After returning from vacation, I'm always reminded about how quickly the mind degrades in just a couple weeks away from the usual grind. Tasks that used to take fifteen minutes can take twice the time or more. Do we just forget the shortcuts that we subliminally employ to get things done quickly and multi-task? Anyway, the loss of speed isn't what concerns me alone. It's what it takes to stay mentally in the game once returning consistently. Which really -- at least for me -- is the ability to constantly synthesize information from a diverse set of sources, including peers, newsfeeds, our internal data, benchmarks, etc.
I find that the ability to rapidly bring together information and make sense of it (i.e., tell a story or form an opinion) often takes me a week or two to relearn upon returning from any vacation longer than a few days. And I'm not even talking vacations where one truly unplugs -- checking email and voicemail isn't enough to keep one sharp alone. Personally, after a week back from my summer trip, I'm still not 100% there yet, but hope to be by next week by employing a few tricks I've learned over the years. Really, these are things that anyone can try, but they're particular useful for those who need to constantly oversee a lot of activities but must have the necessary horsepower and reserve to go deep in certain areas when asked.
First, upon returning, I think it's imperative to create a list of activities to accomplish in a given day, plus a schedule to batch them (rather than to try to multitask to get things done, even if that is one's regular modus operandi). Since it takes time to retune our mental circuitry to analyze and move on a dime, putting things into boxes and focusing only on what's inside at a given time can be a huge help with getting going and accomplishing what you need to when you're not quite as quick as usual.
Second, dedicate a good hour or so each day to reading and synthesizing a lot of information, including market numbers (e.g., commodity pricing). Re-train your brain to get comfortable with a constant stream of data. I find reviewing what happened when you're away in detail is a great way not only to feel caught up, but also to get back in the groove of sensing information on a screen or page rather than having to think about it and come to a conclusion in context -- or leverage it in other ways. For example, I spent a good hour yesterday morning looking at PMI, unemployment and commodity information numbers throughout August and early September in a quiet room, trying to weave together a storyline to explain what happened and the interrelationships between the data.
This last point brings me to my third trick -- bounce ideas off colleagues more often than you usually would when coming back. In my own case, after looking at the economic and commodity numbers early yesterday morning on my own, I asked my lovely wife for her interpretation of related data and want it meant for demand heading into the fall, and her view about interpreting somewhat mixed economic signals. Talking to others and asking questions to get their take is not only about second opinions. It's about learning and taking in information in different ways. I know that I synthesize and put things into the personal hard drive in my noggin differently when listening to people talk versus reading it myself. Something about the interaction seems to help get the neurons firing again.
Within procurement and finance -- whether we analyze slices of the market or manage a team -- the ability to sort through large amounts of quantitative and qualitative information on a constant basis is a key for accomplishing our jobs effectively. Don't underestimate the need to re-tune your system after giving yourself even a partial (if not full) mental break from the daily grind!