Sunday, February 23, 2014

How Not to Feel Guilty When Taking a Vacation

In my post you don't seem happy anymore, I admitted that I did not use nine of my earned vacation days in 2013 – the most ever. This failure to take time off took a toll on me. At the end of 2013 I was lethargic and mildly depressed so much so that my husband pointed out I didn’t seem happy anymore. I vowed in 2014 to get my workload under control, to stop feeling so stressed and to take more time off. To do this I set several goals for myself.

Now that we are more than seven weeks into 2014, I’d like to share my progress:

Re-committing to keeping a gratitude journal:
I have faithfully written in my journal which has evolved into much more than a gratitude journal. I had kept a journal when I was younger, but after the third time someone found and read them (snoopy siblings, roommates and lastly a boyfriend) I tossed them all out and vowed to never write in or keep a journal again. My gratitude journals the past few years consisted of a few sentences some of which were written in code – which I was unable to decipher upon re-reading. My journal writing this year quickly evolved into a full-fledged journal. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I missed journal writing and by how much I was learning from it. One of the themes that stood out was how overwhelmed by guilt I am – especially guilt from not spending enough time with family and friends and for not getting enough work done at work. This has helped me realize that in addition to getting caught up at work perhaps I need to work on eliminating my feelings of guilt.

Control over possessions and time:

Buy what I need and get rid of what I don’t
Another reason I had so many unused vacation days last year was because my husband who had a strong suspicion he would be laid-off for a few months in 2014 refused to take a real vacation. His company allows him to roll-over 200 hours of unused vacation time, so he banked all 200 hours. Sure enough he was laid-off in early January. The old me would have immediately shifted to under-buying and survival mode upon hearing this news. Instead, I reminded myself we had planned for this and that he will be getting a full pay-check for the first five weeks. Then he will be eligible for unemployment. Plus, we do have a sizable emergency fund. So I allowed myself to continue buying what I needed and to not let myself waste energy stressing about this.

My husband’s lay-off comes with a welcome surprise:
In years past, in addition to working on Saturdays during January I would come home and have to clean my house. This year with my husband home all week he cleans the house. In addition, he runs errands, prepares the meals and takes care of our dogs. Not having to think about these things frees up my brain power so I can focus more at work and get more done. Kerry at Breadwinning Mama was so struck by my comment about this on her post trying to hang with the boys in the office she included it in her post the invisible task list. 

Teach and delegate:
I tried to delegate to one of my employees during January – actually it wasn’t really delegating since I was requiring her to complete her portion of the year-end work rather than me doing it for her. This didn’t go well. She immediately became stressed and fought every step. Instead of looking things up herself – which she is capable of doing - she was constantly in my office asking me to look things up for her. She would then ask the same questions over and over. I began wondering if she isn’t experiencing early stages of dementia. Finally, I told her she had to write my answers down because I didn’t have time to keep repeating myself. It was a struggle, but she did manage to complete her portion of that work.

I asked my boss if I could hire a part-time person in 2014. Of course he said no, instead he prefers to have everyone work overtime through-out the year. He must have discussed my request with our President because on two separate occasions our President commented out of context that he did not want to add additional staff to my department. 

I still can’t be out of the office without everyone having a meltdown:
Last week, I stepped out of the office for three hours to attend a seminar with one of our VP’s. While at this seminar our VP received a text that I needed to call the office immediately; an employee needed an obscure license number for one of the states we do business in. I told them I had no idea where to find this number and that I’d look into it when I returned. When I got back not only did I have three voice messages from three different employees asking for this number, there was a message from my husband informing me someone from work had called our house looking for me - they needed a license number. Guess what – the manager at the office in this state did manage to find this number without my help.

