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Human Resources

How to operate at your best now you’re back at your desk

Published 15 September 2023 in Human Resources • 7 min read

Establishing a self-awareness training regime that monitors your energy levels and assesses your emotional state and presence can enhance your long-term wellbeing. 

You’ve just come back from a lovely vacation to a full inbox and a long to-do list. As you transition from a relaxed mindset to work mode, it’s essential to ensure that you function at your personal best. Yet with constant demands for your attention, those good intentions made while your out-of-office message was on can quickly get derailed. To ensure you find time to tune into your inner self, it can be helpful to establish a routine to regularly assess your cognitive and emotional state – particularly as you navigate the challenges of returning to work after a longer break. 

This process of self-reflection across three principal dimensions – energy, emotions, and presence – is a powerful mechanism to enhance our daily productivity, improve our interpersonal relationships, and bolster our well-being. By regularly tuning into these three key aspects of our existence, we can better understand our reactions and responses to external stimuli and ensure a smooth transition between our work environments and routines. 

  • Energy is the driving force that fuels our actions and decisions.  
  • Emotion is the language of our inner world that reveals our authentic responses to life’s events.  
  • Presence is our commitment to the ‘here and now’, keeping us rooted in the present moment, the only real time we truly own.  
  • By developing a keener sense of these dimensions, we can become more mindful of our thoughts, emotions, and actions, leading to a richer and more fulfilling life. 

Energy – The drive that fuels us 

Our energy levels often go overlooked until they reach extremes, like absolute exhaustion or overdrive. Yet maintaining a moment-to-moment consciousness of this dimension is vital and can come in handy as we manage the sense of overwhelm or urgency that often accompanies a return to work after a longer break. Energy is the fuel that powers our cognitive and emotional engines. 

To quantify your energy level, adopt a -5 to +5 scale: 

  • -5 signifies extreme exhaustion 
  • 0 represents a neutral state of energy 
  • +5 denotes intense vitality and enthusiasm 
life balance

After ranking your energy level, delve into the ‘why’ through a set of introspective questions: 

  • Have work-related or personal tasks been particularly energizing or draining since I’ve returned? 
  • How much rest have I had recently? 
  • Have my meals been nutritious and balanced? 
  • Have I hydrated myself adequately? 
  • What physical activity have I done? 

Understanding the ‘why’ behind your energy state is essential to manage it effectively. To do this, it’s crucial to identify what energizes you – activities, people, situations – and those that de-energize you and drain your energy. Aim to do more of what uplifts you and less of what pulls you down. Allow yourself some time to readjust to your pre-vacation energy levels. 

Increasing your energy 

Physical activity:

Regular exercise such as walking, cycling, or swimming can boost energy levels by enhancing circulation and oxygen supply to your cells. 


Balanced meals rich in whole grains and high-protein foods provide a steady release of energy. Avoid high-sugar foods that can lead to energy crashes. 


Dehydration can cause fatigue. Ensure you’re consuming adequate water throughout the day. 


Quality sleep replenishes energy reserves. Establish a relaxing pre-sleep routine and consider power naps during the day to restore energy. Again, you may need to allow your body some time to adapt to your regular, pre-vacation sleep schedule. 


A positive outlook can boost your energy. Techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or mindfulness can help shift negative or stressful thoughts that might be draining your energy. 

Emotion – The language of our inner world 

Unravelling our emotional state forms an integral part of self-awareness. Emotions act as our internal compass, providing valuable feedback about our experiences, including those related to getting back to work. 

To assess your emotional state, employ a -5 to +5 scale: 

  • -5 represents intense negative emotions 
  • 0 signifies a neutral emotional state 
  • +5 denotes intense positive emotions 

After identifying your emotion, explore the “why” with these questions: 

  • What recent events, interactions, or thoughts could have triggered these emotions? 
  • Are these emotions reactive or ongoing? 
  • Could specific expectations or desires be influencing my emotions? 
  • How is my overall mental and physical health currently? 
  • Do past experiences influence these emotions? 

