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You want to know how to manage your to-do list after taking time off. It’s true that it can be difficult to get back into the routine of things after being away from your desk.
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 tackle your to-do list and get back into the work groove after time off?
Here are a few strategies I use to get myself back into productivity mode after having taking a vacation or time off from work.
1. 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!
2. Return home 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, so I always ask my husband (or traveling buddies) if we can get a one day jump on the traveling. 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!
3. Don’t try to 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.
4. 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 Focus@will as I would be lost in my every day routine without it. This music app is specially designed by scientists to make you more productive. Seriously!
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!
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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 to tackle your to-do list
Sometimes the best way to deal with stress is to re-evaluate the situation and get organized. Stop spending so much time focusing on the problem and work on finding a solution.
Here’s a quick checklist of how to tackle your to-do list and go from being stressed to feeling accomplished!
Break it down
No matter what size the task is it will be less overwhelming if you break it down into smaller goals and tasks. For example, if “file income taxes” are on your to-do list, it can easily be put into much smaller and less dreadful to-dos.
Start by gathering up all your W2’s, 1099’s, bank account info and other income statements for the year. Then on another day, create a spreadsheet of all your expenses and any big purchases you made (like a car, a house or business equipment).
In a few days you’ll have everything prepped for what you need to file your taxes and can take it to a CPA or file them online yourself. By spending 10-20 minutes everyday, you can quickly break your to-do list down into easily manageable chunks.
See what you can streamline
At first glance your task list might look like a never-ending time suck, but if you take a closer look you should be able to identify things that can be done at the same time, or even multitask while doing something else.
Can you pay your utility bill while sitting in line to pick up your prescriptions? Can you find a yummy crockpot recipe to cook while you and your family are at school and work the whole day? Find what takes up the most time for you and see if you can combine it with something else.
Within your business, you should be able to streamline your work and even delegate out certain tasks. It may be a smart investment to pay someone $20 an hour to handle something that could consume your entire day.
Free up your day by streamlining and delegating work!
Eliminate unnecessary errands
Traffic is one of the most time-consuming things that can eat into your schedule. Between commuting and running around doing errands, you could spend an entire day getting things done.
In order to save time, eliminate unnecessary errands by doing things like participating in a carpool or having your groceries delivered. And instead of driving across down to the bank to make your deposits, try using an app like Ingo Money to load your checks instantly onto a Prepaid card.
No more waiting in line at the bank or wasting time driving to the ATM. All you have to do is take a picture of your check with your smartphone to send to Ingo Money.
You can choose to pay a small 1% or 4% fee depending on the check type (with a $5 minimum fee) to load the funds to your card in minutes. Or if you prefer to load the funds onto your card for free, you’ll have to wait 10 days to access the money.
Reward your progress
Tackling your to-do list can easily turn into a chore if you don’t infuse a little fun into it. As you check items off your list, reward yourself with a little something special. Take a break and dance to some fun music, or go for a walk outside.
Let yourself indulge in a yummy snack (hello cookies!) or sit down with a hot cup of coffee and a book to relax before you hit your second wind. I like to watch a 30 minute episode of something on Netflix or a funny sitcom.
If you set up increments of work and reward slots within your day, you’ll be a lot more motivated to get your to-do list done early!
Instead of trying to do everything on your list, simplify your expectations and only choose 1-3 things that need to get everyday. Before you start work, or begin your errands, pick a few tasks that are a high priority.
If you can get them done by the end of the day then I’d call that a win! Don’t worry about everything else on the list, just prioritize these things and get to it. (And don’t forget to do a little dance when you’re finished!)