I take my first vacation day of the year:  
The worst thing about my husband being off this time of year is that I am too busy at work to take a vacation with him. One of the things he wanted to do while off was to meet with our financial planner who likes to see the two of us together. I picked a Friday after the audit and told him to make an appointment - I would take a vacation day. Then during a meeting the day before I was to be off, our President expressed displeasure that I had not completed and distributed our departmental financial statements. In the past, this conversation would have prompted me to cancel at least a portion of my planned vacation day. Knowing how much I needed this day along with realizing how disappointed my husband would be, I decided to continue with our plan. That night I wrote in my journal:

I will not feel guilty
This is easier said than done, I tried my best to stay in the present and enjoy my day, but every now and then guilty thoughts of work would pop into my head. Then that night as I was reviewing my journal, I came across my previous week’s to-do list. I realized I had accomplished every item on that list and then some. Completing those departmental financial statements are on my to-do list for next week. By reviewing each day’s entries I was actually surprised by how much work I had completed. This snapped my out of my funk - I don’t need to feel guilty. I then plotted out my to-do list for next week and was happy to realize I should have plenty of time to get all of my major projects done. 

I then set a goal for my department to be completely caught up by April 1st. I created a weekly plan that I will present to our staff on Monday. Perhaps, by setting goals and communicating them to the department there will be less stress for everyone involved.

In summary, to not feel guilty when taking a vacation I need to select a time-frame that is not disruptive to my department - long week-ends work the best, create a to-do list then not worry about projects that are not on the list and avoid checking email or answering questions while off – more than one of my previous vacations have been spoiled by answering email.      

How do you keep from feeling guilty when taking a vacation? 


  1. Wow, reading about your work stressed me out! Brought back memories!

    On the journal, I write mine on my computer with a password protection. No code necessary.

    Hope you get some quality vacation time soon.

  2. Oh I am sorry to hear about your job troubles. It sounds very familiar when I worked in an accountingdept. I was a hard working employee and instead of balancing the workload, mine would increase while others would hardly have 40 hours. I hope you take your time off wi th out guilt. I know it's hard to do. I always told myself that my company would still exist even if I took a vacation and didn't answer their calls. (And if it didn't, they weren't paying me enough) :) I hope you will add a couple posts to my Small Victories Sunday linky that's open now and all week.

    We have a goals linkup if you'd like to include this post about working on goals you have. We will have a new linky for March coming out soon.

  3. It's hard, but I try to set limits on my time. I could spend the whole day attached to my computer, responding to comments and networking through social media otherwise.

  4. Really proud of you, Savvy! If nothing else, you are starting good new habits that will help over the long haul, as well as immediately.

    Regarding the woman with all the attention problems ... we all want to help those with memory problems, especially if we think they are early dementia, but it's a slippery slope at work. Can you have a work-centered discussion with her and talk about her performance in terms of skills and accomplishments. Point out to her that she is not independent enough at work and needs to learn more self-reliance; that she is not doing her share for the department and that her dependence on you is increasing your workload. Talk in terms of performance and what skills she needs to improve/develop if she wants a satisfactory review. If you have a good HR person, can you discuss her performance issues ahead of time.

    You can't say, 'hey, I think you are losing it", but you can talk in terms of her previous performance - if it was acceptable - and how her declining performance is affecting the group. If she is experiencing problems in the rests of her life, this might help push her to the doctor for testing. IF SHE brings that sort of thing up, then you can certainly support the need for a professional diagnosis.... just a thought.

    As far as the whole team, you may have to get harder on all of them and stop giving them answers, but make them find them by themselves - like thinking to call the manager in the office involved. Sounds like you may have made yourself too indispensable.

    Good luck. You are making progress, so keep it up!

  5. Oh boy reading your post took me back to a stressful time in my career! I wouldn't take time off because there was never a "right" time to take off. And if I did take time off I was chained to my e-mail trying to put out fires that I didn't start.

    I finally just learned to let it go because I can't control everything and well, things just got to hell sometimes and that's life! It took me a while to accept that the vacation time I earned was mine to do with whatever I please and that meant if I didn't want to look at my e-mail I didn't have to. I earned that right!

    Delegating was hard for me too. I still struggle with the mentality "if I don't do it, it won't get done right." I think that was part of the problem when I took time off, no one knew how to do what I was doing and they would just wing it.

    I hope that you find some balance and that you can take a guilt-free vacation soon!

  6. Thanks for sharing with my Small Victories Sunday linky! Pinning to my Small Victories Sunday Awesomeness board on pinterest.

  7. Vacations are good for your health! There's a whole host of studies that have shown that taking a vacation drops your stress levels, increases productivity, and does a whole lot of other good things for your body and mind. Go for it!

