I open the door to my house after a long flight and drive home from the airport, and Eva and I and the kids throw our bags down and immediately want to go to sleep.

We’re jetlagged, tired from traveling, worn from all-day walks around foreign cities. We flop onto our beds and have a difficult night sleeping.

In the week following, I struggle to get back on track with my work. Jetlag, sleep problems, a sick kid, and a general lack of motivation color my days following a vacation.

How do I get motivated after a vacation, or any kind of long break? It doesn’t come naturally.

Here’s what I’ve been learning.

Get Some Rest

Probably the biggest reason I have trouble getting motivated is that I’m tired. Really tired. You might think that I’d be well rested after a vacation, but we spend a lot of time hiking through mountainous areas, exploring cities by foot, being active on the beach, and are generally more active on vacation than we are at home. So I’m tired — and being exhausted makes it hard to get motivated.

So my prescription: rest as much as possible for a few days at least. Sometimes a week.

Take naps, sleep in, take it easy for a little while.

That doesn’t mean you do nothing, but rest should be a top priority in the days following a long break or vacation.

Find a Purpose

If I’m not motivated, it’s usually because I don’t have a driving purpose that makes me want to do some work. I don’t have a reason to get cranking.

So my prescription: Find something, anything, that helps other people. That will change their lives in a meaningful way. Really think about that change, about those people. If I feel the pain they’re going through, or see how they’re stuck in some way, I feel motivated to help.

We’re all like that. We all want to help people, even if we have more selfish tendencies much of the time. Tap into this, and find a reason to get moving.

Get the Ball Rolling

It’s overwhelming to think about a mountain of work you need to get working on, and when we’re overwhelmed, we often don’t even want to start.

So my prescription: Do something small. Ideally, it’s related to the purpose you’ve found. You just need to do something. Set yourself a task — just one single task — of doing something very easy. For example, I told myself to write one paragraph of the book I’m writing.

When it’s that easy, you can hardly say no. It’s no longer overwhelming. And once you get started, you feel more motivated. Set another easy task, and then another, until you’re at full steam.

Add Accountability

For me, it’s easy to put off work, because no one will yell at me or fire me if I don’t get to work right away. I can spend several days goofing off and the world won’t fall apart. When you don’t have anyone to answer to, it can be hard to find motivation.

So my prescription: Ask someone to give you accountability. Tell them you’re going to send them a draft of whatever you’re working on by tomorrow, or regularly give them your work every Friday. Ask them to make sure you get this in to them.

This always works for me. I hate to let people down, so accountability gets me moving.

In Conclusion

There are lots of times in our lives when we’re not motivated, not just after vacation or a long break. And these tips will work for any of those times.

If you’re facing one of those unmotivated times in your life, try these tactics, or a combination of a couple of them, and see if it works for you:

  1. Get lots of rest.
  2. Find a purpose, where you’re helping people.
  3. Get the ball rolling with a very small task.
  4. Ask someone to hold you accountable.

Once you’re back on track, you’ll feel great. Movement begets movement, and happiness as well.

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