Planners Work

Time off: the proactive approach.

June 3, 2021

Time off.

Sunset in Captiva. Sunset over the ocean = a novelty to those of us used to the East Coast!

I have figured out after many years that NO ONE IS GOING TO ENCOURAGE YOU TO SCHEDULE TIME OFF.

(This podcast ep reinforced that!)

Also, I have learned that DAYS THAT LOOK WIDE OPEN NEVER STAY THAT WAY, the closer you get to them (I think Laura gets credit for pointing that out to me!).

Finally, as I recently realized, NOT TAKING TIME OFF TAKES A TOLL.

I had gotten to a point where every single text message annoyed me, every inefficiency in clinic grated, and I was just . . . not very excited to do anything. After a mere 6 days off (2.5 of them without kids . . .), everything is just so much easier and more pleasant.

I highly doubt my job duties shifted 180 degrees when the calendar hit June. I think I just really needed that time off.

One of my goals was to make sure to schedule a personal retreat day every quintile. I have mostly been successful in this. However, I have nothing scheduled for Q4/Q5. I also was just asked to give preferences for the 2022 call schedule. This is necessary because we often schedule patient appointments 6 months out, and if there’s no January schedule by August (ideally July) it creates a backlog/mess. I am thrilled our manager is tackling this earlier hits year.

It also means I need to take time and think about what we want to do as a family in 2022. Thankfully the school calendar has already been released. Also thankfully, we have only one school schedule to contend with next year! I am greatly looking forward to sitting down with said calendar and attempting to claim my time off for next year, over a year in advance. Of course there has to be some flexibility, and dates can move. But there is no harm (and probably a lot of benefit) in figuring things out early.

ALSO I’m going to optimistically assume things like travel will be back to essentially normal in 2022. Even though it was painful to cancel so many things in 2020, letting that prevent future planning seems unwise.

Curious how others plan their time off!

PS: I know not every workplace has a PTO policy. Ours is very clear cut — when you are full time (which I am again) we get ~29 days/year to use. Holidays come out of that bank, so after New Years / Memorial Day / July 4 / Labor Day / Thanksgiving x 2 / Christmas that leaves 22. This could be 4 separate weeks (plus 2 days) of vac, or scattered around. I usually plan on about 2-3 full weeks of vac (taken apart) and the rest taken as separate days. Oh, and of course if we are on call for a holiday that counts as a work day. I am working Christmas this year so I guess it’s 6 holiday days.

Oh! And when you have worked 10 years at my organization you get bumped up to 34 days! I will reach that milestone in 2023 (though not sure if the time I spent at 80-90% will count against me – hopefully not, or just minimally).


  • Reply Jen June 3, 2021 at 8:20 am

    This is such an important thing!! I was chair of our employee committee last year and I encouraged everyone I talked to take time off!! Even during lock down rests are important, even with nowhere to go. That said, sometimes i am bad at it myself. The remaining uncertainty has made me loathe to really set the time off. But, like you i’ve been in the same organization for a long time – 17 years this morning (crazy!) and i have very generous vacation and sick time that is separate. Working life is really long when you think about 30+ of work and in order to stay fresh you do actually need to take breaks.

  • Reply Margaret June 3, 2021 at 8:28 am

    I’m curious how it works for you to take time off – who sees your patients? or do you schedule far enough in advance you don’t have patient appointments booked already? One of the hardest parts of taking time off in my organization is that if I am not there, someone must cover my shift. There is the occasional day that is easy to get but about 90% of the time, if my butt is not in the chair, someone else’s needs to be. With staffing currently very tight this makes you hesitant to take days off because you are just subjecting your co-workers to pick up more hours or more awkward hours to cover.

    • Reply K June 3, 2021 at 9:39 am

      This is true at my organization as well. I’m in a department of nine people. Last year, two colleagues went on emergency medical leave, and the rest of us had to cover their work for several months. I was going through a prolonged and medically complicated pregnancy loss at the time, and there was no way for me to take time off because there was no one to cover for me. This is the way we approach medical leave, parental leave, and anyone who wants to cut back for family or personal reasons. It just shifts work to your colleagues. The solution to this problem needs to come from the top – hire more people. But until that happens, it is left to the individual to balance your needs against the needs of your colleagues.

      • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger June 3, 2021 at 10:59 am

        I’m so sorry K – that does not sound fair. I don’t know if you’ve looked into other job options but that really does not sound ideal or like an arrangement that would be sustainable.

