Are you relying on your employer to keep an accurate count of your paid time off (PTO) or do you have your own trusted method? Each vacation day that you earn by working represents a day where you get NOT to work but still get paid. Whatever vacation policy you job offers as a benefit, track your accrued days and remaining off just like you would check that your salary and pay stub amount is correct.
Fortunately there are several tools that make it easy for you to track vacation days (usually broken down into hours) as well as holidays, floating days, and all PTO (paid time off) that you earn. Even if you have an unlimited vacation time at your office (read my reasons why it’s not what you think), it still makes sense to track how often you take vacations. We all have work-life balance goals to meet and compare trends year-on-year.
Here are my picks of the 7 best tools that you can rely on to track, manage, and plan your vacation time.
Besides the most recent paycheck stub, the first place to turn for your official paid vacation benefits tracking is a company human resources (HR) portal. With a plethora of installed and cloud-based vacation tracking software available to companies at a very low cost, most employers give their staff access to time tracking and schedule tools. Besides seeing a line item for your PTO allocation (days or hours accrued and/or remaining) on your paycheck stub, an HR portal will track it online at your convenience. You’ll also use this system to request approval for a paid day off or put in a request to take a week or more of vacation.
While your benefits portal is the standard place to keep tabs on your paid time off, it is of limited use for people who want to maximize their vacation days like us. You’ll be missing those extra features which are designed to help you schedule every paid vacation day and holiday when and how you wish. Unless you can take private notes and schedule days off before formally requesting them, payroll and benefits access sites are limiting.
Regardless of how you use your HR web portal at work, trust but verify the numbers. This means you should check that your days off numbers are accurate, the same as you do with your pay stub each period. Review the numbers monthly and report any discrepancies to your human resources representative promptly. Don’t forget that time off is money.
Until recently Evernote was my favorite app for researching travel and building the perfect trip itinerary. I’ve recently switched to Microsoft’s OneNote as a better way to capture and organize travel plans (read my review here). However any note-taking tool for desktop or mobile device can be used to track your time off benefits and usage. A few come with your phone such as Apple Notes which get stored on iCloud. Others are available from the Play or Android store, though free versions often come with ads or feature limitations. Examples include Google Keep, Simplenote, or ColorNote.
Tables are practical ways to enter paid time information into a spreadsheet-like format. You can input your paid days off accrued versus allocated (planned and taken) as separate tables with notes to document the details. Below is a screenshot of how it might look in OneNote. Remember that since OneNote and Evernote offer desktop software and mobile apps, you’ll be able to view and edit your time-off usage numbers at home, during your commute or break, or even when traveling on vacation.
In OneNote you can have a notebook called “Vacation Tracking” to store all your time off benefits. Simply add a new Section for each vacation accrual period. Evernote organizes your notes slightly different. It may be better to create a separate notebook per year (e.g. “Vacations 2019”) that can be used to both store time-off benefits as well as your vacation plans for that year.
Of course note-taking apps offer tremendous flexibility by letting you create multiple notebooks structures with folders or sections containing individual notes or pages. Tags can be added to make searching more powerful. Since notes support text, images, file attachments such as PDF, screen clippings, and even audio, the options to track your vacation are great. Since both OneNote and Evernote are full-featured software for storing notes and offer free versions, give each a try to figure out which is better at planning your year of vacations.
Your email client whether it’s Google’s popular Gmail, dependable Yahoo! Mail, Microsoft Outlook, or Apple Mail comes bundled with a calendar software tool as well. Make use of it to schedule your vacation days and track their usage. I open up my calendar browser tab and app every day to view my schedule of events, so it is a natural place to add my vacation day data.
With Google Calendar you can mark each vacation day taken as an all-day calendar entry. The trick is to label the calendar entry using a term that is unique and searchable. So for example you can create a calendar appointment called “VacationDay” (no spaces, or use hashtags) for each paid day off you want to track. This can be searched using the advance calendar search feature to quickly find all the vacation days you have taken within the work year.
Check out this screenshot which shows you how easy it is to track vacation days using Google Calendar. A similar technique can be used on your favorite desktop or mobile (smart phone) calendar.
For advanced calendar users, add a separate named Calendar for tracking your time off benefits. Google Calendar let’s you do just that with color settings and a checkbox to turn on and off its display. With dedicated vacation tracking calendar you can quickly view, filter, and calculate your usage across the year.
Not all software has moved online and into the cloud. You may prefer a desktop solution so you can work offline and store your private data locally. OpenOffice delivers an open source alternative to Microsoft Office for your computer. It is free to download and comes with a suite of office software that is familiar and retains compatible file formats.
Of course if you already have a licensed copy of Microsoft Excel (like via Office 365 subscription) on your home computer, by all means use it to track your vacation days. It is still the most powerful spreadsheet application and for very good reasons. However it may not be worth the cost if you don’t need it for other purposes like balancing your checkbook and managing your home finances.
OK this isn’t a revolutionary idea, but if you would rather read a physical book over a Kindle e-book you may prefer to do work-life scheduling on paper too. You have a wide variety of options including post-it notes, a desk or wall calendar, a cork or dry-erase whiteboard, or a spiral notebook.
The best part about using pen and paper to track days off from work is that you’ll have a constant reminder right in front of you. You can’t “minimize” a paper notebook or “close” the cork board on your wall and accidentally forget about work-life-vacation balance. They’ll always be on your desk or up on display on the kitchen or home-office wall.
It’s been a long time since I’ve used CD-ROM software on my Windows PC to print mailing labels and calendars, but this EZ Home and Office Address Book software looks appealing. It lets you print custom calendars and day planners that you can place on your desk or hang on the wall.
I know from experience that it is far too easy to forget about your remaining vacation days so that you use them before you lose them. Paper is the low-tech, but effective way to think about, plan ahead, and take your vacation time as part of your calendar and day planner routine.
Bonus: Have you heard about bullet journals? Get inspiration on how to draw and design your travel life goals using a bullet journal for vacation.
Readers of VacationCounts will already know about the Vacation Days Tracker spreadsheet template, specially created for this purpose. This spreadsheet created by me (Scott, your vacation balance blogger) calculates valuable time off statistics and charts your vacation progress and goals. It has always been free. You only need a Google account which gives you access to Docs and Sheets in the cloud.
The annual release of this vacation and holiday tracking tool is stored on Google Drive (it used to be listed in Google’s public template gallery but that feature has been discontinued). Follow the instructions on how to make a personal (private/secure) copy of the template to store privately in your own Google Drive folder.
UPDATE: The 2019 Vacation Days Tracker spreadsheet is the final release. The VacationCounts app (keep reading below) is new for 2019 and replaces the spreadsheet used by tens of thousands of people.
Finally a round-up of the best apps and tech to track your vacation days has to include the recently released VacationCounts application. As a “web app” it works equally well in the browser on a computer or smart phone with no downloads. Like the spreadsheet template we released over the last several years, the app was specifically designed to track paid time off benefits and official company holidays.
The first step is to document your paid time off benefits by category (vacation, floating, personal, bonus, holiday) for the year. The app will automatically keep track and show you the number of days accrued and remaining. As you make plans to take a vacation, add in dates, places, travel notes, and how many days you are asking to take off from work. With the tools built into VacationCounts, your never miss taking your paid time off when and how you prefer.
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.