Hero Images/Getty Images
Hero Images/Getty Images

A few years ago I took a half day on a Friday—a half day!—and while enjoyable, it led to a brutal Monday morning. I knew I had to find a solution—or resign myself to never taking a day off ever. I opted for the solution: Now, the day before I’m due back at the office, I check my email.

I sift through pages of messages, deleting, starring, archiving, reading and then marking unread as necessary. I do this in front of the TV sometimes, with a glass of wine in one hand, the other on my phone. I don’t respond to anyone—my out-of-office vacation responder remains on until I’m officially back to work—and I don’t ping my manager or forward anything that needs forwarding. Not yet. I simply check out the scene. Doing this in advance of getting back to work reduces my stress and anxiety.

While I understand the desire to be on vacation for as long as humanly possible, by the time I’m off the plane, I’ve long since said adios to the beach, mountains, or city I’ve come from. If I stayed true to unplugging while away (which I’ve gotten really good at!), then it truly doesn’t feel as though I’m doing myself any kind of disservice by quietly, subtly, unbeknownst to any of my colleagues, checking in the night before I’m expected to hit the ground running. It takes me all of 15 minutes—and the sheer act of deleting anything that I don’t need helps keep me above water the next day when I’ve got to deal with playing catch-up in addition to the expected workplace demands. The very idea of knowing slightly ahead of time who I need to get back to and in what order puts me at ease.

Yes, it stinks to get away and relish the time off only to return and feel your blissful state immediately melt away by going through your inbox. But because I like to not only enjoy time away from the office, particularly when it’s a bonafide vacation, but also maintain that keep feeling of being recharged and refreshed for at least a few days, I compromise with myself by doing this. Trust me, it works. The Monday after a trip no longer stresses me out.

And that stress is the reason that so many Americans (55% have unused days according to a study by Project: Time Off) don’t use all or any of their vacation days. There’s a fear of returning to a mountain of work, a concern that no one else can do your job, that you won’t get promoted. Depending on your position, industry, company, and maybe even your boss, taking two weeks off to travel might require you to work overtime in the days and weeks leading up to it. Stressful, indeed!

So even though this little trick won’t work for everyone, if like me, you enjoy working hard and taking well-deserved vacations, then you might want to give this simple hack a shot. The first day back after a trip is still probably going to be one of the more demanding days of your work week. Getting back up to speed takes time and can be stressful no matter how well you set yourself up, but trust me when I say that a quick but productive email perusal the day before you’re on the clock again can help alleviate at least some of that back-from-vacation anxiety.

Updated 6/19/2020