      • Reply Omdg June 3, 2021 at 11:58 am

        Want to echo that this happens where I work also. Fortunately the culture is that we help others out and step up, but 100% the reason I am on call so much is because I am full time, and over half of my department is part time. It’s particularly grating when asked to pick up extra call for various reasons.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger June 3, 2021 at 10:57 am

      All of us have to schedule far out so we don’t have patients scheduled. That’s why I have to work on 2022 now! We do not see each other’s patients ever because in my field continuity is incredibly important – so that’s just not how our model is. (Sometimes with certain conditions we will ‘share’ with an NP which works well, but 2 physicians do not have the same patient). It’s not really a matter of a coverage issue. Of course, we all see fewer patients overall than if we did not take our PTO but it’s kind of assumed that most people will take it and built into expectations/goals for patient volumes.

  • Reply CBS June 3, 2021 at 9:02 am

    I need to be more intentional about this. We get 36 days (UK) and I don’t think I actually take enough of it. I’m in academia so it’s loosely tracked and isn’t paid out when your contract ends. I’ve booked a few personal days when my kid/husband school/work reopened during lockdown, just to be home and to do stuff on my own. And we aren’t really booking travel for the summer. But I try to just embrace a bit more flexibility – today I took a picnic lunch and book and sat by the river for an hour, a local co-op needed volunteers last week, so I took a few hours then.

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa's Yarns June 3, 2021 at 9:09 am

    I am typically very good about taking time off. That was not the case last year because there was no where to go/nothing to do and I felt I needed to take less time off to make up for the fact that I took 4 extra week of maternity leave (by using vacation time). And now after being out for most of the first 4 months of the year, I again feel like I need to take very little time off, but that’s an expectation I’m putting on myself! We used to have a set amount of vacation time – 30 days in addition to holidays. Now we ‘manage our time off’ so there is no set bank. But I still track my days off because I want to make sure I’m taking enough time off. My husband is NOT great at taking time off and is way less of a planner than me so this can be hard at times but I have learned to just push him to schedule time off in the summer for our trips to my parents’ lake home. I used to take one day off each quarter for a “shouldless day” – so kind of like your retreat day but I didn’t do anything that has a should attached to it (like I should organize my kitchen, I should go through the kids clothes, I should do laundry). I learned about ‘shouldless days’ on the podcast Death, Sex and Money. They are always super fulfilling! I need to schedule one of those days this summer, although I will have one should/must do item of pumping. But the rest of the day can be super enjoyable!

    • Reply Hannah N. June 3, 2021 at 11:28 am

      I loved the “shouldess days” episode of DSM also! It’s been hard for me to schedule those days and actually take them (usually I’ll put them on the calendar and then decide I’m too busy or there’s too much else going on for me to take off) but when I do, it’s been so great to give myself permission to just relax and not feel like I “should” do any particular thing.

  • Reply Laura June 3, 2021 at 9:27 am

    I get about 28 days of vacation a year (not including holidays) but my husband only gets 14 so it’s an interesting balance to try to use the rest of mine up. Usually my husband and I take one week long trip with just the two of us and then use the rest of his days here and there for long weekends/holidays. For the rest of my PTO, I take a week long trip with my parents every year, take time off when family comes in to town to visit, and always take the week before Christmas off. I don’t have kids yet so I’m sure that will all change when they are thrown into the mix but I feel really fortunate to work for a company who has such a generous PTO schedule.

  • Reply elisabethfrost7gmailcom June 3, 2021 at 9:38 am

    Isn’t this one of the realities of adulthood – almost nothing happens without being proactive! The dentist doesn’t force me in to coming for a visit, the running store doesn’t call me to book a shoe fitting to improve my speed, the massage therapist doesn’t clear my schedule so I can get an afternoon massage.
    Most things that are worthwhile take a bit of extra effort, but can have huge payoffs – like taking vacation.
    I own a small business and don’t technically have dedicated time off, but I put out specific messaging during particular weeks in the summer, over Christmas break to expect long delays on response time.
    My husband gets over 4 weeks, plus some bonus days. During COVID we’ve only booked things a month or so ahead since everything has been so up in the air. Generally, though, he takes about 3 weeks spread out through the year in ~1-week increments, and then will add on bonus days (usually around an existing holiday) to make an extra long weekend. I find the latter offers the most bang for buck.
    A friend of mine is taking one day off each week in July and August this summer, instead of any long stretches…

  • Reply Joy June 3, 2021 at 12:55 pm

    I get 30 days off a year for sick/vacation. It’s going to bump up even more next year when I’ve been at the company for ten years. I usually take a week off three times – spring, summer/fall depending on what we plan, and the week before Christmas. Then I take half days or full days here and there, leaving several days until close to the end of the year for possible illness. 30 days seems like enough for me to have rest and also get my job done.

