I had the good fortune of having a six week paternity leave after Ford came into the world. It provided me the opportunity to really spend some time with my family and get accustomed to working from a sleep debt.

If you’re curious, I talk extensively about what that extended time at home was like on North Highland’s blog.

Now I’ve been back to work a couple of weeks. I totally underestimated the re-adjustment it would be getting back into office life after that long off. It was the longest I had ever been away from working in over a decade…three times longer than my longest time away.

Here are a few things that I learned getting back into the swing of things. If you’re on an extended time away from work, or know someone who is, some of these things may help!

Start Getting Into Things Before Your First Day Back

I drew a pretty hard line on shutting down while I was out, which my co-workers respected! Email, Slack, Skype and other work-related apps were deleted from my phone for the duration. The time away was going to be 100% about our new family. I knew I wouldn’t get an opportunity like that again.

That said, I didn’t wait until my first official day back to start thinking about work. I started dealing with email a few days out and scheduled time with my team before my first official day back. That way, when I came back I was mostly fully back, not spending several days trying to catch up while stuff piled up. I was able to walk in the door with a relatively blank slate.

Dealing with Email

After six weeks, the inbox tends to to pile up. Starting the weekend before I went back, I chopped down my email a little bit at a time. Deleted old messages, filed away threads that had closed loops and made follow-up tasks in Todoist with the remaining. I also took time the day before my first “official” day back to meet with my team and do a quick debrief. It helped give a lot of context to some emails and made the first day back.

I also didn’t start email until I was ready to potentially start responding. Part of drawing a hard line of being offline is being consistent about it. I couldn’t say “hey I’m inaccessible,” respond to internal client notes from time to time and confuse expectations when I decided I wanted to unplug. Part of being successful at unplugging is being consistent. That helped a lot.

Don’t Think You’ll Pick Up Exactly Where You Left Off

Even with the prep work, I really thought I’d just walk in and be able to pick up like I had never even left. That wasn’t the case. I work in marketing where plans can change by the week. It took me a few days to realize I needed to give myself some grace and not try to come into work full force. It took a few days for me to sit back, get a lay of the land and get going.

Plus, just rebuilding the muscle of having a routine and a calendar was a bigger adjustment than I thought.

For anyone else out there who has been on a parental leave or sabbatical, what tips would you add?