How to Get Back into the Work Groove After Time Off


Even for someone like me, who unashamedly loves my work, it can be difficult to get back into the routine of things after time off.

Anytime you add eating a lot of food, traveling, and lack of sleep into the mix, it’s nearly impossible to come back to work with guns blazing.

So how do you get back into the work groove after time off?

Write down a homework list

A homework list is like a to-do list but with the intention of actually doing the things that are on it (instead of ignoring or forgetting about them).

With homework, you’re expected to accomplish the tasks within a week or so. Whatever didn’t get done before going on vacation, needs to be put on the homework list when you return.

You can write out this list before you take time off or after you get back — or in my case, I start the list before I leave and add things as I remember them throughout the week. Then when I get home I won’t have to worry about things I forgot to do.

This also gives me a jumping off point, instead of trying to remember what project I was working on, or what exactly I needed to do when I got back. It’s like a cheat sheet for homework!

Come back a day early

Whenever possible, schedule your flights and travel days with an extra day between coming home and having to go back to work. In some cases I haven’t been able to do this, but having that extra cushion has been the key to helping me get back into the schedule of working.

More often than not, traveling is an all day affair. Between getting to the airport or packing your bags in the car for a long drive, can drain you of energy fast.

By coming back a day early, you can catch up on rest, write out your list for the week and go through all the mail in your mailbox. This is vital if you want to give yourself a headstart!

Don’t multitask

The truth is, multitasking is a waste of time. I don’t know who came up with the idea that multitasking is a smart way to get more done – because in my experience, it’s a fast way to get less done.

No matter how well you think your brain works, your short term memory can only juggle between 5 – 9 things at one time. And if you’re trying to accomplish a very different set of tasks, your brainpower will collapse, causing your multitasking mission to fail.

It also saps your creativity, because it spreads you so thin and you can’t perform at your best. So, learn to focus on one thing at time. Take your homework list, line by line — task by task.

You’ll be surprised at how much more you’ll get done when you focus your attention fully on the task at hand.

Amp it up with some music

For me, there’s no better way to get excited about work (or working out) than to amp it up with some good music. Thank goodness for iTunes and Pandora — or check out Get Work Done Music as suggested by Tim Murphy.

The same way people like to listen to music to motivate them to workout, you can use music to get you in the mood to be productive.

I like to turn the music on when I’m driving to work, while I’m cleaning the house and especially while I’m blogging (like right now!). You can even check out singing guides, so you can learn to sing while you are working too.

I even made a “blogging playlist” full of modern, instrumental music that amps up my creative brain so I can pump out epic blog posts. And since the music doesn’t have any lyrics, I won’t be distracted into singing along. It’s motivational and gets me pumped!

Get in a quick workout

Another way to get pumped up and energized is to get in a quick workout. It doesn’t matter how hard-core, or not, your workout is. At the very least, just sit in a quiet place and try to focus on your breathing, or go for a 20-30 minute walk and get some fresh air.

Working out or doing meditation has been proven to reduce anxiety, stress and high blood pressure. Plus you’ll get that “workout high” that’s key to boosting your physical energy and is good for both your mind and body.

Reassess your goals

Chances are, that whatever took you out of your groove is probably still on your mind. That nice weekend away, staying up late, sleeping in, and spending time laughing with friends are all great memories to keep in mind. But logically, focusing on the past is completely non-productive.

Instead, get your mind back to the present by writing out your goals for the upcoming week or month. Reassess what you want to accomplish now that you’re back into the swing of things.

Your priorities may have changed since you had some time away, without you even realizing it and you want to make sure you’re up-to-date with your desires. Nothing is more unproductive than working towards something that you don’t truly want anymore.

Do slow work

Although we’re supposed to be taking a break from work, many of us who run our own businesses end up sneaking in extra work while on our vacation.

Have you ever noticed how much more productive you are on your “time off”? It’s because during this time you’re engaging in slow work, and it actually makes you more productive.

When you engage in slow work you’re able to think through all the possibilities and often come up with the best solutions.

It’s like when you set up a template or a new system at work – it takes a little extra time up front, but saves you headache in the long run. It’s not a shortcut and it takes more time, but doing slow work is a sure-fire way to get you back into the groove after time off.

How do you get back into the groove after time off?

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About Carrie

Carrie Smith is the owner and editor of Careful Cents. She helps serious solopreneurs and full-time freelancers earn more money in less time, through systems and financial organization. She's been featured in The Huffington Post, Glamour Magazine, Kiplinger Finance and several other business websites. In May 2013 she quit her full-time accounting job to pursue entrepreneurship and blogging. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram @carefulcents.


  1. Doing extra work during the holiday lets you keep the work mindset, even if you do just a little bit…going from complete relaxation to working crazily is the worst!

    • That’s an excellent tip! Keeping it going a little bit instead of going cold turkey, definitely makes the transition back into work much easier. Good thinking!

  2. I have been having problems with this this week. It is even harder knowing I have a bunch of days off.coming in December… I just need to put my nose to the grindstone.

  3. Getting back into the swing of work can be tough. I like to ease myself in, completing small easy tasks first and working up to the bigger projects.

  4. I always struggle to get back to work after a long holiday. But I
    usually get back into the swing of things after about a day. It also
    helps when I hit the gym early before going to the office to help me
    feel energized and pumped to take on my workload.

  5. Struggle! I learned the “come back a day early” from my brother in law. He always insisted on leaving for home after T-giving on Saturday, not Sunday. I never understood until I lived half the nation away. Now, I TOTALLY need to drive Saturday so I can wind up Sunday.

    BTW, I have a “work” mix, but those songs on the link don’t do it for me. Too in my face…and when I run, I like that music. But working…no thanks.

  6. It is HARD to get back into the swing after you’ve been away. The list thing helps me the most. I also try to commit to learning something new when I get back. This helps me to stay interested.

  7. I did the comeback a day earlier thing this year and was able to get a lot done before the work week got started up, I’m very thankful for that. Also I’ve found that getting up earlier to exercise results in me feeling a lot better and more energized, which is unusual for me because I’m not much of a morning person.

  8. Rajamani Thialan says:

    Multitasking is a lie cooked up and promoted by people with commercial interests in telling us what we should be. Focusing on one thing at a time is better and it gives you quality than quantity.

  9. Your Boss says:

    Multitasking is my middle name! Especially after a break I go into overdrive of multitasking. I have to admit that this is the easiest way to get burned out. You do need to focus at one project at a time. I know it and I still don’t do it, even though I know I am more efficient that way.

  10. amandaabella says:

    Trello is great for making an organized homework list. Spent my downtime in St. Louis organizing my next steps (albeit I got in late last night, slept through my alarm today, and am staring at an intimidating mountain of business cards LOL)

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