How to Survive the First Day back in the office.

I love long bank holiday weekends. However, the return to work is not so great. Your inbox can explode on arrival (particularly if you have tacked on a few extra day holiday).

If you find yourself overwhelmed by post-holiday stress here is what to do:

Before arriving at the office

Prior to arriving at the office, prepare yourself mentally for the day. It can be hard to get up after a few lie ins but try to keep to schedule as there is no need for the extra stress of being late, or hitting a traffic jam. Have your regular coffee and wake up routine – read the news and do what ever you need to do to arrive at the office fresh and ready to go.

Morning Routine

Following a simple 30 minute morning routine before getting down to the nitty-gritty can make the work you do the first day back more effective.

1. Filing Pile (10 mins)

Quite a lot of incoming things on your desk will be reading/FYI only/filing. Clear these off your desk by having a filing pile (if you don’t already have one). Take 10 minutes to clear your desk of unimportant items so they are out of your way. If you have a secretary delegate the filing. If not, it can wait until you have a quiet moment.

2. Prioritise. Write a List. (10 mins)

I normally review what is on my desk and what needs to be done today. You should have an idea of your week and should already know what went down on your last day in the office.

Write a list and assign a priority. Note what is a priority and what needs to be done today (and what needs to be done before the end of the week). Use a labelling system, I use:

  • ‘1’ for items to be done today.
  • ‘2’ for items to be done this week
  • ‘3’ for items to be shifted to next week/when I have cleared the 1/2 items
  • ‘D’ for delegation.

If you can include a time estimate. This makes it easier to schedule into your diary.

Do the same with your post and emails and include items on your list as actions (any filing should be added to the filing pile).

Assign a 30 minute slot in the morning and again in the afternoon for dealing with emails – to read and review and assign an action.

If possible keep your out of office on to give you a few extra hours without clients getting annoyed about why you have not dealt with their specific email.

3. Negotiate your to-do list and fill up your diary (10 mins)

Be realistic about what you can do in the hours you have and schedule your to do list into your calendar. Talk to colleagues to see what their priorities are and what measures need to be taken.

For example: ‘Client X wants to complete this deal before the end of the week unfortunately the parties are still on very different pages and we are not where we would have hoped to be. I will need to spend more time on this matter negotiating it through so we are all set up. Would you mind if the application for Client Y until the end of the week. I might be able to fit it in while waiting for a response from Client X tomorrow, but there is no guarantee. If you need it done before the end of the week tell me now and I will arrange for someone else to assist with xyz.”

By the end of your first 30 minutes of the day you should have a plan. Now all you have to do is get to it.

Getting through the day

It can be hard to focus on your first day back but try to:

  • limit chit-chat to waiting for computer to boot up, coffee break and lunch time.
  • go though the morning routine, build a schedule and stick to it.
  • focus on one item at a time.
  • deal with an incoming emails/calls in your dedicated slots where possible.
  • dealing with any incoming ‘urgent’ work by reviewing your list, being realistic about what you can achieve and negotiating with colleagues.

End of the Day

Well done you have survived the first day back in the office, no doubt you will be tied and your concentration will go before home time. Use this 15-30 minutes to deal with outstanding emails/calls and prepare your to-do list for the next day so you can get stuck straight in on arrival.


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