How do you stay sane on two weeks of vacation a year?
January 8, 2013 7:43 PM   Subscribe

I just accepted my first real job offer! I'm excited, but kind of freaking out about adjusting to a traditional working lifestyle.

I'll be graduating from college this June and am slated to start full-time work in August. This will be my first ever real grown-up job. I've been a student my whole life, and I really like the rhythm of having semesters broken up by winter break and a long summer vacation. I've always taken challenging course loads and I'd say I have a strong work ethic, but after sprinting through the semester I really rely on long holidays to recalibrate and recharge.

At my new job I'll be starting off with the US-standard two weeks of vacation. I'm really psyched about the work I'll be doing, but doing anything for 50 weeks a year sounds excruciating to me. I've held two full-time summer internships in the past, and while I enjoyed them, by the end of the summer I was already starting to get bored and was glad to go back to school for a change of pace. The thought of doing the same job EVERY SINGLE DAY with only two weeks off each year just sounds so monotonous and exhausting. I really am looking forward to this job, but I still can't help but worry that I'll be sick of it within the first six months.

So, fellow working Americans, level with me: is this experience going to be as painful as I'm anticipating? How do you maintain this kind of schedule without getting burnt out? For anyone else who's struggled with this transition, how did you adjust?
posted by circumspice to Work & Money (48 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Some people go crazy, and some people couldn't care less. You'll find out where you fit on the scale after you experience it.

That said, I wouldn't draw too many parallels between school and work. Of course it depends on the job, but generally, when you leave for the day -- that's it, there's no equivalent to studying or homework. School is often much more intense and demanding time-wise (at least if you want to make the requested effort).
posted by wrok at 7:53 PM on January 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

Space out your vacation days - take long weekends (take off Friday and Monday) with four days worth and then take an extended one week off (leave Friday night after work, be off an entire week, return the following Sunday) and have an extra day for a random vacation "day." Also, be aware that you're probably going to have holidays off, so there will be more down time than just ten working days. You'll adjust pretty quickly as soon as you get in the rhythm of how awesome it is to have a nice, big paycheck and paid vacation is absolutely awesome.
posted by banannafish at 7:53 PM on January 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

If it's a "traditional" office job, you'll probably have some holidays in there (MLK Day, Christmas, New Years?), too. When I didn't have much time off, I would usually take two or three days at a time, and combine them with the weekends. So instead of taking one long vacation, or two one week vacations, I took several 4 or 5 day vacations (Fri-Mon or Tuesday) and spaced them throughout the year.
posted by kimdog at 7:54 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

My husband went from working at home for forty years to working 50 weeks a year in an office. He survives by taking 7 of his vacation days strategically throughout the year, away from the holidays. So, like, a random Tuesday in March. Stuff like that. There's never a month that goes by without time off. The final 3 days he saves for between Christmas and New Year's, so it's pretty much like being a kid with Christmas break.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:54 PM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

You....just get used to it. That's really all I have to answer this question. We all kind of live for the three day weekends that happen at least once in most months.

Though I can tell you that if you work at a college, you get more along the lines of three weeks, and you kind of get a week off at Christmas by default.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:56 PM on January 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

I always thought of it as a matter of perspective. Don't focus on it being 50 weeks of being at work - that's a big number. I'm guessing you get between 6-10 holidays as well. I tended to focus on those quite a bit.

Also, it depends on the job. I haven't had a job where it was the exact same thing every day. Focus on the variety. Figure out how you can make things better or different. Work on job-related goals.

Basically, it can be monotonous if you let it. So don't let it.
posted by neilbert at 7:56 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

No studying. No papers. No homework. When you get out at 5, the time between that and 9 (or whatever your schedule) is all yours, to do whatever the hell you want. No more devoting weekends to research. No more being holed up in the library. Beats school by a country mile.
posted by griphus at 7:57 PM on January 8, 2013 [24 favorites]

It was hard for me, to be honest. I bounced between full-time jobs and freelance for years. I have worked a normal full-time schedule for five years, and it's still tough.

I will say, though, that you will probably adjust. Part of it is maturity and part of it is just the fact that all your friends and lovers are on the same schedule, so after a while you'll all get accustomed to it.