Understanding what triggers strong emotional responses and recognizing your reaction patterns is key to emotional self-regulation. Explore what happens when you’re emotionally triggered and consider alternative reactions. 

Regulating your emotions 

Mindfulness meditation:

Regular practice helps you observe your emotions without reacting, allowing them to naturally dissipate. 

Deep breathing:

Deep, controlled breathing can reduce emotional intensity by activating the body’s relaxation response. 

Emotional regulation techniques:

Cognitive restructuring (changing how you think about a situation) and distraction (diverting your attention to something neutral or positive) can help manage emotions. 

Social support:

Share your feelings with supportive friends, family, or a mental health professional. Verbalizing your emotions often provides relief. 

Self-care practices:

Engaging in activities you enjoy can help to release feel-good hormones and calm intense emotions.

Presence  Living in the now 

Presence is about being fully engaged in the moment and not being distracted by past ruminations or future anxieties – including when it comes to our work tasks. 

To assess your presence, use a -5 to +5 scale: 

  • -5 means being highly distracted 
  • 0 indicates a neutral level of presence 
  • +5 represents complete presence 

Subsequently, reflect on the “why” behind your presence level: 

  • What thoughts or concerns are pulling me away from the present? 
  • Are these thoughts about past events or future anxieties? 
  • What environmental distractions are present? 
  • Have I taken on more tasks than I can handle? 

Understanding what distracts you most, such as dwelling on past events or worrying about future uncertainties, is vital in cultivating presence. Recognize your most common distractions and work to reduce their influence so you can remain focused and productive.

Improving your presence 


Exercises like focused breathing or body scans train your brain to stay in the present moment. 

Minimized multitasking:

Concentrating on one task at a time can enhance your level of presence and reduce stress. 

Digital detox:

Scheduled periods away from screens can lower distraction levels and increase presence. 

Nature time:

Time spent in natural environments can increase feelings of connection and presence. 

Regular check-ins:

Periodic self-check-ins allow you to reassess your level of presence and redirect your focus to the present moment when you get distracted. 

Establishing a triad training regime 

Understanding the triad of energy, emotions, and presence provides you with the critical data required to manage yourself and enhance your well-being, especially as you transition from vacation back to work. Here is a three-step self-awareness training practice you can start right away, upon your return:

Step 1:
Regular check-ins – Schedule brief, regular check-ins with yourself throughout the day. This could be hourly or at natural transition points in your day, like before or after meetings.
Step 2:
Reflective journaling – Document your energy, emotions, and presence levels. Write about what factors contributed to these states. Over time, patterns will emerge, providing valuable insights for self-improvement.
Step 3:
Implement strategies – Based on your findings from the first two steps and reflect on ways to manage your energy, regulate your emotions, and enhance your presence. Experiment with different approaches to see what suits you well and will allow you to operate at your personal best as you reintegrate into your work environment.
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By checking in with yourself – recognizing where you are, understanding why, and taking steps to regulate your state – you are effectively building resilience and fostering greater emotional intelligence.  

Developing this self-awareness and self-management capability across the three crucial dimensions of energy, emotion, and presence, enables you to better manage your resources and reactions and empowers you to lead a more productive, contented life. An ongoing practice of regular check-ins, reflective journaling, and implementing tailored strategies not only benefits you but can also lead to more positive interactions with others, resulting in a more harmonious, productive environment – both personal and professional. 

Final note:

This process is about growth, not perfection. It’s a continuous practice of tuning into your inner self to better understand your needs and reactions, learn from them, and choose how to respond. Let’s make this your best back-to-work experience ever. 


Katia Vlachos

Katia Vlachos

Coach and author

Dr Katia Vlachos is a certified coach and author of A Great Move: Surviving and Thriving in Your Expat Assignment. She supports the globally mobile as they navigate international moves, career changes, reinvention, and identity issues to design a thriving life abroad. A researcher and policy analyst by training, she has a Master’s from the Harvard Kennedy School and a PhD from the RAND Corporation. She has written for Harvard Business Review and Huffington Post, and been featured in the Financial Times and the New York Times.


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