The Power of Personal Time Off

“People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed.” ~ Audrey Hepburn

PTO (Personal Time Off) is something my wife and I created after having kids. We learned that, over time, a full life can leave little time for personal rest. A full life can also leave little time for reflection, hanging out with friends, or just being “off.”

So, after a number of years, we made a change.

Purpose of PTO Time

PTO is time each week where I am not a son, brother, husband, or father.

I just am.

I don’t have to worry about where the kids are, dinner, grocery stops, or any other family responsibilities. I am free to do what I want.

PTO is scheduled down time that serves to sharpen the saw.

Sharpening the saw is a Stephen Covey phrase that refers to time we spend renewing ourselves. Covey says that, “Without this renewal, the body becomes weak, the mind mechanical, the emotions raw, the spirit insensitive, and the person selfish.”


Lessons of PTO Time

My wife and I have been doing this long enough that we have learned some lessons from its implementation.

If I can persuade you to take your own PTO, then these might help.

1. Schedule it

One of our favorite family sayings is “schedule it.” Sounds easy enough, but life gets complicated managing full-time work and full-time family.

Put your PTO time on the calendar. By doing so, you make it a real thing, and it becomes less likely that it will be sidelined for something “more important.”

2. Be flexible and rigid

I typically like taking PTO near the end of the work week. Thursdays are usually best.

If you can schedule PTO at the same time each week, then all the better. I have often found that the days and times need to float around other items on the calendar.

Because our calendar can get rather full, flexibility in scheduling becomes a necessity.

Being flexible in scheduling is good, just be rigid about actually taking the time each week. Without the rigidity, we have learned it can be easy to skip PTO time. Skipping it once makes it easier to skip again.

To confess, I have missed my PTO for the last several weeks for various reasons. Sometimes this happens. Life has been getting in the way.

If it happens to you, don’t beat yourself up. Just get it back on the schedule.

3. Take enough time

Reading a magazine at the store for 20 minutes isn’t good enough.

My typical PTO lasts a couple of hours or longer. If it’s on the weekend it might be half the day depending on what I’m doing.

The goal is to spend enough time away to let your shoulders drop.

Don’t rush that dinner with your friend, or your time reading in the library. Take a few more strokes on the putting green if you like, or go see that two-hour movie.

4. If possible, don’t come home first

If you take your PTO during the week, try not to come home first.


For me, once I get home it’s hard to get back out again. The idea of going out after I get home can be too tiring on many days. Once I get home I just want to take off my shoes and do home stuff.

Essentially, it’s much easier to stay out than to go out.

5. Do what you want to do, not what you have to do

Remember, PTO time is about personal time to do what you want to do, not what you have to do. This is not the time to catch up on email or get a haircut (though I have done both of these in times past).

PTO time is about relaxation. Grab a friend and get a beer. Work can wait until tomorrow.

There is nothing selfish about taking time off for yourself. If your goal is to be a great spouse, a wonderful parent, a rock star at work, and a real friend then you need time off. Everyone does.

“Activity and rest are two vital aspects of life. To find a balance in them is a skill in itself. Wisdom is knowing when to have rest, when to have activity, and how much of each to have. Finding them in each other – activity in rest and rest in activity – is the ultimate freedom.” ~ Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

So, why not take your PTO time this week? I’m sure you’ve earned it!

Do you find it hard to put all things on a side and learn to take your PTO? You can share your insights by joining the conversation in the comment section below :)


Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan Wilson is a Seattle area writer and creator of The Red Cabbage. TRC provides unique insights and rock-solid strategies for 30-somethings looking to accelerate in business and life. To connect with Jonathan, visit his website

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