8 Tips for Using Your Paid Time Off

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni

A small yellow van model with suitcases on the top.

Are you afraid to make use of your vacation time? It seems that a majority of the U.S. workforce is: while employees took an average of 17.2 vacation days in 2017, 52% didn’t use up all of their allotted vacation time. According to research by Project: Time Off, this added up to 705 million unused vacation days—more than 1.9 million years’ worth!

Using your vacation days is an important part of avoiding burnout and achieving a good work-life balance. Read on for tips on how to plan and enjoy worry-free time off.

Why aren’t you taking time off?

A key reason why U.S. employees don’t take time off is because they don’t want to be seen as “less dedicated.” However, vacation time can actually make you more productive by giving you time to hit the refresh button and boost your creativity. Research also shows that people who take time off are actually happier with their health, well-being, finances, and personal life. And this good feeling carries over into the workplace.

8 steps to plan for your time off

If you want to make use of your vacation days, here are the steps you can take to plan ahead and have more peace of mind:

  1. Know what you’re working with. Talk to your organization’s HR department to confirm exactly how many vacation days you have this year. This will help you plan stay-cations and trips, particularly if you want to combine your vacation days with any office holidays, like the Fourth of July and Christmas. It’s also important to know if any of your unused vacation days from the previous year roll over into this year.
  2. Get personal. Review your personal commitments for the year. Note any important events—such as a family reunion or wedding—as well as when your loved ones are also able to take time off.
  3. Block off busy periods. Look at your work calendar to see if there are any big deadlines or predictably busy times you need to be aware of. If you have access to a shared office vacation calendar, check to see when your coworkers will be out of the office. Your manager will be reluctant to okay your dates if they coincide with a coworker’s time off.
  4. Act fast. Submit your vacation requests as soon as possible. If you plan your time off well in advance, you’re more likely to get the dates you want, and both you and your manager have enough time to plan for your absence.
  5. Use your office time wisely. Stay ahead of your project deadlines. Set weekly goals that help you stay on top of your work so that your absence will not delay workflow. Your manager and coworkers will appreciate this.
  6. Keep a work log. Make a list of your regular to-dos, responsibilities, and projects. This will not only help you track your weekly goals, but also prep any coworkers who will be covering for you while you’re away. By staying organized, you can familiarize your team with the details of your work so they know what to prioritize while you’re out.
  7. Keep your team in the loop. Remind your manager and coworkers of your upcoming vacation at least one week in advance. Send an email reminder of your vacation dates and if there are any high-priority items that need attention during your absence.
  8. Set your out-of-office message. When your vacation dates arrive, note when you’ll be gone and who to contact in your absence in the case of urgent queries.

Pro Tip: If a coworker has already snapped up vacation dates at the time of a special event you want to attend, talk to her before seeking your manager’s approval to see if her dates are flexible.

Take the time to enjoy life

Though you may feel guilty about taking a step back from the office, it can help to think of vacation days as part of your employment agreement. If you don’t make use of them, you’re not taking full advantage of your benefits.

Staying in the office 24/7 doesn't demonstrate your dedication and commitment; the discipline and energy you bring to your work do. Planned time off can help ensure that you’re always bringing your best self to the office. So schedule that vacation—and return refreshed and ready to make an impact.

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Nisha Kumar Kulkarni

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni is a writer and creative coach in New York City. She helps women living with chronic illness and mental health challenges to pursue their passion projects without compromising their health.

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