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Day 1 Therapy - my prescription for a pain-free return after the holidays

People tell me they dread coming back to work after a holiday. That's sad and, for anyone managing a team, more than a bit worrying.

If anyone genuinely dreads coming into work at any time (other than because of a very specific and hopefully short-term situation of the kind we all have to deal with now and then) then it seems to me that they are in the wrong job. Life is too short to get paid for doing stuff that brings you out in a gut-wrenched cold sweat to think about.

And if we don't really mean gut-wrenching, cold-sweat dread... then we would do ourselves a massive favour by calling it something else. Rather than dreading going back to work, what about being a bit disappointed that your holiday is over? It sounds silly, but we listen to what we say and react accordingly.

I work to be able to travel - so I suspect few people resent the end of a holiday much more than I do. But in terms of the return to work, my normal reaction is "I'm really not looking forward to going back to work tomorrow."

And my dear darling beloved has the very sensible response: "So don't. Tomorrow will arrive; you don't have to look forward to it. Tonight you're still on holiday. What's for dinner?"

I think one problem might be that we go into manic-mode in the lead-up to going away, an unsustainably frenzy that gets our desks and inboxes almost, sort-of, clear(ish). And we'd like them to be like that when we got back.

Guess what - while you were away the world kept turning, and people kept churning and a lot of that churn ended up on your patch.

But guess what else - the world did keep turning. It kept turning while you weren't there to deal with it. And it will keep turning while you find time to work out what's on the desk, what's genuinely urgent, what's been dealt with - the fact that it's in your inbox with a massive highlight against it, doesn't necessarily mean that no-one else picked it up for you - and most of what has waited best part of two weeks and won't hurt any more for waiting another two days.

Most people understand that it takes time to catch up. Just tell them that that's what you're doing.

If you habitually spend your first day back thinking you have to deal with the 300 messages that await you... no wonder you don't like going on holiday.


On day 1 you are expected to find out what is in your inbox, get rid of the rubbish, and work out a plan for dealing with the rest. There are times when I do recommend you sling everything in a heap and just start at the top. The first day back from leave is NOT one of them.

On day 1 you are expected to catch up with your colleagues and find out what you might have missed - and I don't just mean the work.

On day 1 you are expected to share the bliss and joy and excitement, or peace and calm and contentment, of your holiday with those around you. You have been away; this is a time for re-bonding with your work team.

If you're unlucky there will be something mega-urgent that will have everyone wanting you that day - but if so, take comfort in the fact that you were missed. Deal with that one urgency - and then go back to the start of Day 1 therapy... work out what is on your desk.

If there is more than one such urgency - then you're clearly indispensable or the Team isn't working - either way, you need to talk your boss (or find a new one).

On day 1, you are expected to remember why, actually, you do love your job - and just take a few steps to getting a bit of it back under control (so much as any of it ever is).

Most people are saying by the end of week 2 if not sooner, that it's as if they'd never been away. I think it's generally meant negatively, but turn that on its head... what it really means is that you're back in the flow. All that stuff that felt like an avalanche on Day 1, is just the normal piste that you ski down every day, without falling into a crevasse.

So the final thing to keep in mind on Day 1 is that this too will pass. This too will be sorted. And the world will continue to turn, and if you're sensible you'll already have the next break booked in the calendar, and it will be here before you know it.

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