A Fresh Look at PTO: A Purposeful Minimalist Goes On Vacation

Wrote this piece last year before the family vacation.  Priming again this week for this year’s vacation, starting on Saturday.  Pretty stoked.  I fell a bit short of my “goals” last year — gonna have another go to make the most of each and every vacation day.

On average, annual “paid time off” in the United States (PTO in business-speak vernacular) is about 10 days.  Some people don’t even take THAT much time away from work during the year, aside from holidays.  

Link this fact with the ever-increasing pace of life and work, the increased awareness of the importance of having leisure time, unplugging, etc., and the rise of the minimalist movement in the face of it all and what might you conclude?  

It makes a lot of sense to approach time off from work very deliberately, very thoughtfully.  We need to be sure we vacation “on purpose”.   

If it’s true in everyday life, then the so-called “minimalist approach” makes even more sense for time away from work, in my view.  

We start with a shift in mind-set:  you’re on VACATION now, LEAVE, TIME OFF…pick your term, the point is, it’s time to forget about your work life for a while.  

The pending projects, the accounts receivable, the deliverables, the problems…but also the big wins, the successes, the long fought-for successes.  It’s time to turn off that part of your life for a bit.  This process takes effort. It must be done on purpose, as noted above.

When you leave your office or close your work laptop for the last time before vacation, mentally, actively file away everything that’s pending at work until you get back.  It’ll be there, don’t worry.  

It helps to make a list of everything you have pending BEFORE you go, a day or so before you leave, updated as necessary on that final day, so you can re-engage upon your return.

And then FORGET ABOUT IT.  That’s Step One.

Step Two requires equal purpose:  make a special effort to focus on what matters during your time off.  It’s best to think a little bit about it off and on in the weeks or days leading up to the beginning of the vacation.  

What do you want to accomplish? What’s the main goal (or goals) during your time off?  

In this particular case study (my upcoming trip to the beach with the family), I’ve got a clear idea of what I want to accomplish.

A few words sum things up nicely.

Relax and Unplug (from the day to day work mindset, attitude, pace).

Rest (naps as appropriate).

Reconnect (and go deeper, with the little things that make parenting and married life worth while). 

Recharge (naps as appropriate once again, but also allowing my mind to slow down, and wander).

To accomplish these four basic, inter-related goals, I know it will help for me to whittle down to basic needs, wants, requirements for the days off.  

What will be left will be my three little kids, my lovely wife, extended family, and time in an awesome, peaceful place.  

Taking purposeful steps to simplify will create a frame for the rest to happen.  As life unfolds each day, I’m going to watch it do so at a slow motion, participate deeply therein, and soak up the moments.   

 The following list is one of my preparation steps, my humble “minimalist” packing list for the five day family vacation at the beach:

1 sun hat

1 ball cap

1 hooded sweatshirt

1 water-resistant shell jacket

1 long-sleeve shirt

1 pair of warm/fleece pants

2 pair of shorts

3 tee shirts (plan to hand wash once)

3 underwear (plan to hand wash once)

1 pair of socks (plan to hand wash as needed)

1 pair of shoes

1 pair of flip flops

reading glasses

sun glasses



iPhone* for journaling notes, morning/evening news, emergency calls; 

*Important: NOT for emails

And so with just two days to go until me and the family drives south, this little outline and “statement of purpose” is my personal effort to get every drop of delicious value from this vacation.   

I’m fixin’ to do so.  I‘ll let you know how it turns out.  

See you on the other side.




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