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7 Ways to Improve Focus After a Vacation

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    Prep Properly

    Pre-vacation prep should involve more than setting that out of office email. "I make a detailed to-do list in the Notes app on my iPhone, and make sure each one is taken care of," says Jason Jennings, productivity expert and author of Hit the Ground Running. Do this at least two days before leaving so there's ample time for unexpected errands or last-minute requests from the boss. "I also empty my email inbox and clean every item off my desk so that the only thing I'll find upon my return are a pen and clean pad of paper." Consider it a clean slate for when you come back, rather than returning to a cluttered mess that will only bring back the anxiety you tried to leave behind.

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    Come Home Early

    We know, cutting your vacation short isn't exactly what you want to hear. But hear us out: Coming back a day early—so, on Saturday evening if you plan to head into work on Monday—allows ample time to go grocery shopping for the week, catch up on email (even if it's just deleting the unimportant ones), and set priorities for the first full work day. Doing so will help you avoid getting overwhelmed, says Keri Peterson, MD, physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who works with ZocDoc. "Slowly transitioning back into real life—like coming home and going grocery shopping right away, using a food delivery service, or even freezing meals before you go that you can thaw out when you return—are little things that will take the edge off before you get back into work," she says. "If you don't, you're more likely to get burnt out quickly, your stress level will be too high, and then the vacation you just came back from will have done you no good."

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    Unplug—For Real

    Don't answer emails unless it's an emergency. Doing so signals to your coworkers that you're available, and they may not think twice about sending more work your way. Instead, simply check in to delete spam or flag messages so you know which to address first as soon as you're back. You wouldn't want to cancel out the relaxing benefits of vacation, would you?

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    Be the First One in the Office

    There's no doubt about it: Working in the office without coworkers or phone calls to distract you will improve your focus. So on your first day back, plan to head in at least a half hour early—maybe even an hour, depending on how long you were away—to answer emails, suggests Jennings. That way you're not starting your day behind the ball, and your boss will appreciate your being ready to dive back in. And whatever you do, don't leave that "out of office" message up, even if you're just trying to catch up without distraction. "It makes it appear as though you're hiding or forgot to take the OOO down," says Jennings, which can show a lack of focus.

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    Get Back to Your Workouts

    The temptation to skip a workout in favor of extra time in the office will be strong. But try to resist, as quality sweat time can help dissipate any lingering stress and improve mental clarity. If you opted out of exercise on your vacation, knock the intensity level of your normal routine down a few pegs for about a week, or until you're no longer waking up the next day feeling very sore, says Peterson. Otherwise, just go by feel. "If you hit the lighter weights and the next day you're not sore at all, then advance closer to the intensity you're used to pushing yourself at, and so on and so forth until you're back to your regular routine."

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    Bump Up the Brain Food

    Skip the post-vacation juice cleanse. "Aggressively dieting when you come back from a vacation to 'get back on track' isn't recommended, and it creates a binge-and-restrict mentality," Peterson says. That alone can mess with your ability to focus at work, as many times those on detoxes are depriving themselves of the calories and energy they need to be creative. "Just try to go back to your regular eating habits right away, eat a little more cleanly, and drink a lot of water."

    If you're looking for specific foods to add into your diet, Peterson says antioxidants and healthy fats are the name of the game. Healthy fats in foods like salmon and avocado help bolster your ability to concentrate, while the antioxidants in blueberries and green tea help with long-term memory function, she says. Mixing those in with spinach and kale is a recipe for success, as research shows dark, leafy greens can also improve focus and productivity.

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    Reset Your Sleep Cycle

    Any time you change the hour you wake up at, even if it's only a few hours difference on the weekends, you're messing with your sleep-wake cycle, or your circadian rhythm, says Peterson. "It's called social jet lag, and it can lead to insomnia when you get back from vacation, or make you feel more groggy when you wake up because your body has shifted slightly forward or backward in its cycle." To battle it, adjust your light exposure. "If you're traveling east when coming back home, avoid light in the morning and allow as much sunlight as possible later in the day," she says. "If you're traveling west, do the opposite—avoid sunlight a few hours before dark so it's easier for you to fall asleep. Doing that for a few days before you travel home, and then again when you're back, will help your body readjust to its 'normal' sleep cycle." Other ways to reset include avoiding caffeine in the afternoon, eating a lighter dinner slightly earlier than normal (as heavy meals can contribute to insomnia), and drinking a lot of water to alleviate jet lag symptoms.