Preparing to leave for vacation is only half the process in ensuring we take a successful vacation. Taking steps to return from time off feeling refreshed and ready to take on whatever awaits is the second critical step in taking a successful vacation.

Oh calendar, my calendar!

With the emergency response plan approach we discussed in Part 1 of this article, we need to take a serious and unforgiving look at the meetings scheduled during the first few days of our return. Coming back refreshed and ready requires taking control of the calendar.

Taking a day off before resuming a look at email is one method to ease the transition back to work and is essential if we are traveling long distances or across several times zones. Working from home on our first day back is also a great way to process emails and voice messages as well as prioritize the days ahead. Finally, coming back mid-week, leaving only a couple of days to work before taking time away on the weekend can ease the transition.

The key is to create as much open time on the calendar in the first few days back so we have time to absorb whatever may have happened while we were out.

(Un)set goals

Approaching vacation like any other project we manage means we must set clear expectations. Before heading out of the office, we must figure out what we want out of the vacation.

Would we love to see a new place with our kids? Have a romantic getaway? Sleep for days on end or hike a mountain?

Find a way to answer the question: How will I know if I have had a successful vacation? Time off means something different to each of us and can even be varied across our own vacations. The important thing is to figure out what we want out of this time away from the office.

Then, as with any other goal setting, we have to look at the answer and consider if it is realistic. Will it really be fun to drag the family across the country Clarke Griswold style? Is it possible to read three thriller novels when travelling with two toddlers? Create realistic expectations, then figure out possible ways to accomplish them.

The goal is not to create a detailed itinerary, penciling in when we can sleep for 10 hours and when we can read 100 pages. The idea is to ensure that those of us who tend to be a bit Type A are not over planning our time off. Or similarly, if we are the type to set exceedingly high and voluminous expectations, we need to take those down a few notches as well.

The bottom line is: To return from a vacation feeling ready and refreshed requires a commitment to time management as well as some solid management of expectations. As many of us have learned, we cannot draw clear lines between work and life, but it is possible to draw a clear line between work and vacation.

By using the rules of work to manage our time off like a project, we can ensure a successful vacation!