A creative freelancer's guide to getting back to work after a summer break

Struggling to get back in the swing after your summer holiday? Finding the inbox a little overwhelming? These tips from the Creative Boom community will help you out.

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

You've just come back from the perfect holiday. But your heart sinks when you realise you're meant to work tomorrow.

Normally, you love your freelance life. But right now, you can't think of anything worse. And when you finally drag yourself back to your desk, you find engaging your brain and summoning enthusiasm an uphill battle, to say the least.

We've all had experiences like this. At worse, it can put you off wanting to go on holiday again. But it doesn't have to be this way.

We canvassed the Creative Boom community to get their advice on how to ease yourself back to work in a natural, relaxed and positive way, and they came up trumps. Read on to discover their top tips on beating the post-holiday blues once and for all.

1. Have a buffer day

Let's face it: the longer and better your holiday has been, the less you can face work the day after getting back. And that's quite natural. Your sleep patterns will have been disrupted after all those lazy lie-ins, and jet lag can worsen all that.

Plus, even if you have (weirdly) been sticking to the same wake/sleep patterns from your working life, your brain and body have become accustomed to, well, not doing much all day. And so it can take a lot of adjustment to return to your normal energetic, productive self.

For all these reasons, it's wise to avoid returning to work immediately. Instead, schedule at least one day to readjust to everyday life.

"I try to come back from vacation with a buffer day factored in, so I'll come back on a Saturday if I have to work on Monday," says brand designer Molly O'Neill . "I'll also avoid having any client meetings on that Monday. It's a slow restart day to catch up on emails, plan the week, and just sit quietly on my studio sofa."

And if it's not practical to schedule even one buffer day? Then plan in advance to make that initial working day as stress-free as possible. So, for example, before you set off on holiday, prepare and freeze your meals for that first day back, set out your clothes, tidy your desk, and anything else that will save stress.

2. Keep the holiday vibe going

One of the biggest problems is the sharp contrast between 'holiday life' and 'normal life'. So why not lessen that dichotomy by keeping that holiday vibe going?

Okay, we wouldn't recommend necking a pint of sangria while you're catching up on emails. But why not load up those summer-soundtrack songs you've been grooving to on holiday on Spotify? If it's nice outside, have your breakfast in the garden. Even putting on some sun tan cream or after-sun lotion (it's good for your skin, after all) can bring that holiday feeling flooding back. It might sound weird, but it really works: try it.

"I try and add a few of my newly acquired holiday routines to my day, like a special breakfast or lunch walk," says brand and marketing consultant Denise Strohsahl. While designer Berenice Howard-Smith suggests you "find something on your holiday and pop it on your desk. I love a hag stone or beach find. Buy a book from the area, read it, and retain a little holiday mood. Wriggle the toes, breath and gently go forward." Finally – finances permitting – the best way to keep a holiday mood going is to plan the next one!

3. Be nice to yourself

There's a reason that freelancers especially find it difficult returning to work: guilt. We're intensely aware that every day not working is a day not earning. And although we know it makes no logical sense, we sometimes beat ourselves up about this and feel we must dive back into doing so as quickly and urgently as possible.

If that's you, stop. Take a breath. And be kind to yourself. As Berenice says: "You deserve a break as much as the next person."

And if that isn't enough, artist and illustrator Carina Lindmeier suggests taking practical action to cheer yourself up. "It may sound very banal, but I buy beautiful flowers for myself, like a welcome back," she says.

4. Ease yourself back in gently

Let's be realistic. You will never be 100% efficient, productive, or goal-smashing on your first day back. So don't try to be. "Start small," recommends illustrator Kat J. Weiss. "Sometimes, just starting a thing is the biggest hurdle you must overcome. Once I've gotten over that, I can get into the work flow."

Illustrator and motion designer Tayla de Beer takes a similar approach. "Starting with small, seemingly unrelated tasks always gets me back into the groove," she says. "Tidying your studio space leads to some sketching, and before you know it, you're mailing ADs and creating illos just like before. Once you gain momentum, you're less likely to want to stop."

Still not feeling it? Here's a suggestion from brand designer Yvie Ormsby. "Along with easing into the work week again, I do a quick, creative play exercise to kick my brain into an inspired mode," she says. "My fave is a brainstorm around any old word; I actually keep these for future research."

Starting with small, seemingly unrelated tasks can get you back into the groove. Once you gain momentum, you're less likely to want to stop.

5. Extend your out-of-office

The most common thing creative freelancers do on returning to work is to start checking emails. But when you've hundreds of messages to reply to, that can be incredibly draining. So why not… just not?

"My advice would be to give yourself time and don't expect to hit the ground running straight away," says illustrator, logo designer and muralist Michelle Abrahall. "Consider leaving your' out of office' on for an extra half a day, so clients and colleagues don't expect an instant response."

Digital designer Jacquelyn Farnsworth agrees. "I find that jumping right back into email can be depressing because there's so much to catch up on," she says. "I just remind myself to take it slow and try to fit in some lighter, fun projects during that first week."

6. Harness new ideas while they're still fresh

If answering emails isn't the first thing you should do on returning from holiday, what is? Well, hopefully, while you've been away and relaxing, you'll have come up with tons of new and exciting ideas for your practice. So it's great to jump on this as soon as possible.

"Those first days back are precious, says brand strategist Emily Penny. "I'm usually bursting with ideas and questions about my own process and craft. So I start with a thought piece to work through those thoughts before reconnecting with client work. It's a way of reminding myself what I really do."

Dave Hartill, managing director and founder of Fuzzy Duck, follows a similar approach. "Having a break really frees up the mind, and on return to work, anything seems possible," he explains. "So the first thing I do is to get the ideas down before the world of deadlines interrupts. The act of writing itself for me always seems to boost creativity, often more than a sketchbook."

7. Re-evaluate your priorities

Another thing many creatives find about holidays is that they give us space to re-evaluate our careers and lives more broadly. That's often the case for Petra Smith, founder of Squirrels and Bears. "I use the time off to reflect," she explains. "So when I'm back, in addition to picking up unfinished projects and dealing with urgent client requests, I also take the opportunity to review my priorities using the Stop-Start-Continue approach. It gives me a fresh perspective and helps to refocus my energy."

Freelance illustrator Oda Margrethe Lilleaasen has a similar outlook. "I'll lay out a large sheet of paper on my first day back, write down what I wanted before summer, and check with myself if those are still my priorities," she explains. "Then I'll write out all my project plans for the fall – new and old."


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