    Thanks for the post It reminded me that I need to schedule my time off for September.

  • Reply Jessica June 3, 2021 at 1:00 pm

    In the Before Times I spent a lot of energy fretting over my various leave balances, timing of vacation days, etc.; I’m about to go back to the office five days a week for the first time since March 2020, so the stress of the Time Off Dance is returning and it’s feeling even worse since I had a whole year plus off…

    I like how you seem to have a baseline of how many random one-off days you think you might use. This is part of my stress, I think; we don’t have back-up childcare, so some of my vacation days will inevitably need to go toward covering mismatched kid school schedules, scheduled health appointments for me or the kids (my job has a punitive attendance policy regarding sick leave, so I try to avoid using it), conferences, etc. I never know how many days I will need for such events, though, so I just always end up feeling anxious any time I have to take one… but I also end up with unused days to blow around the holidays!

    Perhaps I will take a look at past calendars and try to make a guess at how many I will need for one-off childcare events and try not worry about it otherwise? I’d also love to prioritize taking a day off to myself once our childcare returns, as a reward for surviving so long without any!

  • Reply Coco June 3, 2021 at 1:42 pm

    I have 26 days of vacation and 10 days of family/sick leave plus holidays. it’s plenty definitely and i spend throughout the year during short vacations when girls have school break. then once or twice a year I’d take longer vacations usually july and december. I try to schedule the longer ones when most of the people in my organization take vacations so I can take off for real, and during short vacations i’d delegate no urgent matters to teams and ask them to call me for emergencies.
    time off is soooo important, not only for quality family time but also mentally to take a break, and I prioritize that over work but be mindful of not causing disruptions to big projects.

  • Reply Caitlin June 3, 2021 at 2:18 pm

    I usually take 1-2 weeklong vacations, plus several long weekends and random days. I love the idea of your personal retreat days and the “shouldless days” Lisa mentioned.

    One way I use some of the random days is take one or two days off with my husband (usually a Thursday and Friday, but not always), and we do some errands or house projects or meetings (with our financial advisor or estate planner, for example), but we also go out to lunch and try to do some fun things. We started this pre-COVID but kept it up even during it. Our daughter still goes to daycare those days and getting to Costco on a weekday feels luxurious. I think we do this once a season. It’s also nice to have it to look forward too–I think that’s a big argument for planning days off in advance. When things feel like too much I know there’s a break coming.

  • Reply Jordan June 3, 2021 at 3:05 pm

    I recently started a new job and we have “unlimited PTO” – one of those Silicon Valley buzzwords that in practice isn’t as nice as it sounds. I feel weird taking time off because I just started the job about 2 months ago, but in reality I’m ready to do some fun things now that I’m vaccinated! I also work remotely, so I can travel places and still work, which again is nice in theory but difficult with two little kids who still need childcare. We did visit family last week for the first time post-vax, and it was nice to have grandparents to watch the kids while my husband and I worked, and then spend time together in the evenings and on the weekend.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger June 3, 2021 at 4:12 pm

      I completely agree it sounds good in theory and stressful in practice – I’d rather have a structured policy where I feel truly permitted to use the time (most people where I work DO use their PTO!). Otherwise I would really doubt myself. But I’m glad you were able to feel comfortable taking some time!!! You do deserve it!!

    • Reply Alyce June 3, 2021 at 8:29 pm

      Unlimited PTO is a scam that benefits companies, not employees. Research shows that people take less leave when they have unlimited PTO, in part because people don’t feel entitled to the leave in the way they might if they had a set amount annually, and because of guilt that taking leave negatively impacts others if you actually have someone covering for you, or, if you don’t have coverage,the pain of coming back to crushing workload. Plus unlimited PTO means leave never accrues, and the company never has to pay out leave when employees leave the company with unused leave. If I were in your shoes, I would absolutely track my leave to ensure that I was taking a minimally acceptable amount.