Something that helped me a lot was to take lunch breaks alone to read the paper or a book or just catch up on personal emails/texts, and to make sure I had some me-time every evening. I don't go out much during the week, personally--I like the time to recharge, work on some creative projects, hang out with my dogs and my husband. I do not check my work email after hours except on very rare occasions. I use my sick time for mental health days--no, you can't come back to work hungover or sunburnt or with a new haircut, but sometimes it's nice to have a day to sleep in a bit, have a real workout, clean the house, get the errands run, etc., so you can cross that stuff off the personal to-do list and free up more mindspace for work. Obviously you can't overuse this, but during a hectic stretch at work, a de-frazzle day is really helpful.

But yeah, it'll suck for a while. You'll get used to it. After a while, it won't be so bad. And hopefully your new job will give you lots of interesting things to think about, which will energize you rather than deplete you. Good luck!
posted by elizeh at 7:57 PM on January 8, 2013

Also: disposable income.
posted by griphus at 7:57 PM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh, and also: It won't be two weeks a year forever. At the three-year mark, I got three weeks of vacation time, and at the five year mark, I got four weeks. So that, plus holidays, is pretty sweet. Remember you're playing a long game, and you'll be fine.
posted by elizeh at 8:00 PM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

One big thing: Pacing

Not sure what kind of job you have, but work life is a marathon rather than a sprint. If you push up against deadlines and wind up short on sleep, you will burn out. Instead you have to adopt a sensible work schedule and anticipate obstacles. You'll recharge on weekends.

The other thing, it's not 50 weeks of work. 14 days vacation equals about 3 weeks of vacation. Plus 5-7 long weekends from various holidays.

Finally, hack your job. Make sure you're not doing the same damn thing day in and day out. Mix up your tasks and come up with things to do that split up your week. You might not love everything you do, but it's easier if there are better days than others. Figure out projects with your boss that fit your passions and their needs.
posted by Mercaptan at 8:02 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

What I do, and what I suspect most people do, is bank days so I can take roughly a week off at Christmas/New Year's, and then sprinkle the remaining vacation days throughout the balance of the year to create three- and four-day weekends. You'd be surprised once you're working how nice those three-day weekends feel.

Don't forget the holidays (at the bare minimum, you should have New Year's, Memorial, Independence, Labor, Thanksgiving and Christmas). And to be honest, if you end up working during the week between Christmas and New Year's because you ran out of vacation days or something, it is usually very quiet. I worked the day after Christmas this year and didn't get a single real email.

And on preview: unless you're working a job with crazy hours (law associate, investment banking) your time in the evening is your own. No homework to be done, no tests to study for. Unless you want to, of course! You can take classes, learn a language, learn a sport or just veg out in front of the TV (though I don't recommend this) if you want.
posted by andrewesque at 8:03 PM on January 8, 2013

Yeah, it sounds bad when you say 50 working weeks a year. But when I was in school, I was *always* working. Most of my time, I was either studying, in class, or working one of my part-time jobs. When you leave the office, you should be done. And definitely space out your time off.

If you really can't deal, you can try to get a gig at a place where there is more vacation time. My previous employer gave me five weeks a year. But you will be super hard pressed to find a place that offers more time off than that - and that was earned after I had been working there for five years.

Also, you'll find that it's a lot harder to take time off. I'm trying to find a block of time when I can do something I want. I'm swamped at work through February, several weekends through March and April are already committed, I have another big work thing in May, then a big deadline in August. But, and this might sound counter-intuitive (especially when I complain about being busy), I actually kind of like that I feel so needed. At my last job, I could take time off whenever but that was because few people cared what I did. I'm actually kind of needed at my current job which is a good feeling.
posted by kat518 at 8:05 PM on January 8, 2013

I found the hardest thing to be "going to the same place every day and sitting in the same desk every day" harder than the lack of time off. The only thing i can say is...
- Give it time, you'll get used it. (Its depressing that that's true.)
- Make sure you enjoy at least a few of your co-workers. Having people to laugh with (or talk about sports, or whatever you do) can make the work thing better.
- Make sure to have lots of stuff (friends, hobbies, etc etc) outside of work that makes you happy and gives you variety
- Make your weekends COUNT. At least one weekend a month, do something awesome. Go to a concert, or drive to a nearby town and be a tourist, whatever. These weekends can feel like mini-vacations for real , and can really help you keep going
- At your next job, when you're not at entry level and have more leverage, try and negotiate for three weeks ;)
posted by Kololo at 8:06 PM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's an adjustment, but really it's not that bad. Once you get started, you'll be busy learning the job, and Christmas will be here before you know it.

You will have breaks, but they will be smaller - 3-day weekends instead of months off.

