7 PTO Tips For Those Who Struggle with Vacation Time, Too

It’s time for me to come clean, gang. For the longest time, I was not good about paid-time off (PTO).

It’s not like I don’t take my time. In fact, I’ve never let a single day expire. I’ve just been so disorganized about this in the past, that it was stressful even figuring out what to do with the time when I finally did take it.

If I haven’t said this yet, I believe all of us should use every last hour of our vacation time. For one, us workaholics need that time away to relax and reset. But more importantly, that’s time we’ve earned. This is part of our compensation, ‘money’ we’d be throwing down the toilet if we didn’t use that time!

And yet, perhaps the consequence of being fairly organized at work is that I am a functioning mess in my personal life! I file my taxes at the last minute, it takes me foreeeever to go through my mail, and I am a fastidious planner who gets bogged down by the idea of plan-less leisure time.

But I’ve gotten better. My first year in the workforce, I forgot about PTO altogether (until my manager added it as an agenda item for our check-in). 5 years later, I’m much wiser on why PTO is important to me and how to be better at planning for it.

So for my fellow functioning messes out there, or anyone who just struggles with taking time for themselves, here are 7 tips I’ve learned to live by.

7 PTO Tips To Help Plan Out Your Vacation Time

Soooo, by FAR, the most picturesque vacation photo I’ve ever taken.

1. Plan as far ahead as possible.

If you’re a natural born traveler or always planning your free time, I’m sure this comes naturally. But if you’re like me and spend more time thinking about your database than your vacation, it’s easy to let PTO planning fall to the wayside!

These days, I’ll start thinking about PTO as soon as my anniversary hits. That way, I can start building that timeline in my brain for any trips/days I’d like to take.

2. Schedule some PTO in advance, during your favorite seasons.

I don’t travel much, though I’m trying to change that. And my work anniversary is right in the middle of spring. That means in years past, I wouldn’t even START thinking about my time off until we were in the thick of miserable NYC winter.

I don’t know about you, but 20-degree weather isn’t my ideal time to be out and about on “vacation.”

So to avoid wasting my PTO on those frigid days, I now schedule time off during the points of the year that I enjoy most – like October, Summer, and the days leading up to my anniversary (when NYC becomes livable again).

3. Set recurring reminders for yourself to check your PTO balance.

If you’re as bad as I can be with this stuff, I highly recommend putting reminders in your calendar. 9 months, 6 months, and 3 months out from your work anniversary are great times to double-check your PTO balance, to make sure you’re on track to use what you can’t rollover.

That said…

4. Get clear on your rollover allowances.

For some reason, this part of the staff manual is easy to miss. Many orgs have a policy for the amount of days you can roll over into your next work year, and even rules for when you have to use that extra time. Find that PDF buried in your on-boarding email and get a refresher on those policies.

*Tip*: Then, confirm with your HR/operations staff that nothing has changed.

5. Tack on extra days before or after work travel.

If work travel is a reality for your role, take advantage. Having to travel for my job made it easier for me to use vacation time, because I was visiting parts of the country I would not have seen otherwise – and I needed the time in order to explore!

6. Don’t forget about half-days!

Now hold on a second. Up until this year, I completely forgot that you could use time in half-day chunks! That’s great for me, because I would much rather leave early on more days than have fewer full days off.

So be better than I was, and remember that this is definitely an option.

7. Keep a running list of all the things you want to do, yet never have time for.

I once organized a “mini conference” for myself using 3 PTO days of v, to help get my blog up and running. I holed up in a hotel nearby, went through a bunch of online courses, and wrote my heart out.

PTO doesn’t need to be reserved for trips, especially when most of us can’t afford it! But it can be spent engaging in other, low-cost activities that will help you either relax, grow, or experience something totally new. Keep a running wish-list of those activities, so that you always have a well of inspiration for your time-off planning.

To wrap this up…

I’m not perfect when it comes to vacation time, but it’s a core part of being a nonprofit professional aaand functioning adult. As much we may love this sector or our work, we all need (and deserve) the break that our hard-earned PTO time affords.

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