Workzone: Organize around the vacation mess

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Perhaps the most important task you can attend to prior to leaving for vacation is to block out uninterrupted time on your calendar during the day you return to work.

That way, you can sort through the messages and memos that await you before you jump into meetings and new projects, said Anne Zacharias, director of the Pittsburgh division of PEPworldwide, a Sweden-based firm that helps businesses improve productivity and efficiency.

“Say you know it’s going to take you four hours to get through your e-mail and in-basket. Book your calendar as busy from 8:30 a.m. until after lunch the first day back. If you don’t, you’ll be sitting at meetings thinking about 500 emails and you’re stressed,” she said.

PEP specializes in small group classes and one-on-one coaching to assist workers with productivity, Ms. Zacharias said. While webinars and other online training quickly relay the basics about technological tools, she said, they don’t always leave employees with a clear sense of how to integrate technology efficiently into the work process.

“The fact of the matter is that corporations don’t train people to be organized,” she said. “All of us are handed our computer and it has e-mail on it and maybe they gave us a few basics. But people don’t learn how to be organized in a methodical, structured fashion.”

When it consults with an client, PEP zeroes in on the type of computer operating system the organization has in place — such as Apple, Microsoft or Lotus — and demonstrates for employees various ways to use that specific program’s tools more efficiently.

For instance, “We’ll encourage people to use their electronic task list, which is less distracting than having a lot of paper and post-it notes stuck on the edge of the computer or the desk,” said Ms. Zacharias.

Among other tips she has for maintaining that relaxed, vacation vibe when you return from time out of the office:

•Don’t put off projects you dread if you can possibly get them done before you leave. “Then they’re are not hanging over your head when you’re on vacation. The whole purpose and end result of going away is so that you can actually relax.”

•If colleagues will be handling your projects or reports during your absence, make sure all are briefed electronically on up-to-date developments and designate one person who should be available to handle questions so you can avoid responding to calls or messages while you’re away.

•Set your e-mail to an “out of office” notification and do the same with phone voicemail. “You should clearly say you’re away so they are not expecting a call back,” said Ms. Zacharias.

The key to making your return to work smooth, she said, is to plan for it the way you plan for the trip.

“People spend so much time before their vacations checking airfares, hotels, restaurants and making a list that includes bringing the suntan lotion. We suggest they at least put a portion of that planning time into getting ready to leave and return to work.”

Joyce Gannon: or 412-263-1580.

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