You'll probably have more variety in your day-to-day work than your current estimation. If you get bored, come up with fun projects for yourself, or try to get involved with different departments in your workplace that you have interest in. Over time, you might be sent to different training sessions and such, that will break things up. Especially if you can travel at all for work -- YMMV, but I consider going to a different facility almost as good as vacation. The company buys you plane tickets, hotels, and food! It's great!

As others have said - use your vacation days wisely. Since you'll have lowest seniority, combining with holidays might be difficult because it's a very popular request, so get creative. For example - I usually take off Thurs and Fri the week before Thanksgiving for a yearly event. So, I work 3 days, have 4 days off, work 3 more days, and get 4 more days off. It's a pretty awesome 2 weeks.
posted by Fig at 8:27 PM on January 8, 2013

If vacation time is a big problem for you, plan your career trajectory in a way so that you can eventually run your own company or organization. Then you'll be able to take a lot more vacation if you so desire. Not only that but you'll have a lot more control over your daily life and feel a much greater sense of freedom. I've had my own business for sixteen years and I can't imagine working for someone else. There's a huge difference between running an errand, or taking a vacation, when you want to vs. when someone says you can. So my point of view is that yes it's going to kind of suck for a while but if you have it in your mind that it's not going to be for your whole adult life, and if you take the right steps to make sure you do what you can to make sure of that, then you'll feel better.
posted by Dansaman at 8:55 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, 2 weeks' vacation is a limitation, and it stinks.
Think hard about what you want to do, and remember to think hard about what you've done in the past. When you had a big semester break in December, did you spend the whole thing at your family/parents' house being "home for the holidays"? Of the ~3 weeks you may have been home in December and January in years past, what was the most interesting, inspirational, meaningful, and/or rejuvenating to you - the days leading up to Christmas, the holiday itself, the "down time" between Christmas and New Year's, etc? As someone out of school with a real job, you're taking the first steps toward establishing your own holiday traditions. It sucks to have your hand forced on issues like this, but the plus side is that you get to think hard about what you really want to do, and have the corporate world standing behind you saying "Yes Mrs. Circumspice, it's true, your child cannot fly across the country for your annual holiday party, because he/she has a job to do," and that cuts down on the guilt when you need to make decisions that establish yourself and you own life in your new city.
posted by aimedwander at 9:05 PM on January 8, 2013

It's definitely hard to get used to. At first I had a hell of a time wrapping my head around how little time off I had.

That said, I've been in the workforce for about five years now and I just rolled over to get a whopping 4 weeks of vacation per year, which I'm SO excited about. And weirdly, you really do get used to it: I am planning to head off on a fairly lengthy maternity leave later this year, and am kind of freaking out about what it'll be like to not go to work every day. I know taking care of the baby isn't exactly a break, but I've grown accustomed to the rhythms of the workday, seeing the same people at work every day, driving to and from the office, etc and it'll be really weird to be away from it for so long. The longest vacation I've taken since I graduated college was 2 and a half weeks and taking on the order of months off is honestly a little scary.

If you'd told me I'd be NERVOUS about 3+ months off work 5 years ago I would have laughed in your face :) I can't guarantee you'll adjust, but I sure did.
posted by town of cats at 9:11 PM on January 8, 2013

This is really dependent on your employer, but some workplaces also allow you to work a flexible schedule like 9/80 or 4/10 (example). Assuming a standard two-week (10 day) pay period with 40 hours per week:

* 9/80 = work 80 hours over 9 days, take tenth day off
* 4/10 = work four 10-hour days each week, take fifth (and tenth) day off

I've done and loved a 9/80 schedule in the past (eight 9-hour days + one 8-hour day + one day off) - it was pretty awesome having every other Monday (in my case) off, and the extra hour of work wasn't a big deal. For various reasons, I'm about to switch to a 4/10 schedule (taking every Friday off), but I don't know how it's going to feel yet.

It really depends on your boss, workplace culture, etc., and it's still 50 weeks a year, but I thought I'd mention it. Since you'll be brand new, you can probably find an innocent way to ask if the company allows these kinds of schedule when you meet with your boss. They might want you to work a regular schedule for awhile first.
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 9:25 PM on January 8, 2013

If you can, save some for when friends are planning to visit from out of town, or if you have guests at your place.

Also, depending on your job, it may be looked down upon to take vacation during certain periods-- Accountants, for example, don't take off the first few days of the month, nor the first 3 weeks of a new fiscal year, because that's when they're busiest. Tax accountants? Mid January to April 15 is pretty much off-limits for vacation. Those are just the examples that leap to mind, but project deadlines, product releases, scheduled crunch times, etc. are more general examples.