  8. Good for you! Vacations are so important!!! I'm glad you're taking time for you! :-)

  9. A gratitude journal is a wonderful idea!

  10. I hate taking vacation because my office also cannot seem to do anything without me. I've gotten texts, calls, and emails up the wazoo because someone thought the parking lot was too icy. I've had people frantically calling me because they have an urgent request to meet with my boss right away, immediately, or the whole world is going to end. It's such a joke.

    The only thing that helps me out is turning off my email on my phone, prepping as much as I can before I leave, and leaving a funny voicemail recoding on my cell that sounds something like, "I'm on vacation, drinking beer and playing with my kids. If you really, truly need me, you know where I live." I live an hour from the office - I'm in a suburb of Chicago so to most people, I may as well live on the moon.

    I have yet to see one person show up at my door!

    Work life balance is so important to live, not just believe in. The more we resist and fail to make it a priority, the more the balance is thrown in favor of the employer.

  11. I love this post. Years ago I would never take any of my vacation days. I have long since gotten over those, and no longer feel guilty. In fact, just the opposite, I embrace any and all vacation days that find their way to me and my fam. :)

  12. One thing I appreciate about my husband is that he's honestly really, really good at leaving work at work, and not thinking about it or stressing about it when it's time to take a day off. I'm not as good at it, but I should learn from his good example!

  13. What a lovely post. Life can be so stinking stressful, it's nice to see you working out your priorities this way.

    Guilt...sigh! That emotion is the bane of most women ;) Let's try to let it go!

  14. Wow. Lots going on for you this year! I had no idea about your husband's layoff, but that does explain so much. It's only natural to stress about something like that hanging over your heads and work harder with concern for the unknown. How lucky are you he helps out at home, though! As for the license thing, or any other information that people need to reference from your office, maybe create a master list(s) and put them in a notebook or shared drive that a trusted colleague can access while you are on vacation. You are not a human filing cabinet for a corporation. And your colleague - next year type up instructions for year end projects and go through them with her in a meeting and if she comes with questions just keep sending her back to that piece of paper (that has guidelines not answers) instead of helping every few hours. She may have dementia, but more likely she's hoping you'll wear down and take the project back. Sorry. I'm a cynic at work. I hear you on the journal. I found a high school journal I wrote in Spanish because I didn't want me evil mother to read it. I stopped journaling because I was afraid my ex would read it. And I think he did.

  15. Wow - you have a lot of stress in your job. Makes me glad to be a worker lawyer bee and not the head honcho. I am currently working only 4 days a week to have a little time home with my baby, but I'm still doing a full time job and it feels like I can't get everything done in 4 days! But I try not to work too much from home or it seems like it defeats the purpose of staying home. Argh...

  16. Isn't that funny that we would feel guilty about taking a vacation? I totally can identify with that feeling. This is a great post! Nice to meet you. #SITSBlogging

  17. This is such a great post. I know I am late visiting your blog after you commented on my depression post but this really hit home. It's so hard- we try to balance and our mental health takes a serious hit.

    The gratitude journal is a great idea! I just downloaded the Happier App to do just that- track the small moments of happiness!

    I am banking my PTO so I can, for once, take a real vacation. Not for my daughter's appointments, not to bury my dad but to actually take time off for me. FOR ME. And not feel guilty!

    I applaud everything you wrote!

  18. Good for you, Savvy, for putting yourself first. Seems like you intentionally or unintentionally got the staff dependent on you, but thank goodness someone found the license number and it wasn't you. Wishing you and your hubby best of luck in this new phase of your life.

  19. Retired Syd,
    You know ever since I discovered your blog you've been my idol - early retired accountant. I'm still working on it.

  20. Tanya,
    Love your Sunday linkies. Thank so much for sharing. Since I wrote this post my mom has been diagnosed with cancer and has had surgery. I took time off to take her to the hospital and to spend time with her when she went home. I wasn't the least bit guilty and it has changed my perspective. Yes, my company will exist without me and surprisingly even stepped it up a notch.

  21. Stefanie,
    I know what you mean. I am trying to get back to my 9:00 p.m. computer cut-off. It reminds me of the post you wrote on focusing your time on money-making activities.