Post-travel catch-up: How do you do it?

Amy Gahran
Barcelona was fabulous, especially the living statues. Now it’s back to real life. (Cringe!)

I’ve just returned from a 2-week trip that mixed business, vacation, and family. It was quite a whirlwind, but it was also fun, exciting, and important in many ways. While I was gone I was able to keep E-Media Tidbits going, but not much on Contentious. Due to laptop problems (now fixed, all I needed was a new power converter), I was mostly on other people’s machines and didn’t want to hog them.

Now I’m back home, in regular life again. Fortunately I feel rested — I managed to get adequate rest while on the road, and when I got home yesterday I went straight to a fabulous massage and then took it easy all evening. Today I’ll go for a bike ride to get some exercise.

However, I really need to hit the ground running to prepare for a workshop I have to give in L.A. next week. Of course, I have backlog — bills and billing, touching base with clients, responding to correspondence, cleaning house (it’s a bit chaotic, which makes it hard for me to concentrate), and finding a way to do an adequate brain dump so I don’t lose the insights gained on this trip.

How do you manage your post-trip catch-up? Any tips I might benefit from? Please comment below!

6 thoughts on Post-travel catch-up: How do you do it?

  1. That’s a tough one! I usually just triage my email and field the most important first. A key idea to help me retain my sanity is to expect that it WILL take a few days to catch up, and sometimes even longer…

    Good luck with it all!

  2. Between a just-finished fellowship project, a book-in-progress and regular reporting work, I am gone at least 1 week a month and often 2.

    Things I try to do:
    – while traveling, don’t neglect email; winnow it down and organize it, maybe by creating some temporary ACTION folders. Knowing you have to come back to 1000s of unsorted messages will freeze your brain.
    – Acknowledge the importance of catch-up time – it’s not an indulgence, it’s a cost of doing business. It takes me at least 1 full day to catch up for every week i have been gone.
    – Do a quick scan of whatever’s on your home desk (bills, mail) and in your temporary ACTION folders to check for hidden emergencies, but move very quickly to dumping anything that is a product of the trip: upload soundfiles, annotate notebooks, sort through the paper you carried back, get the business/moo cards into your personal database (or at least annotated on the back with key details). The key issue here is to recognize that the stuff waiting for you (mail, email) is already in its final form and will not decay if subjected to a brief wait. But the stuff you brought with you is not in final form, it’s partly in notebooks and partly in your devices and partly in your head. If you don’t fish it out, make the connections between the various pieces and assemble it into something coherent as fast as possible, it will decay – you’ll lose important details. (NB: By final form, I don’t mean a written story or completed video piece; I mean instead a fully legible notebook, written record of mental impressions, etc.)
    – Once that’s done, sort the remaining stuff by task type or project or whatever works for your organizational systems, and then accept that you’ll just have to power through. But don’t log a 15-hour day trying to master it all; travel is hard even when it’s fun, and working beyond your limits your first days back won’t help your recovery.
    – Schedule a small reward at the end of your catch-up day(s) – dinner, movie, etc. Me, I like a cocktail.

  3. It’s always a challenge to get caught up after a long trip. One thing I like to do is immediately toss/recycle/delete all the junk mail that’s built up. That makes the pile look a lot more manageable.

    On the housecleaning front, now is the time to hide the mess! You can catch up on laundry, or anything else that’s vital, but I would put off deep cleaning until your work load is more manageable.

  4. Just got back from visiting family in Chicago and had to play catch up during this very busy week. My strategies:

    1. I try to return on a Saturday or early Sunday so I have the weekend to do things like wash clothes, unpack, and buy groceries

    2. I have a virtual assistant who has full access to my Outlook information using Plaxo. If an appointment needs to be set up or resheduled, she can do it.

    3. I take advantage of the WIFI at the airport to check and respond to email.

    4. I can also use my Treo to check and respond to messages

    5. Like Dave, I do major prioritizing on email and voice mail. Clients get first priority, then new business, business people I’m working with. I acknowledge that I’m probably going to file or delete most non-essential email.

    6. I try not to schedule vacations before weeks that I know will be busy. In this case, it didn’t work. The end of the month is always kind of psycho so this week has been pretty tough

    7. I don’t schedule any appointments my first day back. I keep the day open so I have time to get through everything.

    Hope this is helpful.

  5. Dave: Well, I got fairly well caught up in two days, so that’s not so bad. Using GTDinbox really helps me triage stuff, process it, and take action quickly.

    Maryn: Yep, I didn’t neglect e-mail while I was gone. Caught up on it pretty well on the last leg of my trip, when I returned from Spain and visited family in NJ for a few days. I’ve been pretty good over the last several months of keeping my inbox empty — which continues to be a relief!

    Where I fell down was the post-trip “dump” — I have my photos thanks to my friend who was in Barcelona with me — all my photos were on her computer, since I couldn’t use mine at the time. But the paper, notes, etc. are all still chaos. That’s a problem. I can already feeling their relevance starting to decay. Eeek!

    NeverTheSameRiver: I did promptly sort through the mail and pay bills. And I kept the housecleaning cursory. But what can I say — my husband was here alone while I was gone, so I had to do *something* about the accumulated chaos! 😉

    Judy: I’ve also learned that it’s a good idea not to schedule any meetings or phone calls the first day back from a trip. Maybe I learned that from you!

    Thanks, all. I’ll keep working on my system.

    – Amy Gahran

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