A friend of mine once had a job wherein he had to submit his vacation days for an entire year at the start of that year-- not because of a job rule but because of his relative junior status, he wouldn't get any preference if a more senior person requested the same day as him at around the same time. This is a great thing to do if you can manage it.

Finally, for long vacations, meet with people who'll be sharing in your workload before the vacation, and let them know where you left off. A person taking time off is a great way for stuff to fall through the cracks. Anticipate what will need getting done and make sure it's all covered. Then, when the vacation starts, job permitting.... forget all of it. Seriously.

Due respect, you're at an entry level, even a professional entry level, and you're replaceable and they can do without you. When you're the boss, then you sweat the absences, but for now, just take it easy. Zippity-doo-dah.

Also, if you take a long enough vacation, you will lose your routine somewhat, but don't worry, it'll come back to you. You haven't forgotten how to do your job.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:50 PM on January 8, 2013

This might sound pretty mercenary, but here's how I look at it:

You gotta be doing something for the 365 days that exist in the year, and if you're anything like me, a lot of your grand schemes are eroded by cozy blankets and an internet connection. So as long as I'm going to be alive and wasting time anyways, I might as well be making money for it. Then when I have time off I'll have the funds to actually set my grand schemes in motion.

I've also found that if I really genuinely want to find time for something, it usually happens. I don't miss out on nearly as much as I feel like I'm missing out on- I mostly miss out on being bored and lethargic because it's 2:00 pm. Or else I'm missing out on doing chores. So basically, I go to work and get as much work done as I can for lack of anything better to do.
posted by windykites at 9:56 PM on January 8, 2013

Also I get bored of my jobs within a couple weeks, get sick of my coworkers within a month and really dislike my job and my coworkers by the time 3 months rolls around; I know this about myself and I try not to let it impact me too much. I just take it in my stride, tell myself that my cheque is more for putting up with bullshit than it is for work, do as much as I can, try to stay occupied and honestly, just keep at it for the money.
posted by windykites at 10:03 PM on January 8, 2013

This is going to sound shitty, but you know what really made the difference for me?

I get paid.

I mean, I've always enjoyed my work and put my full effort into it and everything. But getting that nice check on payday makes it all seem so much less monotonous. It definitely makes up for the lack of a semester-style time arrangement.
posted by Sara C. at 10:03 PM on January 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

Also doing 4/10 schedule is GLORIOUS, do it if you can. Three days is the optimal amount of weekend. I could go years without vacation with that beautiful schedule. Three days = 1 day to rest, 1 day to socialise and 1 day for chores, it is absolutely perfect. With cherries on top.
posted by windykites at 10:08 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a stressful time at college, basically failing my final year. But when I started full time work after that it was amazing. It's seriously felt like a 5 year holiday that will hopefully never end.

Part of it is
1) finding a good employer that takes care of its employees - suitable workload, etc, they know that demoralized and exhausted employees can't do good work
2) finding a sense of purpose in your job. you need to be proud of the work you do - serving people, building good product, making the world a better place.
posted by xdvesper at 10:20 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

You are me. You are so much me that I am going to answer this question as though I were reassuring my old self, who was so worried about having to leave college for a job that he stayed for a decade (although half of that was called "grad school" and paid by fellowships). Since you didn't say what you were studying, I'm going to pretend you program computers, because you are me.

I've always taken challenging course loads and I'd say I have a strong work ethic, but after sprinting through the semester I really rely on long holidays to recalibrate and recharge.

You are never going to work that hard again in your life.

There will be short periods where you have to bust your butt to get something done, but the constant challenges, the sense that ever-more-difficult new things will be unexpectedly thrown at you on a regular basis, the whole intensity of school is gone. After a short learning period (maybe six months to a year), you are going to be doing the same kinds of things, and you will get good at them, and so they will get easier. In college, as soon as you get comfortable at things, they take them away and make you do more advanced things. School pushes you to grow, work does not.

You haven't experienced that because you've done three-month internships where you're still learning the ropes. When you have actually worked somewhere for a longer amount of time, you start to get control of your environment. I have a comfortable, intuitive knowledge that I can get whatever I need at my company; my colleages & management have been my buddies for years. This is not true in college -- the "system" of professors and classes and administration is impersonally antagonistic, and you get good at coping like a rat in the subway. If you don't think you can write this month's programming assignment very well, the prof is not going to help you write it, or let you swap tasks with a friend who's better at it. At work, they just want somebody to deliver the program.

