Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

Matt has his first week-long vacation this week and it’s turning out to be a great week for both of us. On Monday I came home to find an award winning yard, a totally organized garage, a really happy (crate-free) dog, a clean house and a beaming husband. Um, wow? I think I like the way this vacation is going. We settled in to cooking dinner together, having a glass of wine (my first in six weeks!) and enjoying the leisurely type of evening that I imagine other couples have who both work 9-5 jobs might experience on a regular basis. We actually do have a sit-down dinner probably three or four times a week, but often I’m cooking while Matt is finishing up charts or shortly after we eat, I'm getting ready for bed while he's putting on scrubs to heads out the door. Our weeknight routine is irregular at best, that's for sure.

Although I must say, I really don’t mind – and in fact, enjoy many aspects of – the ED schedule. For starters, Matt's never on call, and he’s usually home within an hour of when his shift is done. That kind of predictability is rare in medicine, and as much as I appreciate that now, I can only imagine how much more important that will be to me later on. Secondly, it provides us with a unique flexibility that other jobs don’t, especially with the work from home flexibility I have. For instance, while there might be a Friday night that he’s busy putting in central lines while I watch What Not to Wear, chances are sometime during the week there was a random Tuesday afternoon we were both home at the same time. Our time together may not be traditional, but for a medical intern's schedule, it's been pretty good. Nonetheless, he’s worked four very long months with sporadic days off here and there, so having a week’s vacation has been a blessing indeed. I know Home Depot is appreciating a man with free time on hands and projects to burn, as well.

On a related note, I had an eye opening moment yesterday in regards to my own vacation schedule. When I started at Wake Forest, my heart did a little backflip during orientation when I heard we got 25 days of sick/personal/vacation. 25 days? A gal could take a month off traversin’ around Spain with that kind of schedule! And, to boot, you can roll over up to half of that… in theory, accumulating 37 days of vacation in one year. Sounds great right? As it turns out, it’s been really, really difficult to use those days. Using vacation days means first finding the cajones to ask my boss for time off, inconveniencing 3 other extremely hard working people and mostly notably, coming back to more work then you left. Nonetheless, there are few things that recharge me more than traipsing around a new place with a map and my camera or a week at the beach with clams, beer and family and so I have done my best to take a few week long vacations every year.

Yesterday I worked on my PTO sheet for 2009 and found that even with a week in Myrtle in April and a week in the Dominican Republic in May and few Fridays off for weddings and other such revelry, I still I had 23.5 days left. 23.5 days!! As it turns out, I could probably much just stay home all December. I’m not sure what to do about this, since as I mentioned, burning through those days like rubber isn’t exactly encouraged or easily facilitated. But they’re my days yall, and if I don’t use at least 10 of them, I’ll lose ‘em.

To add insult to injury, I’ve also keep good records of how much extra I have worked this year. Let’s just say, I love me some Excel sheets. Last October, we had some personnel changes here at work. I won’t go into them here, but essentially a 3 man job became a 2 man job.. It was a very stressful time- there were a lot of tears, a lot of wine drinking and 4 letter words thrown around in my car in between parking spaces and garages. During the course of this event, I began keeping track of my hours in order to document how these changes had affected my work/life balance. I don’t have a punch in, punch out job – I have the kind of job where you do your work, whatever that takes. Sometimes that means reading food logs late into the evening hours, but it also means being able to slip out for doctors appointments or lunch dates without worry, or working from home on Fridays. But my job description does say 37.5 hours a week and I was curious to see with these changes, how close to accurate this was. I found that an average week for me, during this time, was about 50 hours. About 8 months later we hired a 3rd person, which greatly reduced my workload, but I continued to keep track of my hours. Mostly because I’m a little bit OCD and once I make me a good Excel tracker, I have a hard time cutting myself off from using it. In my Excel sheet, I had created a column to keep track of how many hours over my “full time” I went and how quickly those turned into extra days. Over the course of a year, and one month, I have worked an extra 33 days.

Now granted, when I plug in “6 am – 2pm” on my excel sheet, I know I’m not working a full 8 hours. I check twitter, I write wino emails, I go microwave my lunch and end up talking to a co-worker for 20 minutes about Twilight. These things happen. But let’s say – worst case scenario – I worked half of that. That means I worked extra 15 days this year. On top of my leftover 23.5 vacation days, I have nearly 7 weeks of “extra time” this year… just sitting on the back burner.

I’m not sure what to do about this… maybe spend a little more time on twitter at work? (Maybe write blog posts at work? Check.) Unfortunately, if I put my feet up and eat bon bons the person that comes back to haunt the most is me, and then my participants. There’s no “man” to take it out on… the bane and blessing of automonous work is that you get both the responsibility of your schedule, and the responsibility of your schedule. And I guess that’s the truth of many jobs where you don’t clock in and clock out. This is probably one of those realities of being a grown up that you’d rather just not delve that deep into, like compounding interests on mortgage loans or how laundry is never really done because even when the hamper is empty you’re wearing dirty clothes. File this under: Being a Grown Up Sometimes Sucks?

What I’m learning quickly here is that if I don’t respect and nuture my time, no one else is going to. Life is a zero sum game – where you think you’re saving time one place, you’re probably burning it somewhere else. So on that note, I’m punching out at Thursday at noon and I’m not looking back. Matt and I are escaping to the mountains for a weekend – our first and only trip to the montanas this year. I’m not bringing a single food log, weight loss chart or memory or a participant who had 3 apple pies for breakfast with me.

And that is what paid time off is all about.

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