Returning to work after the holiday season is the biggest “Sunday Scaries” situation all year long. Everyone is dreading restarting their work grind and getting back to the swing of things, putting festivities, indulgence and relaxation officially behind them.
The transition back to the work routine can feel daunting. People who took time away from their everyday duties might find it harder than ever to restart. But, at the same time, it’s officially the new year and people have fresh hopes as they repeat mantras like “new year, new me.”
Whatever your current outlook is at the beginning of 2024, there are intentional steps that can be taken to more smoothly ease into the post-holiday work mode and kick off the new year on the right foot.
We spoke to career coaches and therapists to find out what their top five tips are for settling into the new year. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Clear out your physical and virtual workspace
Whether you’re working from home or in an office, it’s the perfect time for a little early spring cleaning.
“You want to have a fresh, clean slate,” said Nicholette Leanza, a licensed therapist at LifeStance Health. “That includes your desk and office belongings that you’ve been meaning to freshen up all year.”
That could include better lighting, adding plants, or simply reorganizing what is already there. This time of year, with the excitement of the holiday season behind us and cold, dark days here, lighting can be table stakes. Lighting can boost productivity, help your circadian rhythm, and improve your mood, especially with seasonal affective disorder lamps.
Next, Rikki Goldenberg, a career and leadership coach, says to take a look at your virtual workspace. Is your desktop cluttered? Now is a perfect time to reorganize it so opening your laptop doesn’t give you the same level of stress it did before.
“Clear out the desktop on your computer, or finally do something about your phone reminding you every day that it’s running out of space,” said Goldenberg.
2. Do an internal check on what you need to succeed in 2024
Goldenberg wants to make one thing clear: just because it’s the new year doesn’t mean you need to make resolutions that won’t continue even into February. “You can make a big change in January, but also any day of the year,” said Goldenberg.
But if you do find yourself ready for change at work, Leanza suggests determining how to mentally press a reset button. Ask yourself what can you navigate differently? What irritates you? How can your work routine change? If your boss irritates you, how do you approach them differently?
“It’s easy to fall into a rut,” said Leanza. “But these little tweaks can help you interact with your coworkers a little differently.”
3. Ease back in and continue the celebration mood
This year, most people will return to work on Tuesday, Jan. 2. If you feel like you need an extra day, take it, stressed Kara Kays, a therapist who specializes in careers and regional clinic director for Thriveworks in Colorado Springs. After a long break, it can be easier to start again toward the middle of the week so that you have a shorter week and can manage expectations better. “Get organized,” said Kays. “Then on the first full day back, you will feel ready to step back into the workplace.”
Before going back, Kays suggests practicing your workday morning ritual to wake up those muscles again before you officially need to start back up. “Remind your nervous system of what is coming next,” said Kays. “Work back into it.”
And just because the holiday season is over doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be things to look forward to. Sometimes that’s all the motivation someone needs, especially at work.
“Can there be things like monthly celebrations,” said Leanza. “How do you keep that mentality going for your team?”
4. Pick a new routine that will last into the year
Sometimes resolutions are just too big.
“The year is turning over and people say ‘new year, new me,’ but spoiler alert, you’re still the same on January 1,” said Goldenberg.
But, Leanza suggests making tweaks to your routine that are doable long-term. Otherwise, people fall back into old patterns pretty quickly. “Our brains love when things are new and different,” said Leanza. “Switch up your routine. How do you engage in your day differently? Take a walk at lunch, do virtual lunches with colleagues, take breaks.”
This might be more successful with a team approach, says Leanza. Colleagues can lean on one another to keep the momentum going of their new work habits, especially if executive leaders are also using it as a time to create a change.
Kays says it’s also helpful to inform your colleagues of any new habits that you’re starting if they’re vastly different from how you usually work.
“Inform people with your intentions,” said Kays. “Starting new habits can throw people off balance, whether it’s your superior or subordinates.”
5. Take the pressure off
Heading into the new year doesn’t mean you need to change everything. In fact, Goldenberg says she avoids that mindset as much as possible.
“There is so much resolution in January,” said Goldenberg. “People are focused on habit formation, but it’s often reactionary versus reflective. I like to use this time to have a more holistic approach of how we’re thinking about the new year.”
That’s why she uses values exercises with her clients, like choosing one word that will be their intention for the year. For 2023, Goldenberg’s was curiosity. Or, she uses the “rose, bud, thorn” exercise, which highlights one thing that went well, one thing you want to nurture, and one thing you can do without. “You can do that for the past year, month, or even week,” added Goldenberg.