What does all this have to do with vacation days?

The answer: you need vacation to DE-STRESS. But work can be way less stressful than school. And then you won't feel like you need the massive relief of a long vacation.

Also: check out flex time. If you can get to where you come in and leave when you want, so long as you get things finished, you have even more control of your environment. And the longer you stay in a workplace, the more comfortable you'll get with manipulating it ... and the more vacation days you'll have too.

And yes, this is a recommendation that you find an undemanding permanent job. The high-flyers who outperform us by 10X and thrive on stress -- they don't take their 2 weeks of vacation either. You no longer have to excel, just steadily deliver.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:21 PM on January 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

Psst! Leave the USA and work in Europe, and you'll get much more time off as standard. My wife's last job gave her eight weeks annual holiday (!) but that's pretty unusual. Four is more normal, I think.
posted by ZipRibbons at 12:44 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

As ZipRibbons says - I know this is not the answer you are looking for, but I did an apprenticeship in Germany and the day I finished my three years learning within the company I got 31 paid days of vacation - with the stipulation that I have to take at least three weeks in one go - in order to actually get some rest and time off. I was amazed. Funny how these countries stay competitive.
posted by nostrada at 12:57 AM on January 9, 2013

You are me too!

This point has already been made, but for me it's the crux of the matter. When you finish work for the day, work is over. You don't even have to think about work on the weekend, or when you plotz on the sofa at the end of a work day. School holidays were so awesome because you didn't even have to think about work a little bit, as opposed to weekends during term time when you still had to work just as much as any other day except there were no classes.

(Also long weekends are awesome.)
posted by katrielalex at 2:26 AM on January 9, 2013

Develop strategies to manage stress build-up so that it doesn't need to be released all at once.

I don't know what kind of work you'll be doing, but in many industries people who establish to their peers and bosses that they are efficient producers with good time management can work much more flexibly - although maybe not in their very first year.

I don't usually work Friday afternoons anymore, and I work from home on average one other day a week. That makes a big difference in terms of my stress build-up.

Have a good strategy for tracking all the work you have to do. When you leave at the end of the day, especially on a Friday, you need to 100% know whether or not you need to do anything over the weekend. Ideally you do not and a good to-do list means that you can 100% let go of all thoughts of work. Unless there are unusual circumstances, I don't check e-mail or think of work from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening when I have quick check to see if there's anything I need to deal with.

I always have at least one scheduled activity a week outside of work, without that the week can start to feel like a mush of undifferentiated time where all I do is work - even if I actually have quite a lot of leisure time.

I've done and loved a 9/80 schedule in the past (eight 9-hour days + one 8-hour day + one day off) - it was pretty awesome having every other Monday (in my case) off, and the extra hour of work wasn't a big deal. For various reasons, I'm about to switch to a 4/10 schedule (taking every Friday off), but I don't know how it's going to feel yet.

If you have a long car commute that is bottle-necked because of traffic, this can actually work out even better because if you work 4/10 you may miss rush hour. This is awesome because a commute is basically work that you don't get paid for.
posted by atrazine at 3:12 AM on January 9, 2013

If vacation time is a big problem for you, plan your career trajectory in a way so that you can eventually run your own company or organization
... or so you can work flextimes (4/10 mentioned above by atrazine), or so you can be an expat, or so you can move to a country with more vacation budgeted in your work (I have 51 days off this year, only 10 of which are banked from last year, and I don't know what to do with that much time).

It surely depends on the company but I grew up in a family business and it most certainly did not allow for lots of long, care-free vacation times.
posted by whatzit at 3:59 AM on January 9, 2013

Also it may help (or may not) to remember that many, many, many people (with college educations!) don't even get 2 weeks of PTO, aren't salaried, work evenings and weekends, on and on. 9-5 office jobs have their issues, but really, it could be worse.
posted by kavasa at 4:34 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just as an FYI...Make sure those two weeks are actually designated by your employer as vacation time, and not PTO days. PTO days are, essentially, the total days you will be allowed to not be at work for whatever reason, including sicknesses as well as vacation.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:38 AM on January 9, 2013

One of the ways I cope, which was touched upon upthread, is to have a very strict separation between work and home. I do not work from home. If I need to work, even if it is just for an hor on a Saturday, I go into the office. Once I leave the office, my time belongs to myself and my family.

I know it is not always possible to do this and there are some really great benefits to being able to log in from your couch. But I discovered, after leaving a job which required me to be available at a moment's notice wherever I was, that I am a lot happier and manage stress better for separating my work and home life.

