A pending vacation from work is supposed to be exciting. But for many, it only compounds their stress: Taking paid leave often means a mad scramble to get work done in advance so you don't leave your co-workers holding the ball. That might be why up to 40 percent of Americans leave vacation days unused at the end of any given year.

With just a little forethought, you can avoid all that. Stacey Lastoe of The Muse recently shared a Before-You-Go Vacation Planner Worksheet (available here) she created to help employees identify the best practices for planning on time off. Lastoe advocates making tangible lists of projects that need completion before you depart, projects that you can put off until you return, and the days you can work a little longer to make sure things are done in time.

Organizing your obligations can help offset the kind of frenzied pre-absence scrambling many employees endure in the days leading up to their vacation. Instead of stuffing every commitment into a small window, you’ll be spreading them out and checking them off. Your boss is likely to be impressed with your planning, and you’ll benefit from not having a distracted mind while out of town and away from your (clean) desk.

[h/t themuse]