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After the holiday comes the promise of a renewal

Heading back to the office some time next week? Returning to work after a holiday doesn’t rate highly in most people’s favourite experiences, but I love the first day back at work after the Christmas break.

It’s not that I wouldn’t like to still be sunning myself at the beach or being on holiday time, without dreaded 9am starts, but these first days back bring so much promise that I find myself secretly looking forward to my return.

The promise is of a fresh start. As with all New Year resolutions, this promise is characterised by sweeping aspirations that bear little relationship to the reality of life. Nevertheless, they can give a wind-assisted start to otherwise difficult challenges.

Having a desk-bound job, where January is a rare quiet time, my first week back consists of clearing up. My main aim is clearing my overloaded in-trays – both paper and electronic. Some of the paper has been there for so long, it can head straight for the recycling bin. Some emails have been there so long, I’ve had to force my computer not to auto-archive them.

In early January, there is finally time. The deadlines have receded and enough colleagues and managers are on leave to minimise the creation of new ones.Also in early January is perspective. One of the joys of returning to work after a quality break is the realisation that I’ve fully forgot some of the dramas that were happening a mere week or two earlier. Whole projects and topics of endeavour have faded from memory. This doesn’t mean that they weren’t important, but it puts perspective around the level of stress they were causing.

CLEAN UP: My main aim is clearing my overloaded in-trays – both paper and electronic. Some of the paper has been there for so long, it can head straight for the recycling bin.

I know this pattern doesn’t work for all occupations. I know there are many jobs where time off around Christmas is a luxury, even on public holidays. For many occupations, having a moment at a desk or computer is a rare event, so the clutter of an office job is never an issue.

But for office workers the clutter of work is a real issue. I am always thankful when I have managed to do a basic tidy up just before screaming out the door for Christmas. A superficial tidy is enough. Even if no actual filing has been done, simply putting the haphazard spill of papers into a couple piles is well worth the minutes spent.

I have worked between Christmas and New Year twice. The same feeling of hope is there but without the calm that comes from having had a quality break. I have also twice taken a chunk of leave so haven’t returned to work until February. This length of holiday is wonderful but the return brings its own dynamic – being thrust straight back into the normal work cycle so there is no time for any sorting or planning.Now my pattern tends to be two weeks off from before Christmas to early January. I find this perfect – long enough to relax and long enough to resume a good perspective on work.

I’ve learnt not to despair if my January expectations are not fully realised. Last year after my January tidy-up, I confidently declared that I’d delete and file emails at the end of each day and be in total control of my workload all year.

My boss, completely unsupportively but totally realistically, grinned and said he’d like to see how I was going by March.He grinned again when, by mid-February, I was back to my usual state of overload. I know this is likely to happen again but, at this moment, I don’t care. My return to work beckons and the promise of a fresh start that a tidy up brings is enough to lure me back with a spring in my step.

Vivienne Pearson is a freelance writer.

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