Half days, mental health days and taking off a random tuesday are also a good things. Try experimenting with your vacation time - take a day off mid-week and see if it recharges your batteries more than a long weekend. Eventually you will figure out a rhythm that works for you.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 5:12 AM on January 9, 2013

Stay where you are for a couple years, then move on to another job with more vacation. That's the easiest way to get more time. At the public university I work for (as staff, not faculty), I get six weeks a year, which still feels like nowhere near enough time off.

Alternatively, after you've been there for a while, see if you can drop down to 80% effort. 20% pay cut + 20% more time off might be just the ticket for you.
posted by pjaust at 5:28 AM on January 9, 2013

"How do you stay sane on only two weeks vacation per year?"

You don't, short answer. Most USAians have mild PTSD from the lack of quality downtime. A lot of people start fetishising the three-day weekend to the point of getting blotto the whole time. Others go the other way - and become *proud* not to use their vaca time.
posted by notsnot at 5:29 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

First of all, you have more time than you think. You have two weeks of vacation, you have national holidays, and you probably have some Floating Holidays.

I like taking my vacations in week stints. So I'll plan two fun vacations where I go somewhere with a group of friends, or alone with Husbunny to an exotic locale (or an opulant cruise ship where we're treated like sultans for a week).

The floating holidays are used in conjunction with 3-day weekends so I can take longer jaunts to places like New York to see a show, or out to Texas to visit my family, or to drive to see distant friends.

If you space it out right, you'll always have something going on once a month.

The best part about it is, you'll have the dough to actually do fun stuff, instead of sitting around all summer long trying to get back into your soap opera (or whatever it is kids are doing now.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:51 AM on January 9, 2013

No studying. No papers. No homework. When you get out at 5, the time between that and 9 (or whatever your schedule) is all yours, to do whatever the hell you want. No more devoting weekends to research. No more being holed up in the library. Beats school by a country mile.

Yes, exactly. Take that college work ethic and transform it into something that works for your new reality. Work hard while you are at work, but also guard your off time. Learn to pace yourself. Get enough sleep so you don't wake up every day wanting to go back to sleep. It takes time to transition out of the chaos schedule of college. You needed those long breaks because you were burning the candle at both ends. Well, you don't get them anymore. So you have to quit working on adrenalin. The tradeoff for the lack of long breaks is that you generally have some kind of regular weekend. Instead of working (or worrying about work) constantly for 20 straight weeks and then having three weeks off, you have 5 day stretches broken up by 2 days off.

You may not be able to do this right away- many careers start out with the new guy having to do the dirty work. And it depends on the culture of your employer. But you almost always can work something out that works. My employer started out being super casual about worktime. We would show up, get the job done, and then go home. Then they started getting crazy about tracking time and especially not wanting anyone to work overtime. I hated it at first- I was not an overtime abuser, but it was nice to know it was there if there was something that required a long day. But then I found some freedom in it. By tracking my time accurately, I found that I was racking up my required 40 hours with time to spare. So I'd blow off Friday afternoons. It was great to get what amounts to an extra vacation day every other week.

And you'll find that it doesn't take much time at all to earn the seniority to get 3 weeks of vacation, or be able to negotiate more vacation time in lieu of a raise. It feels like it has been no time at all since I started my job, and I'm already (almost) at the 4 week seniority level.
posted by gjc at 6:04 AM on January 9, 2013

People have talked about overall holiday-scheduling a lot, and that's obviously really useful. But if you're like me then the best thing to do is to think on a day-to-day basis about filling all the leisure time you have with fun things that you've actively chosen to do.

Go outside at lunchtime regularly, or talk to a coworker you like away from your desks, or read, or go for a walk, or do some shopping, whatever. Do a thing, a lunchy thing. It doesn't even have to be for a full hour, if that's frowned on or you're super-busy or a long lunch means you need to stay later. But, something. Every lunchtime, or almost every lunchtime.

In the evening: go out more (you'll be able to afford it more because, you know, you're getting paid) and do more things. It's perfectly possible to have a drink after work with a nice coworker, then go and have dinner with a friend, and then go and see, I don't know, some experimental performance poetry, all in one evening; or pop into an art gallery before it closes and walk home (and then eat and go out dancing if you really want to cram stuff in); or stay home and read a whole book, or watch two movies, or bake three batches of biscuits, or whatever it is you like doing. If you finish at 6 and go to sleep at midnight, that's six whole hours every single night where you don't need to do anything work-related. You can do so much in six hours. While I studied and worked from home, there'd be whole weekends where I didn't spend six hours on actively chosen leisure (rather than default watching-telly-and-reading-the-internet leisure). And the best thing is, if your evenings are often a bit busy, then nights in without anything planned become a sort of rare super-bonus-leisure where you can get actively excited about just sitting around on the sofa.

