Each year, your employer provides you with a base salary, a set of insurance benefits, and an established number of paid days off the clock, or PTO (paid time off). At the entry level, most standard professional jobs in the US offer a minimum of three weeks of PTO each year, in addition to recognized national holidays. Sometimes this amount is divided into “sick days” and “vacation days”, but a growing number of employers are simply merging the two, since it’s not cost effective to monitor and regulate how employees spend their days away from the workplace. So as you launch into the year, you’ll need to have some sort of strategy in mind that can help you distribute your PTO days and use them wisely. How you handle your days will be based on your personal preference and the non-work demands that require your time, but there are a few general guidelines that seem to help most employees end the year with their sanity and personal lives intact. Keep these tips in mind. Don’t burn through your PTO days too soon. If you have three weeks of PTO time, that means 15 days. So if you divide up the number of days you’ll be spending at work during the year, you can parcel out the number of days you’ll be able to take each month. You can simply use a day each month when you feel like it, or you can save your days and attain greater flexibility at the back end of the year. But try not to burn recklessly through them during the months between January and June. When you feel the urge to take a mental health day or skip work and had for the beach, think twice. A little self-discipline in the early months will pay off later, especially if you really do get sick or need to take an unexpected trip. If your allotted number isn’t enough, negotiate for more. This is when a record of impeccable punctuality can pay off. If you’re never late, never miss a meeting, and always show up for work come rain, sleet or snow, this can help you gain some leverage at the negotiating table. Schedule a meeting with your boss and make your case in a clear, direct way. Remind him or her of your punctuality track record and the contributions you make the organization. Prepare to make certain concessions, like a reduced rate increase during the coming year. And be confident. A job is not a prison sentence, and everything in this life is negotiable if we have the will to try. If you need flexibility, ask for it. Burning through your PTO days isn’t the end of the world, and it doesn’t have to mean the end of your job, either. If you simply need to take a day (or a week) to attend to a personal affair, a family issue, or a health issue, but you’re out of PTO days, don’t throw up your hands. Ask your boss for a flexible arrangement, and have this arrangement in mind before you sit down with him or her. Would you like to come in on a Saturday to make up the time? Would you like to work from home? Would you like to come in at noon and leave at 8:00 for a few days instead of standard 9:00 to 5:00 schedule? For more on how to manage your professional schedule and keep your career growth on track, explore the resources at MyPerfectResume.