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How to Refocus at Work After the Holiday Break

December 18, 2019 | Filed in: Your Career

There’s no getting around it: returning to work post-holiday break is not fun. You’ve been busy spending time with family and friends, drinking eggnog, and unwrapping presents. Now you’re busy catching up on work and trying to meet a series of deadlines. The truth is, no matter how much you love your job, the early January return somehow always feels like a slap in your unfocused face. 

With the long, cold days here to stay and the holiday lights gone, it can be tempting to hide in bed and pretend it’s December 31st all over again. “Starting the new year with a renewed sense of energy and motivation can be challenging after a holiday break,” says Bonnie Marcus, top women’s leadership coach and author of The Politics of Promotion. “Instead of approaching going back to work with dread, it’s wise to build your enthusiasm and positive energy from what you accomplished the previous year.” 

While you still may not be running in with glee towards your desk, figuring out how to refocus at work doesn’t have to be as hard as previous years. With these helpful tricks—and your favorite feel-good outfit—you’ll find yourself refocused at work in no time. 

Recognize Your Accomplishments from the Past Year 

When you return from time off, you may find that your confidence is a bit shaken and you’re questioning your abilities. Anytime out of the groove of work can have this effect, but there’s an easy way to get that confidence back. “Make a list of your accomplishments from the previous year. Congratulate yourself for what you’ve achieved, and use that positive energy to look ahead to an even more productive year. What do these achievements say about you and your work?” says Marcus.

By looking at what you’ve already accomplished, you’re reminding yourself of how capable you are at your job, and it’s much easier to shake that feeling of inadequacy that appeared post-break.

Set Your Intentions

New year, even better you—right? Use your first few days back to really think about what you hope to achieve in the coming year. Let your past accomplishments be a guide for what you want to continue working on and where you would like to improve. “Connect what you want this year to be about, and create a vision and goals that will propel and inspire you. This helps you to build momentum and to stay focused throughout the year,” says executive life coach Rochelle Davidson, CPCC, ACC. Also, make sure to set short-term goals for the first week back, as well as the month of January. Hitting those more immediate milestones can add to that momentum you need moving forward.

Leap Into Your Routine

Whether you’re ready to go back to work or not, sadly, the holidays are over, the new year has come, and with it, so has a return to your usual routine. While you may not be completely in the zone just yet, this is the time to employ the old adage of “fake it till you make it.” Thankfully, humans are creatures of habit. “Holiday time can disrupt our exercise, sleep, and nutrition routines. Not to worry: Your body and mind thrive on routine, so regardless of how off you may have gotten during the holidays, connect back to that routine,” says Davidson. She ensures that you will thank yourself for it.

Don’t Worry About Being Perfect 

The Choe top and the Oshima pant.

While jumping back into your routine will help you get back on track, don’t expect to do it perfectly the first day back on the job. As Jane Scudder, a leadership expert, executive and business coach, and founder of The New Exec says, “One of the most important things to do for yourself in order to transition back into work after the holidays—or any break—is to give yourself space and time to not transition.” Simply put, don’t get mad at yourself for not being at your very best right away, as this will only make you more frustrated and less able to concentrate. Instead, acknowledge it and accept that you’re adjusting. 

In execution, Scudder explains that process will look different for every person and job environment. “It might be not taking meetings your first day or few hours back in the office, or delegating work to others on your team. Team leaders with the authority to do so might even suggest their direct reports clear two hours in the morning to do this as well—thereby creating a social norm within the team to take a little bit more time.” Of course, at work you’re not always afforded the luxury to go at your own pace. When deadlines loom and you’re still feeling a bit unfocused, try to prioritize what must get done. Then give yourself time, if and when possible, to decompress and reset.

Have Your Coworkers Hold You Accountable

When you’re facing looming deadlines right at the beginning of the year, look to your team for motivation and support. “The more you enlist others in your goals and what you are committed to, the easier it is to hold yourself accountable. Says Davidson. “Share your goals and your desired routines with others.” Odds are, none of you are feeling mentally totally back, so open communication and mutual support is key to ensuring everything that needs to get done gets done. 

Check In With Your Connections

Another way to use those around you to recenter? Take the time to meet with the people you worked with last year (clients, publicists, or the like) as a way to nurture and reactivate those relationships. “Make it your intention to schedule one-on-one time with them to catch up, and look for ways to continue to add value,” says Marcus, while simultaneously recommending that you use your time to find new contacts that could “influence your career and initiate connections, or find ways to open up doors to new opportunities, using your value proposition and past results to build influence.”

Center Yourself

Again, sometimes you may have no choice but to jump right in and hope for the best. However, if you can take a few minutes throughout the day to center yourself, it may make a world of difference. “This doesn’t have to be a dedicated stop or full meditation,” Scudder says, recommending that you find times when you’re already alone to try this. “It can simply be something like committing to taking an extra breath every time you go to the bathroom. That’s likely less than 10 seconds and something that you will do a few times during the workday already. If that extra 10 seconds still feels too long, consider paying attention deeply when you wash your hands. Assuming you’re already doing this for a few seconds or more each time you use the bathroom, this shouldn’t add anything onto your plate, but it will create a moment to reconnect with yourself during what can be a hard shift back into the swing of things.” 

By reconnecting with yourself, even just for a few breaths, it can make the stress of jumping back into work feel more manageable and the tasks in front of you less seem less scattered around your head. Forgive yourself for not being at your best on day one, and just commit to doing the best that you can. Eating some leftover Christmas cookies at your desk isn’t a bad idea either. 

Photos by Matthew Priestley.

Styling by Nyjerah Cunningham. 


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Sarah Fielding is a freelance writer based in New York and the co-founder of Empire Coven, a space for highlighting trailblazing women across New York. She covers a range of topics, with a special focus on mental health and female empowerment, and her work has appeared at Bustle, INSIDER, Men’s Health, Healthline, Fashionista, Elite Daily, HuffPost, Dorsia, Invisible People, Matador Network, NYLON, and OZY. Find her on Instagram @sarahfielding_ Read more of Sarah's posts.


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