And then you get actual weekends, which are brilliant, massive expanses of whatever-you-like. You can fit so much into a weekend if you make sure you're fairly busy: weekends away, afternoon expeditions, mornings of tiny adventures, whole days spent sitting around in a park writing stuff or reading stuff or napping; you can go out Friday then have a lazy morning Saturday and then have someone around for lunch and then go to a couple of different museums and a riverbank or a coffee shop and then go out in the evening - without even feeling like you're cramming stuff in - and then you still have another whole day, just sitting there untouched. Weekends are huge; they expand to fit the things you push into them.

All this only works if you quite like being busy, obviously. But I do think that whatever the leisure activity you actively like is, you can probably fit a lot more of it in than you think, and scheduling it a bit in advance helps to make sure you actually do it rather than just reading the internet for two and a half days.
posted by severalbees at 6:54 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Please don't go in planning to sprinkle your vacation days here and there: most jobs don't let you use any leave for the first 90 days or whatever. And as for planning to take your two weeks over Christmas through New Year's, please note that most places give the more senior people first choice. (This may not seem fair, but remember that at some point, you will be that senior employee, and all of a sudden: it's magically very fair. ;) )

And let a little leave pile up as a backup: what if you need to take a sudden trip for Grandma's funeral or something? Don't just waste all of your leave time, keep some back for emergencies. (That goes even more for sick leave, by the way: heaven forbid you need it for a broken leg but you've wasted it on 'oh, I don't feel like going in today' days.)

As other folks say above, compared to the constant pressure of school, it simply isn't that bad, and you'll get used to it quickly.
posted by easily confused at 6:57 AM on January 9, 2013

We strategically schedule around already-given days off. We both get Thanksgiving and the day after off, so if we take M-W off that week, tada! 9 days off in a row, for the cost of 3 days of PTO.
posted by getawaysticks at 7:03 AM on January 9, 2013

So, 2 weeks paid vacation from your job doesn't necessarily mean you can only take 2 weeks off. There's a decent chance you can talk your office job into letting you take another week or 2 unpaid vacation -- which if you're not living paycheck to paycheck is just as much fun as paid vacation.

Also, finding a job you enjoy doing can mean that you aren't counting the days until your next vacation rolls around.
posted by garlic at 7:50 AM on January 9, 2013

There's a decent chance you can talk your office job into letting you take another week or 2 unpaid vacation...

Oh, yeah, this is something you absolutely must take advantage of when you're still a junior employee. When you have Big Responsibilities, it's a lot harder to pull off, but right now, it'll just mean the company saves on two weeks of wages and someone else has to make twice as many photocopies as they usually do.
posted by griphus at 8:00 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's a decent chance you can talk your office job into letting you take another week or 2 unpaid vacation...

I have never heard of such a thing! What is far more common, in my experience, is the pressure not to take any of your vacation - it's been years since I've been able to take more than one day at a time, and that was four days together with one public holiday in 2008. Last year, I put together a holiday plus weekend plus one day off so that I had four days in a row to visit my family, and got back to hear from someone senior that "it was nice I'd gotten in a vacation this year".

What I was going to say is this: make sure you actually take your vacation. As I've learned to my sorrow, it's much better to run a little risk when you're junior of being seen as "that troublemaker who takes their vacation days" and get people used to it than assume that you will follow work culture for your first few years and start taking vacation later, because you won't be able to.
posted by Frowner at 8:23 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Speaking from the opposite end of the work-school spectrum, I've worked full-time (or more than full-time) since I finished high school 15 years ago, and have absolutely no idea how students stay sane when they have long stretches of time off.

