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How to Regain Focus After Taking Time Off From Work

If you’re struggling to be productive after taking time to recharge, these tips will help you get back into work mode.

Maskot/ Getty Images
Maskot/ Getty Images

Even after an unconventional holiday season with so many of us celebrating in different ways than we’re used to, getting back into “work mode” after the holidays can be incredibly challenging. Taking time off to recharge is crucial for our mental and physical well-being, but when it comes time to reopen your inbox and get back to your regular to-do’s, it might take a little extra effort to tap into your usual focus and productivity. 

We asked our Thrive community to share one way they regain focus after taking time off from work. Which of these tips will you try?

Declutter your workspace

“The day before I start work again, I make sure to clear off my desk, get rid of what I don’t need, and clean the surfaces around my office. I discard, declutter, and reorganize for the new day and fresh work space. Having a clean and tidy space helps me feel refreshed and ready to begin again.”

—Mary Joye, LMHC, Winter Haven, FL 

Limit meetings while getting re-acclimated 

“After almost two weeks off over the holidays where I really shut down and unplugged, getting back to the daily grind of work has been difficult. After spending the first Monday morning back in a total brain fog, I knew I had to change something, so I decided to limit my meetings during the first few days back to work. Normally, my schedule is packed full of conference calls, but I moved meetings to later in the week to give myself time to acclimate. It was very apparent that I needed the time.”

—Sara Kubica, social media account director and life coach, Detroit, MI

Set your intention in the morning

“To get back into work mode after some time off, I make sure I have a few hours in the morning to organize my thoughts. I set up my office space, put ice in my ice bucket, get a pitcher of water, clean off my desk, prepare a healthy snack, and then sit down to reflect on my priorities and write them down. I set my intention for the day with a list of things to accomplish before I finish work, and I also include things like eating a healthy lunch and taking a walk so that I make those components part of my success for that day. Doing this little bit of morning reflection helps me to feel centered as I dive back in.”

—Jen Berry, chief experience officer, Westport, CT

Put “thinking time” on your calendar

“To ease back into work mode, I carve out 3-hour blocks on my calendar sprinkled over the first three weeks of the year. I try to hold these designated blocks for uninterrupted time to think. I learned from a dear friend we almost lost in 2020 that we shouldn’t let the seemingly urgent tasks crowd out the important ones. Having this designated time to think helps me practice that.”

—Donna Peters, career coach and podcast host, Atlanta, GA

Focus on what excites you

“I’ve found that the best way to come back to work after the holidays is to jump right into a project or task that excites me the most. This way, I am able to carry extra energy into the whirlwind of things, and tackle even those not-so-exciting tasks that seem harder to accomplish after a holiday break.”

—Francesco Onorato, business development, Phoenix, AZ  

Reconnect with your coworkers

“The nemesis of a usual work week is the number and length of meetings on my calendar. However, to regain my stride on a week back from vacation, I like to check in with various teammates to reconnect and get my relationships back in sync. The less I connect with others on my return, the less I’m able to focus on my work. My colleagues jump start my thoughts and energy. We remind each other of specifics and due dates of projects, confirm where we can leverage each other’s efforts, and even set virtual lunch dates. It helps me get back into gear.”

—Molly Miller, freelance writer and editor, Albany, Oregon

Write down your top priorities

“When I come back to work after time off, I like to make a to-do list to prioritize what must be dealt with first. It can be overwhelming to be hit with tons of emails and tasks, but I remind myself that not everything needs to be handled immediately. I create a list of what requires my attention immediately and I flag important emails. After I have created an action plan of what needs to be prioritized, I sit down and get to work.”

—Robyn Goldfarb, MBA, personal finance blogger

Schedule your breaks

“I’ve decided to give myself grace by easing back into a work routine after the holidays. When I start my workday, I commit to two solid hours of focus, and then take a short break. After my break, I commit to another hour of work, and then break again for lunch or a walk. I have found that by scheduling breaks into the day, I’m able to be productive without feeling overwhelmed.”

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

Create reminders to reset

“To help get myself back into a routine, I set alarms on my phone throughout the day. They range from reminding me to leave the house for a few minutes, grab a coffee before a morning meeting, or even to start getting ready for bed. These alarms really help me when I’m finding it hard to be productive after the holiday break, as they remind me to make time for the little things while I can focus on my work.”

—Alexa Doman, career and life coach, Madrid, Spain

Shift your inner dialogue

“I am prone to chastising myself when I lose focus, so I’ve had to learn to be more self-compassionate by better controlling the messages I tell myself. When the unfriendly voice in my head gets fired up, I try to briefly pause and ask myself whether I would speak that way to someone I love. If the words are too harsh for them, I tell myself that they are too harsh for me. Then, I try to replace what I’m saying with a more supportive message — one that I would tell a friend.”

—Loren Margolis, executive leadership coach, New York, NY

How do you regain your focus after taking time off from work? Share your favorite tip with us in the comments.

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