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As the sun rises on your first workday of 2016 the hope and promise of a new year is staring us right in the face. Many of us are coming off an extended holiday with much in the way of food, fun, family and various work-avoidant activities.

Re-entry can be tough. Especially after an extended break.

Just how tough can be found in a common question we ask ourselves in secret that first morning back. It is the one question that stands between where we are at this moment and our future glory in this new year. That question – whether verbalized or not – is almost always there in the back of our minds during that first day back.

What the heck is it I do for a living again?

Yep. Re-entry can feel that extreme! I’ve often felt that way when returning from an extended time away. You have too if you’re honest enough to admit it.

Gathering your mental faculties and finding your way back into your mojo can be daunting. Especially from a cold start.

Much like the cold start of a jumbo jet, the more deliberate and systematic you are about it, the greater likelihood of re-engaging your head, heart and hands in the excellent work you are able to do.

Here are three helpful tips for a mindful and effective cold start after an extended time away.

Have a Cold Start Checklist

If you’ve ever watched the cold start procedure of a large aircraft (you can find them on youTube) you’ll find multiple checklists stand between arriving in the cockpit and flying at cruising altitude.  The only way full power of that big bird is readied for flight is through a systematic, step-by-step process from a cold start.

From the cold start the controls are enabled, power sources engaged, engines started up and the aircraft readied for flight.

Without this process the pilots would just as well jump into the cockpit and go ‘vroom vroom vroom’ pretending to be ready for flight.

Don’t laugh, sometimes our cold starts after an extended break are just like that.  We can give the appearance of work,  but not really be producing any thrust.

Regardless of the work you do, you’ll do well to be just as deliberate about enabling your work environment, engaging your engines, and giving thought and attention to all the things that come into play for your successful day.

Things that might be on your cold start checklist include:

  • A review of your vision, mission and values statement
  • A review of your goals for the coming year and quarter
  • A look at your progress and performance from last period
  • A run through your active projects and upcoming deadlines
  • A review of your typical daily to-do-list in whatever format you use
  • A limited (aka 30 minute max) scan of your email to grab the most important things first
  • Your flight plan for the day – making it modest instead of aggressive for that first day back

Connect with People

This much has not changed since you were last at work – relationships are essential. So cultivating relationships is an effective part of your cold start. Don’t begin with tasks, rather expect time to be spent catching up, sharing holiday stories, and giving the gift of time and attention.

What’s important here is not your entertainment from their stories, but rather your connection to them as persons and co-workers. Do it. Enter in. And let the relational engines warm up before you launch into your day’s flight tasks.

Just be careful not to indulge an extended time of sharing up front.  That can actually zap your productivity.  Rather nurture the rapport but ease into work.  Maintaining that relationship-task balance will give everyone a healthy momentum into your day.

Deflect the Anxieties

These can be akin to that first day of work in a new job. Anxieties about what you do, what’s expected of you, how others will receive you can greet you at the start of your first day back. If listened to they can misdirect your energies to react to things that are not the most important to an effective cold start. Often these can be exacerbated by first day back anxieties shared by all who have been away.

The effect of time and distance from your most recent work can make it seem like a chasm has crept in since you last were on top of things.

It is usually better to just focus on your cold start procedure, and let those items remain untouched until which time you are ready to systematically tackle them.

As is always the case, working under anxiety is not an effective long term motivational strategy. The fear-based, stress inducing reactions that come from anxiety is not an effective motivation for sustained performance. Deflect the anxieties – both yours and others – and systematically walk through your cold start procedure.

At this point I’ll throw in a bonus fourth point – drink lots of water. Not only does hydration always make sense for a healthy functioning mind and body, but the extra bathroom breaks can give you the momentary hide-outs to ponder that very first question if it still has not occurred to you.

Plus it’s a fitting response to the carb overloading that may have taken place while you were away.

With just a little mindfulness to your first day back by having your cold start checklist, connecting with people, and deflecting anxieties your re-entry into whatever it is you do for a living can be much smoother, less stressful and more productive.

With or without large quantities of water.

Welcome back!  I hope 2016 is your most successful and meaningful year ever!

Make Life Count