Holiday & Travel Planning

Vacations End. Ease the Transition with These Tips.

No one likes returning to work after a vacation, but for adults with ADHD, transitioning back to the real world after time away can feel extra jarring. These tips — like neatening up at home, automating emails, and cleaning up your desk before going away — will prevent you from feeling like you left your brain on the beach.

A home sweet home mat in front of a door, as seen by someone going back to work after vacation
Home sweet home doormat illustration

Transitions aren’t easy for those of us with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), and one of the hardest transitions is coming back from vacation.

Jackie, a client of mine, called in a panic one day, saying, “I need your help again. I don’t know what’s wrong. I just got back from Hawaii, and I think I left my brain on the beach at Hanalei Bay. I haven’t gotten anything done at work this week, not even catching up on the emails that came in while I was away. To top it off, my suitcase isn’t unpacked and I’ll run out of underwear if I don’t do laundry soon! I was doing so great at staying on top of things, but I’ve fallen off the wagon big time.”

I assured her that backslides were not uncommon after a big transition like a vacation, but there were ways to prevent them from being catastrophic. Use these four tips to make going back to work after a vacation as painless as possible.

Tip #1: Tidy Up at Home Before You Go Away

Jackie and I created a list of things to do at home and at work before leaving on her next vacation. First on the home list was doing laundry, so she wouldn’t have to unpack and wash clothes immediately after her trip.

Doing other housekeeping business, such as paying bills, vacuuming, de-cluttering, and having a few frozen dinners on hand, would make the first week back easier. Jackie admitted that she packed in a rush and left things in disarray, which was unsettling to return to. She and I agreed that packing early and less frantically next time was important.

[Free Resource: Master Packing List]

Tip #2: Limit Meetings and Organize Your Desk

The first item on the work list was to have IT show her how to send an automatic reply to incoming emails during her week away, along with instructions to contact a colleague if something needed immediate attention. The second was to limit meetings and appointments the week before vacation, so she would have time to finalize as many work items as possible. Booking fewer appointments for the first week back would allow her to get up to speed more comfortably.

The third item on the list was having a clean, organized desk to come back to, which meant tying up loose ends before leaving. Jackie said that the first day back was the worst. She had left herself lots of Post-it notes about things to do when she got back, most of which could have been done before she left. The notes, combined with stacks of paperwork that could have been filed before leaving, made the rest of the week chaotic. I asked Jackie to call me two weeks before her next vacation to make sure she had support in putting her pre-vacation plan into action. Making the plan together was easy, but I wanted to make sure she could carry it out.

Tip #3: Self-Care on Vacation to Feel Fresh at Work

Craig and I had been working as a team only a few months before his vacation came around. He already had the habit of clearing off his desk before he left work on Fridays. Craig and I made sure that he got as many things off his plate as possible before leaving, and that he knew what to start with when he got back.

Despite the work Craig did before leaving, his first week back was rough. We both had forgotten how hard Craig had worked at building healthier sleep habits and routines, and how easily he was thrown off by staying up too late or sleeping in on the weekends. He admitted that he had partied a lot on vacation, and he said, “What’s the point of going on vacation if you can’t stay up late and have a good time?”

[Relax! How to Enjoy a Vacation with ADHD]

We agreed that eliminating nights out was not the answer, but putting limits on them was. Craig compromised by sticking to a 90-minute extension of his usual go-to-bed and get-up times on the three days before he came back, so his body wasn’t shocked his first day back at work.

In hindsight, Craig realized that he should have gotten a flight back on Saturday instead of Sunday, so he could restock his fridge and have some healthy lunches to bring to work during his first week back. When he eats in the company cafeteria, he chooses French fries or pies, and then wonders why he feels sluggish in the afternoon. Not bringing his lunch to work the first week back was part of the problem. Disruption of Craig’s self-care routines added up to a hard first week at work. Now that he is back to eating, sleeping, and exercising better, he can wrap his head around his work again.

Tip #4: Check in with a Coach

Susan, another client, works at home and has the luxury of scheduling her own time, but she needs to double up on check-ins with me before and after vacations to stay accountable. She realizes that before major vacations she spends too much time online researching the place she is going to travel to, and can’t muster the discipline to stay on task. Susan is a daydreamer, and that is a plus in her job as a designer. However, daydreaming about her vacation causes her to get behind in work. Extra check-ins, we found, help her stay on track.

The first week back from vacation is never fun, but it doesn’t have to be chaotic if we put things in place before we head off on a trip.

10 More Transition-Taming Tips

  1. Limit appointments the week before and the week after vacation.
  2. Tie up loose ends at work the week before vacation.
  3. File and de-clutter workspace; coming back to a clean desk is less stressful.
  4. De-clutter on the home front for the same reason.
  5. Come back two days before returning to work to un-pack, do laundry, shop for groceries, and get a good night’s sleep.
  6. Assemble an outfit that you are going to wear the first day back at work.
  7. Get to work early the first day back, so you can get off to a good start.
  8. Make a list of what you can delegate, and who you can delegate it to, while you’re away.
  9. If traveling with a family, don’t book your vacation the week before school starts. There is too much to do that week to get kids ready for school, such as getting up and going to bed earlier.
  10. If traveling across several time zones, plan enough time for your body to adjust to your home time zone before your first day back.