      • Reply lawandcreative June 4, 2021 at 6:43 am

        I own a company that offers unlimited PTO for all staff, and it really works well for us. I know there are a lot of companies where it’s a great headline and not so good in reality, but it works great here. I’m in England where I think on average we do all get/take/expect more PTO than the US, unsure if that’s a factor. Just wanted to add my two cents that unlimited PTO can work and not every company offering it is doing it to benefit themselves 🙂

      • Reply Tara June 4, 2021 at 6:01 pm

        I also work for an organization with unlimited PTO. But before we moved to this model, I received 28 days of PTO, which jncludes sjck leave, a year. When they started unlimited PTO, I made sure to take at least 28 days if not more. It basically meant taking almost every other Friday off…adjusted of course based on other days off I may have planned in that given month. I’m in a mid-level leadership position and it worked out well. I didn’t want to lose out because I know I won’t be paid for any PTO so I’m basically working for free if I don’t take it.

  • Reply Amy June 3, 2021 at 9:24 pm

    I’m a librarian and we get a max of 4 weeks off (once we hit 10 years, I think we hit that milestone) plus 3 personal days to use each year. Sick time is separate. I’m lucky in the regard that we also get quite a few holidays (federal plus any state holidays). My boss is great about reminding us to use our time off. I like to take a 2-3 week long vacations (lately, staycations) and then some long weekends here and there.

    Like others have said, my husband has unlimited time off but I honestly think he uses less than me. He mainly will just work a partial day once in a while. I was so jealous of this perk when I first heard about it, but I kind of like the structure of knowing exactly how much time I have to us.

  • Reply lawandcreative June 4, 2021 at 6:39 am

    Sarah, oh my! I could have wrote this – about every message annoying you etc!!

    I was at that point too and decided to take this whole week off. I actually set an out of office on my emails and HAVE NOT RESPONDED TO A SINGLE ONE all week! I have checked my inbox each day, but not replying is a huge step for me- I usually just keep on replying and working on holidays and I realised I desperately needed some days to take my head out of work.

    Today, my daughter is with my sister so I COULD have gone in to work, but I’m not! I’m relaxing at home, doing some leisurely chores and taking the dog for a long walk.

    I already feel refreshed and quite a bit more alive than I have for a while. 🙂

  • Reply Anna MN June 5, 2021 at 1:46 am

    Your post resonated so with me. A couple of weeks ago I was in the exact same situation. I had a mountain of work to do, my co-workers were annoying and I couldn’t fathom how I could possibly keep up with the demands. And I had a long weekend coming up. I even contemplated working evenings to catch up (which is not the norm in Sweden/where I work). I sent my (wonderful) boss a desperate email on the day before leave about how this isn’t working, on Monday we have to Talk and you need to help to unload some stuff.
    I decided to take my four day leave without even looking at the computer and when I returned to work well-rested the workload was the same but FELT manageable. I could plan, adjust and just take one thing at a time.
    So when I had the meeting with my boss I was all sunshine and I can do this 😄.
    Sometimes rest is what is needed to be able to be productive.

    The situation in Sweden is SO different. It is stipulated by law that everyone has 25 vacation days, holidays are off separate from that and we have “unlimited” sick days (not if you’re sick for a long time) for you and your children. The sick days come with a bit of a pay cut, but we don’t have to factor them in when we plan our vacation days.
    A lot of people also work flexible hours, which means you decide when you start and leave work every day (but have to be there between 9am and 3pm) as long as you work 8 hours. If you work more hours one day or less one it is transferred into your flex-account. This means you can collect hours that is possible to use for leave. For example I’m using hours I’ve worked at another time to be able to take a couple of hours off to do something with my son later this week.

    I work for the government so I have even more vacation days. It is regulated by how old you are and when you turn 40 you get 35 days. So this summer I have six weeks vacation. It works because everyone does it and everything non-essential basically shuts down during July and August in Sweden. We also do a lot of planning around when everyone gets their vacation and who is going to cover what during summer. Other summers I’ve had to break up my vacation into two parts to go into the office for one week to cover for the people on vacation. Usually those weeks aren’t that busy.

  • Reply everydayhas June 6, 2021 at 7:12 am

    This post resonated with me as well! I am grouchy and exhausted at home and work right now. I have a 4 day trip scheduled for myself at the end of next week which I thought was a good idea at the time (scheduled over the winter) but now I’m super anxious/guilty feeling about. I have also taken two at-home, no-agenda half days this year.

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