For better or worse, I've encountered more than a few lifelong students who view having a job as something that's generally "for the rest of us," as though maintaining gainful employment necessitates complacency in the face of endless soporific drudgery, or a certain deadening of the soul. Fortunately, that viewpoint has not even remotely aligned with my reality, which consists of putting in my assigned hours at work during the day, going home and doing whatever the hell I want until the moment I have to clock in next, saving up money in drips and drabs all the while, and eventually being able to afford to do a respectable amount of charitable giving and/or take a spate of vacation to travel. Over the past five years alone, I've been able to visit nine countries and three continents. It's a ridiculous blessing, all in exchange for performing what are essentially glorified secretarial duties. No other path in life would have ever afforded me the chance to take these opportunities, so I am grateful every single day for my little worker bee routine.

is this experience going to be as painful as I'm anticipating?
If you're anticipating it to be painful, monotonous, and exhausting, then yes. Bear in mind that many, if not most, working Americans have two weeks or less of vacation per year; this whole to-do has been survived by greater and lesser minds alike for generations.
I'd recommend making a wish list on your calendar -- destinations, objects, charities you'd like to give to -- and sketching out when you will be able to attain those goals as a result of simply going to work. For example, I like to turn the occasional day's wages directly into a donation of the same amount that goes to one of my favorite charities. Today's wages will go to dog rescue, two weeks from Thursday's wages will go to Habitat for Humanity, etc. In my darkest hours of endless photocopying and stapling, it has always helped to have concrete aspirations, something real to work toward.

How do you maintain this kind of schedule without getting burnt out?
By twinning a strong work ethic with a modicum of responsibility that results in being able to forget completely about my job as soon as I set foot out the door, being friendly with my amazing (!) co-workers so I always have someone to vent to if I get fed up, and taking the occasional afternoon or full day off mid-week if I'm just not feeling it.
If you're going to be in front of a computer all day, install Workrave to remind you to drink water and move around throughout the day -- get some fresh air, stretch, jog across the parking lot or around the block, take a few moments to let the sun shine on your face whenever you can. Schedule and take vacation now, in the nascent years of your career development, before people start expecting you to not just eschew your paid vacation, but come into the office on weekends and holidays as well.
More than anything else, I've just grown to accept that this is the way of the world. Being utterly without any kind of safety net, burning out on work is simply not an option unless I want to go without food, clothing, and shelter. It's a great motivator!
posted by divined by radio at 8:52 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's a decent chance you can talk your office job into letting you take another week or 2 unpaid vacation

Whether this will work depends on how much seasonality or other changes in loading there are to the business. Accountanting firms love to temporarily shed people off their payrolls right after taxes are due and they usually have enough people doing it that it really makes a difference to their business.

I did this when I worked for a consulting business in the Middle East, I'd take Ramadan as an unpaid vacation month every year. Since our clients were mostly governments and in practice there was very little work then anyway, it made sense for both me and the company.

I don't know if this is as common in the US though.
posted by atrazine at 10:39 AM on January 9, 2013

It's an individual thing. Some people can't stand to be away from work, and others can't wait to get away. Given your apprehension, it's not likely to be an easy transition. I'm like you, and my only advice is that you have to put your time in to either promote into more vacation or eventually change companies to get it.

Another major question is whether you have any sick leave at all. If not, you're very likely looking at less than 10 days off. The other option, once you've established yourself and heavily depending on company culture, is asking for more time off and taking it unpaid. I'm sure some people would consider this a sacrilege, but I've done it. Then again, I tend to get huge amounts of work done in bursts, so I've proven my worth before ever broaching the subject.

Good luck, and remember that two weeks is only likely to last your first 1-3 years at this company, and it's something you can look for in your next job.
posted by cnc at 11:33 AM on January 9, 2013

People here are really optimistic.

In my last job, I found it really, really, really, really, really, really hard. I could not adjust. It made me freak out a lot. Here's why: I had to work weekends on a rotation (so those three-day weekends often didn't pan out), I worked evenings, my hours were totally inflexible and could never be changed, and I had a long commute.

When I had a full-time job that was near my house and had good hours (8-4 Monday through Friday, with the option of working 4/10 weeks as described above), I was just fine. Other benefits help, too: things like being able to use sick leave for doctor and dentist appointments, and flexibility in your daily schedule (like if you need to leave an hour or two early one day, you can stay later the next; you can work through an unpaid lunch, etc.)

Also, keep in mind how frequently you see family/friends and how far away they live. One of the hardest things in my adult life has been balancing my needs (rest, general housekeeping, and travel) with the needs of my family. I try to take long weekends for family stuff, and keep big blocks of vacation all to myself, but that works for me mainly because most of my family is pretty geographically close.

You need to find a job where all that other stuff works out in your favor, especially if you're already worried about it. When I had real evenings to myself (or to socialize), and actual weekends, two weeks of vacation was really fine, if not ideal. When I had to work weird hours - or at jobs where I've had to take work home with me, or have to take calls after work - it was really exceedingly not fine at all.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 3:03 PM on January 9, 2013

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