepreneur, Lancaster, PA

Sit down to map out the week

“After a long weekend, I make sure to carve out 15 minutes to map out the week. I use a paper planning system to get clear on my top  priorities for the week. I get all of my upcoming tasks and to-do’s out of my head and onto paper. I also include self-care and an emotional intention for how I most want to feel. Mapping out my week is a small investment of time to start the week feeling fresh and motivated to switch into work mode.”

—Emily Madill, author and creativity coach (ACC), Nanaimo, B.C., Canada

Close out distracting apps 

“Regaining focus after a short vacation is not easy when there are other distractions — for example, if you haven’t seen work colleagues for a while and want to catch up, or there are pending emails to address. I find it helpful to close other distractions down, such as non-work apps. By closing your apps, there is no room in your mind again for any distractions. This way, you slow down the idea of wanting to check in on friends or checking social media. You can also allow yourself space to concentrate by putting in headphones  or going to a quiet area to focus.”

—Dr. Belynder Walia, psychotherapist, London, UK

Write down your top priority

“I write down one goal or purpose on a sticky note on the wall in front of me so I can see the goal while I work. This is part of a strategy I call ‘WIN,’ where I ask myself, ‘What’s important now?’ This question helps me focus on my goal and ignore anything that is not aligned with that goal. I stick to one priority a day, set a 3-hour focus window, and remind myself to focus on quality over quantity.”

—Sian Gunney, success strategist, UK

Create your to-do list the night before

“The night before I go back to work, I make a list of priorities for the next day, like connecting with staff, catching up on email, or sending ‘thank you’ notes. Setting the stage for the next day is a great way for me to get my head back in the game without being overwhelmed with all that I have to do. Rather, I focus on small things to do as I ease my way back into the workweek.”

 —Nicki Anderson, women’s leadership director, Benedictine University, Lisle, IL  

Block off time to answer emails

“I’m self-employed and run my own business from home. When I take a break, like I did recently for my son’s wedding, I make sure that I come back to a blank to-do list for the first two days I’m back so I can catch up on emails and prepare for client sessions. I’ve found that diving straight in tends to be overwhelming, and it’s important to take a step back to get organized. It allows for a sense of calmness and allows me to be in control without the overwhelm.”

—Gill Davidson, business owner, Yorkshire, UK

Do some prep before the weekend

“I find it helpful to make a plan before getting back to work. That might look like taking five minutes and writing down your agenda for the day you return so you already have a roadmap ready, or planning 30 minutes on the last evening of the weekend to clean out some emails and check your schedule for the next day. If you can, try not to schedule important meetings or deadlines for the day back. This is especially true if it’s a holiday weekend that others have been celebrating as well.  And here’s the huge silver lining to a little extra planning: you will be present and actually enjoy your long weekend because you won’t be worrying about what’s going down after the weekend is over.”

—Annie Bauer, mindset coach, Asheville, NC

Address the small details first

“I look at my schedule two days before I go back to work and I mentally go through my first day back in the office. I think about details like what outfit I want to wear and what I want to have for lunch. I also look at who I will be meeting with that day and look through my last notes to help me remember where we left off. This strategy takes me about 30 minutes in total. I have things to look forward to and that helps alleviate a lot of the post-vacation blues. After 30 minutes, I put my notes away. I have made my outfit and lunch decisions, and I do not pick up anything work related until I am physically back in my office.”

—Angela Ficken, psychotherapist, Boston, MA

Allow yourself to say “no”

“I’ve found that one of the simplest — yet hardest — ways to refocus and reclaim your time and energy is learning how to say no. And never is that more necessary or important than when you’re trying to regain focus after a summer vacation. While my inbox is always under control when I return, thanks to my amazing executive assistant, there are still compounded requests, demands and expectations of me when I return. The demands on my time, combined with the sense of responsibility I feel for our customers, team members, and family might often compel me to say yes to every request and stretch myself thin as I attempt to support everyone well. But simply saying no is enough. Saying yes to everything can be exhausting, and whenever that makes me feel bad or guilty, I remind myself that my ‘no’ is someone else’s ‘yes.’”

—Tricia Sciortino, CEO, Charlotte, NC

Carve out small breaks to reset

“Make sure to take your breaks on your first day back. Walk, exercise, or implement a mindfulness technique into your day. When we need to catch up with work, it’s easy to get too engrossed, and things become overwhelming or even mundane the next day. Switch your day up. When you do not get an opportunity to align yourself from vacation to work, try not to overwork; otherwise, you can feel stressed and quite frustrated.”

—Dr. Belynder Walia, psychotherapist, London, UK

Take notes

“A long holiday weekend is something I look forward because it recharges my inner battery and renews my energy. The Fourth of July  is no exception because it’s also my birthday! Before I disconnect for a long weekend, I make notes of any emails I need to reply to when I get back from vacation. When I return, I’m able to refocus my energy and hit the ground running since I wrote my notes beforehand. This strategy saves me time by taking the guesswork out of where I left off and what tasks need my attention after enjoying a relaxing vacation.”

—Karla J Noland, self-discovery coach, Durham, NC

Give yourself grace

“Be kind to yourself in the transition. I find it helpful to do things like wear slippers the first few hours of the day, bring flowers to your desk, and keep your vacation pictures handy. Try to hang on to the feeling that life is to be enjoyed as long as you can. Set mini-goals for yourself to get through the first day: get through your email. Address the highest priority issues, and get a start on the next highest priority. Take a walk for a few minutes and let yourself remember what you were doing this time last week. Leave at a reasonable hour and get a good night’s sleep. The first day is the hardest.” 

—Amy Feind Reeves, career coach and author, Boston, MA

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  • Rebecca Muller Feintuch

    Senior Editor and Community Manager


    Rebecca Muller Feintuch is the Senior Editor and Community Manager at Thrive. Her previous work experience includes roles in editorial and digital journalism. Rebecca is passionate about storytelling, creating meaningful connections, and prioritizing mental health and self-care. She is a graduate of New York University, where she studied Media, Culture and Communications with a minor in Creative Writing. For her undergraduate thesis, she researched the relationship between women and fitness media consumerism.