Americans are notoriously bad at taking vacation, so if you were smart enough to escape the office for a week or so, there's a good chance you'll come back feeling recharged and refreshed -- that is, until you discover the piles of work awaiting your attention. Coming home to a mountain of tasks, emails, and phone messages is always overwhelming, so here's how to ease your way in.

1. Establish your priorities

Maybe a high-profile project arose during your vacation, and your manager wants you to head it up. Or maybe another team is counting on you to provide data and can't move forward with its work until you do. When you're in catch-up mode, it's critical to establish a list of priorities so you know which tasks to tackle first. If you're not sure which requests warrant your immediate attention, ask for your boss's input. Then, follow that list in order of importance so you're focusing your efforts where they're needed the most.

Pile of paperwork on a desk

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

2. Make a daily to-do list for your first week back

Once you figure out which immediate tasks will take priority over others, map out a schedule that allows you to complete them, all the while chipping away at other items on your to-do list, like responding to voicemails. Though following a schedule can help on an everyday basis, it's even more crucial when you know you're already behind (even though it's not your fault).

3. Tap your resources

Before you went away on vacation, you probably enlisted the help of some colleagues to cover for you while you were away. Well, there's no reason they shouldn't extend that assistance for a few more days while you get back up to speed. If you're coming back to a mountain of work, ask your coworkers to pitch in so you don't fall further behind. Of course, you'll want to make it clear that you'll be glad to do the same for them when it's their turn to get away, but chances are, they'll understand your predicament and be willing to help.

4. Leave your out-of-office reply on for just a bit longer

It's common practice to set up an automatic email response when you're away to let people know that it'll take some time for you to respond to their messages. If you want to make your life just a bit less stressful as you ease back into work, leave that automatic reply on for another day or two as you attempt to get your bearings. Once people realize you're back in the office, they might expect you to respond in a more timely manner, so this way, you're buying yourself some leeway to get back to people -- especially those whose messages aren't urgent.

5. Keep your social calendar light

It's hard to keep up with social obligations when things are busy at work. So, do yourself a favor and don't make too many personal plans for the week you get back from vacation. Chances are, you'll have to work longer days than usual to make up for your time away, so don't put pressure on yourself to socialize after work unless it's absolutely necessary.

Adjusting to work after going on vacation isn't easy, but remember this: It'll most likely only take you a week or so to get back into the swing of things, and once you do, your schedule and workload will normalize. Until that happens, just picture yourself on that warm, sandy beach, and let the memories of your time away help you power through.

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