5 steps for getting back on track after an unplanned absence

I spent the better part of last week on my death sick bed. Flying back from a extended-weekend visit to Vancouver, I felt the onset of a sore throat. We arrived home and I began to mega-dose on vitamin C, hoping that would contain the situation. It didn’t. I ended up with some flu/cold combination that affected my temperature, my stomach, my head, my chest and most other parts of my body.

So, now I’m back in the office after a long unplanned break: the message light on the phone is blinking; both my virtual and real in-boxes are overflowing; last week’s next actions are now overdue; my staff and my manager all want a piece of me; and I just want to go home a crawl back into bed. How do I get things back on track?

It’s time to get back to basics:

  1. Collect: Grab everything that needs your attention. Whether you use David Allen’s mind sweep or you prefer a list format, go through your messages, e-mail, missed actions, etc. and capture all the items that require some action.
  2. Meet: Sit down with co-workers. This is the people version of collecting. Find out what was managed was you were away, what new issues have arisen and add these to your mind-sweep list. This is also a good time to thank them for covering your unexpected absence.
  3. Process: Once you’ve collected all the open loops, figure out what you need to do to close them. Whether it’s as simple as throwing a brochure in the garbage or as complex as planning a management retreat, you need to identify the steps needed to move the item forward.
  4. Prioritize: Next, you can organize the action steps into lists of what you’re going to do.
  5. Get it done: Now that you know what you need to do, get started. It may take time and effort to get things reorganized to move forward, but don’t stop at the end of step four. Here’s where you can pull things back on track. (Ten tips for giving effective instructions)

One other observation: the better you’re maintaining your system day-to-day, the smaller the impact of unexpected absences. If you are already behind when an illness strikes, it will be that much harder to bring things into line.

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