TIB 57: 5 ways to let go of work when taking a break (and ease back into it afterwards)

Written by Arno Jansen

Lets learn how to let go of work when going on vacation.

As you get this I am on vacation. I’m probably somewhere in the south of France in our camper van.

It is the ultimate form of freedom for me; being able to take the van and the fam anywhere the weather is nice and nature is lovely.

I think it is very important to take time off and change my environment and recharge. It helps to (re)balance our lives.

Besides rest and replenishment, it also helps to zoom out from it all and get a new perspective, particularly on work.

But switching off from work is a challenge. Even though you are on vacation, your mind is still chewing on work stuff. And knowing you’ll come back to a bunch of e-mails, calls and tasks does not help either.

Before you know it, you’re not fully enjoying the new environment and not being present with the others on your trip.

2 years ago, my first year as a solopreneur, work was always on my mind. I was overwhelmed and yet when I did get back, I procrastinated. It was hard to get back into work.

Last year I had taken steps to ease back into work. And this year, I have tweaked that process further. I want to share it with you so you can use it as a stepping stone to create your own process and better enjoy your time off.

My system consists of 2 parts: “before you leave”, and “after you get back”.

So without further delay, lets dive in:

Let go of work before you leave

1: Wind down

Do a work-wind-down. In it, make note of loose ends, thoughts, reminders. Dump everything you can think of in a list when you are about to switch off work for a while.

It will be tempting to dive into each thing on the list, but try not to. The stuff that needs to be done before you leave, should not be on the list anyway.

Write down anything and everything else that occupies mental space. This brings peace of mind so that you will not forget what’s important when you get back.

2: Plan ahead

Before you start your break, plan ahead for when you get back.

Sounds so obvious, I know. But I did not do that the first year and it caused so much stress.

Plan the first day(s) or even the whole week in advance, for when you get back after a break. This is your business, you can do that. In fact, I recommend you make an “Ideal Week Template” to remind yourself how you would like to spend your time.

I make sure that any content for that week, is scheduled before I leave. I also make sure to have no external commitments in the first 2 days after I get back to work.

No coaching calls, no training, nothing.

I create space to come home calmly, and start up ‘work mode’ again on my own terms. This ensures I have plenty opportunity to deal with anything that popped up in my absence, before bringing in new stuff.

It also helps me in my coaching too. I am at my best for my clients and customers if I can ‘land’ before diving into work head-first.

When you get back

3: Pace yourself, set expectations

In my corporate jobs, the first day back in the office always was a struggle. Meetings I didn’t know about, problems I was unaware off due to my absense. You get it, I’m sure.

Now that I am self-employed, I can plan my first day so that I can find my focus and keep control of my time. In fact, I have planned the first week before I left already.

For this year, I have set myself a few small tasks to get done on the first day. Here is what I will do on my first day after vacation:

  • I will triage incoming e-mails, messages, and the wind-down list I made before I left.
  • Check the finances, maybe pay a bill that is no automated yet.
  • Fire up existing work routines. Defined routines,need little mental effort. And it gives me a great feeling knowing that I get back into work.
  • One of those routines is to write daily. This helps to articulate thoughts for content, training and coaching.
  • The other routine I will start up again is for ideation. This gets the flywheel going again that creates ideas. Finding angles and perspectives to use in coaching, ice-breakers to use in in-person training. Some of it finds its way into these newsletters too.

The only goal for those routines that day, is to get them going again. No need to create a masterpiece or find an nobel-prize worthy idea. Just do it.

Everything else is a bonus or just fun things that don’t feel like work.

4: Find low-hanging fruits

Identify what you enjoy doing and pick that as a task for your first day. I enjoy writing, so I know that I will be doing that on the 1st day after my vacation.

It will be published too, but not that week. That way there is no pressure to get it done or perfected immediately. I have already planned ahead the content that needs to get published in the first days after my vacation.

I also enjoy coaching and consulting a lot. So I will take some time to through notes of the first upcoming coaching and consulting calls later in the week. That helps me to get familiar with their situations again.

5: Triage the piled up stuff

You may come home to a few dozen, or even hundreds of e-mails and tasks. Trying to tackle those, is a surefire way to get stressed out.

Instead, find the most important things you need to pay attention to. You can use my simple triage method for that.

Once you have identified the most important stuff, tackle 1 or 2 of those. Not only will it make you feel good, you’ll also have an overview of the stuff that came in while you were away.

Bonus tip: Plan time ahead for triage on the 1st or 2nd day after taking a break. Having these scheduled before you take a break, is great way to reduce stress and anxiety. Make this a part of the planning ahead, mentioned in number 2 in this article.

Bonus: Complete 1 thing

Tying in with number 4, I plan to create something from start to finish. Especially as a creator or founder, starting the process or creating again, boosts your motivation. Don’t only start something, complete 1 thing on the first day after vacation.

In fact, I have already planned ahead (no surprise, right) to both write a newsletter issue and create the thumbnail for it. I am not sure if I can get all the writing done, because it does need me to have pretty intense focus. But I have blocked 90 minutes in my calendar to write.

I have added creating the thumbnail to go with that newsletter, because I know that I will be able to complete that.

Oh and I have already selected a topic to write about, to make it easier to get into writing it.


That’s it. Those are the 5(+1) things I do to ease back into work after taking a break.

To recap:

Before you leave

  • Make a list of everything thats in your mind to let go work
  • Plan ahead for the first days after your vacation to keep control of your time and energy

After you get back

  • Start slow. Set yourself 1, 2, or 3 tasks to do when you get back. Everything else is a bonus
  • Do a task you enjoy in your work. Not the boring, annoying or stressfull stuff right after you get back
  • Triage your inboxes to pick up what needs your attention soon.
  • Bonus: Complete the creation of 1 thing

These things make it a lot easier to step out of work when you take a break and get going again after you get back.

I hope you get to enjoy a break this summer and this helps you enjoy it all!

Looking to get more productive, focused, and resilient?

Join my free Focus Finder email course to transform yourself from deeply distracted to fully focused.

    Looking to get more productive, focused, and resilient?

    Join my free Focus Finder course and go from deeply distracted to fully focused.

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