Graham’s WFH Tip #6 – Plan your first day back before you leave

I’ve recently returned to work after a week of holiday, which was wonderful.

On this occasion I had the privilege of going away returning on the Saturday. When this happens Sunday can feel like a bit of a lull day, I’m no longer on holiday, but I’m not yet at work.

Work is just over the horizon, I can’t yet see it, but my mind is already highlighting to me that it’s there. The negative part of me expects it to be stormy. It’s inevitably going to be a hectic combination of catching up and attending to the regular duties. I know that there is already a mountain of communication awaiting me on a screen that is within easy reach, just a few short steps away.

As the lull progresses the temptation to dive in and reduce the size of the storm grows. What harm can it do? Surely a small amount of preparation time now will reduce my stress and make things go smoother in the morning?

This is a mistake, for me anyway. I need to resist this itch. The pull is strong, but experience tells me that it won’t end well if I give in.

When I do give in, this is what really happens.

As expected, the mountain of communication is significant, unfortunately the stream of information is always incomplete, that’s normal. This isn’t a problem on a working day because I would contact the people involved and get a fuller story. On a post-holiday lull day there isn’t anyone to talk to, they’re still enjoying their weekend. The incomplete story will remain deficient; it sits there as a cloud in the storm.

That’s not the real problem though, it’s now incomplete and in my head. It sits there, in conscious, as a blob of frustrating ambiguity bouncing around trying to find resolution. Any post-holiday serenity that was remaining has been depleted and I let the culprit in.

I return to the mountain of communications and find a stream of emails that make me want to shout “No! Don’t do that!” At this imagination kicks in and I picture the many ways that people may have responded, and all the work I’m going to need to do to get them back on a sensible track. Why do bad ideas travel so much quicker than good ones? On a normal working day, I would be able to head off a bad idea before it had chance to germinate. It’s not possible to do that on holiday. On a lull day I know that the ideas have headed out into the wild, but I still can’t do anything about them. These ideas get as far as my head, another dark cloud hanging there, further depleting my post-holiday serenity.

Here’s the thing, though, when I do set off to tackle the poor idea, I frequently find that I’d misunderstood what was meant anyway. The black cloud I’d imagined wasn’t even real, something I would have found out in my first conversation with someone. If I’d left these communications until the morning the darkness would have lasted a few short hours instead they will now linger needlessly overnight.

There’s also a set of communications about things that need fixing, the problem is, there’s always some where it’s not clear whether it’s already been fixed or not. More clouds.

In short, by trying to tackle the storm early I’ve just walked into the middle of it with no immediate way out. The exit will arrive, on schedule, on the next working day, which is when I should have stepped into the storm.

So, what’s the tip? Plan your first day back before you leave.

Specifically, set time in your diary for your return, block it out. Make sure that this is a conscious task that you will remember while you are away. Remind yourself in the lull day that you don’t need to step into the storm because you have some time already set aside for that.

Enjoy the lull day.

On your return, use the time to go through your communication and build a list of things that you need to tackle, don’t try to tackle them in that time. Remind yourself that everyone survived without you for a period, they can survive for a few more minutes. Make the list a physical thing, don’t try and store it in your head. Once you’ve built the list, tackle the list.

New to Graham’s WFH Tips? Here’s a handy list to help you catch up.

Header Image: This is South Stack Lighthouse on Holy Island in Wales. Accessed is via a path of 400 steps and a short bridge over the sea, as you can see from the following picture looking back from the lighthouse. At least the bridge is now sturdy and metal, it used to be hemp rope!

The journey down…or up, depending on which way you are going.

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