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Motivation after the holidays

Returning to work after a break can be a slog. You’re not alone in feeling this, we’re feeling it too.

You’ve worked hard to fully switch off from work mode. If switching your out of office on is the start of your holiday then switching it off most certainly means the end. As soon as that first morning alarm of the year goes off it’s all on again but becoming instantly productive is not always as easy as it seems.

But the good news is that’s ok! We’re human beings, not machines. It’s completely natural to feel a bit sluggish. So why waste all that mental goodwill from your well-earned downtime on negative post-holiday stress?

To help you come back to work in the right frame of mind, we have some tips on how to stay motivated, keep yourself sane and happy, and achieve some wins on your first day back. If you’ve already got through day one / week one by now, we promise the rest of January will be easier

So - how do we get motivated after a holiday?

 Start with the smallest tasks possible

If you’re gripped by a sense of panic or even guilt when you come back to work from the holidays. You’ve been “switched off” for days and the obvious answer is to make up for lost time, right?


Whilst it’s tempting to dive right into massive projects, we recommend baby steps. Easy wins. Easy gratifying wins.

Our brains react positively to seeing progress on tasks no matter the size. Psychologists call this the completion bias, where your brain gets a hit of dopamine whenever you cross off items from your to-do list.

While this bias isn’t always a good thing (it can just as easily put too much emphasis on small tasks instead of focusing on larger goals, it can be a blessing when you’re in a motivational rut.

So how can you use this to stay motivated when coming back to work?

Start with any admin hanging over from last year. Tidy your workspace, freshen your surroundings. Feel good about where you’re at you’ll feel better with what you’re about to do. What tasks do you most like about your job? Identify them. And do them. Repeatedly if you must.

Keep your out-of-office message on as you deal with your most important messages

One of the most stressful aspects of coming back to work is facing the onslaught of piled up communication. Your inbox may be fuller than you’d like it to be. But really, how important are the messages in there anyway?  The last thing you want to do is spend the first day(s) back chasing inbox zero.

Diving right back into the thick of it isn’t the best answer. Time and task management is where it’s at. Keep your out-of-office reply on for an extra day to calm the influx of messages if you can. Sure, the colleagues sitting next to you know you’re there, but there’s no need for the rest of the world to figure that out. An extra day gives you space to get things sorted out without new expectations piling on.

Forget dealing with emails in chronological order and instead scan your inbox and deal with the most important ones first. You’re more concerned with what happened while you were away, not necessarily when it happened. 

Block distractions on your first days back

You’re not the only one who feels the need to dive right back in after a holiday. And unfortunately, that means lots of requests for meetings, updates, and catch ups. While these are pretty much inevitable, nothing kills your motivation like losing a whole day to them.

One technique you can try is to block out your first hour (or day) back to get grounded, formulate a plan, and reassess your priorities.

Ideally, try and keep your first day back schedule-free from any meetings or appointments—keep it as open as possible so that you have the entire day free to catch up and not feel overwhelmed. If blocking off a full day is out of the question start with an hour or 90 minutes. At a minimum, you should block digital distractions so you can stay focussed and allowing you to feel the rush about making some progress.

Build momentum by prioritising tasks and banking those early wins

Even if you give yourself an hour or two to re-centre yourself in the workspace, it’s common to still be daunted by everything that needs to be done. You’ll have a lot to catch up on. However, most productivity experts suggest taking a few moments to group and prioritise your back to work task list.

Try this:

  • Start by creating a master list of everything that needs to be done. This means tasks, emails, meetings, catch-ups, 1-on-1s, reports. Everything. Getting all those thoughts out of your head and onto paper will be a huge relief and help you start to make sense of it all.

  • Choose one thing you can tick off quickly. Those a quick, early win builds confidence and motivation.

  • Make a plan for the rest of the day. Create a short to-do-list of a handful of tasks pulled from your master list and broken down into bite sized chunks. Feel the satisfaction of striking through those tasks once completed.

 Re-connect and talk with your colleagues

Ask them about their break. And ask them how they feel about being back at work. Compare notes and you’ll quickly see that that you’re all in the same waka and that in itself can bring motivation and   comfort. Schedule these chats for the afternoons as a reward for getting through the first morning(s).

Take advantage of the break in routine to build better work habits

One of the most undervalued benefits of taking time off is that it allows you to see your workday with fresh eyes. A good vacation pulls you back a little bit, from the day-to-day grind.  When you first come back to work, resist the urge to fall back into your old working ways. We all build some bad working habits over time, and holidays give us a fantastic opportunity to improve them. 

While you’re getting back into the swing of things, be conscious of your usual actions. What can you be doing better? Use a simple piece of paper to track what you’re doing, when, and why.  New year. New you. 

Don’t be too hard on yourself

Finally, remember that it’s OK to feel a bit flat on your first day back to work. Being productive at work is a marathon, not a sprint. And a slow start is better than a pulled muscle in the first mile. If you’re feeling daunted, then take a step back and walk away.

Take 5 minutes out, get some air, seek some motivation to spur new ideas and refuel your depleted energy stores. Believe in yourself. Remember that you are good at your job. If you weren’t then chances are you wouldn’t be coming back to work anyway. Self-awareness can be one of the most undervalued benefits of taking time off in that it allows you to see your work with fresh eyes.

There’s nothing worse than having a nice, relaxing holiday ruined by the anxiety of coming back to work. Instead, these tips should help you transition back into the workday in a way that works for you.

And remember team - you got this! 2022 bring it on. We’re ready for you.