The 2016 Sabbatical: Why We Should All Take a Month Off

Tomorrow, October 10, officially begins my 2016 sabbatical. There won’t be frequent replies on email/whatsapp/viber/sms/fbmess for a month (with the certain exception for urgency basis).

Instead of normal daily routine, I’ll be spending time taking long walks, taking even longer notes, meeting with long-time-have-not-catch-up-friends, and creating a plan to answer this question:

“What is going to make Myself and My Team greater in 2017?”

I decided to start this practice this year and while it often sounds lazy to those who pride themselves on working harder no matter what, I believe it will be one of the most beneficial things I have ever added to my routine.

Here are the important things I do during my sabbatical that (hope to) allow me to make huge strides in my life and business every year and, of course, a few ideas for how to implement a similar system if you don’t run your own business or can’t just disappear for a month like I (kind of) doing.

First: Why a Sabbatical?

Here’s a funny piece of data. In today’s modern world, we work less than at any other time in history. Yet, we’re more stressed out than ever and feel like we’re constantly behind.

The reason? Technology has become a bigger and bigger part of our daily lives and even though we’re spending less time at work, we’re spending more time seeing all those work emails and updates piling up when we’re away from the desk.

We work less, but work has infiltrated our life more.

In Vietnam, we do an abysmal job of providing people with useful free time. Two weeks off (12 days) is standard for anyone starting out in their career and, if you’re lucky, you might get to five or six by the time you retire.

But try to take more than about one week off at a time and you’ll get a raised eyebrow from your boss and probably your coworkers, too.

One week isn’t long enough to disconnect from your normal life to make meaningful changes. All the work that piles up when you’re gone for a week is still there when you get back… and you know it. So, you take time off and that time just stresses you out more.

But when you take a month (or longer) off, problems that come up in week one often solve themselves by week two or three. And all the work that’s piled up can now be looked at with fresh eyes when you return. It’s incredibly easy to see what’s important and needs to be dealt with and what can be ignored, perhaps, forever.

That’s the kind of separation you need to make real strides in your life. And that’s what a sabbatical provides.

What to Do on Your Sabbatical

There isn’t any one way to do a sabbatical. The only way to mess up is to keep doing what you normally do and think you’re on one.

A sabbatical is about removing yourself from your ingrained habits and your daily grind to:

  1. Improve your life / work / whatever
  2. Focus on something new and interesting
  3. Just get some relaxation

As long as you spend your time doing one or all of those things and not cheating by keeping tabs on work when you should be separating yourself from that, you’ll come out of it with a new perspective.

I spend my yearly sabbatical focusing on how I can improve my life and my work. Like I mentioned above, the main question I ask myself is, “What is going to make Myself and My Team greater next year?”

With the daily work of the site out of the way, I have a lot of space to think about the answer to that question from a new perspective. There’s no pressure to have an immediate answer because there’s no pressing work waiting on that answer.

Here are the smaller questions I ask myself throughout the month and spend at least an hour each day pondering. Because I do this in October, the questions overlap with my annual year-end-planning:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well?
  3. What did I accomplish that I wasn’t expecting to?
  4. How can I make what I’m already doing even better?
  5. What are some things I’m not doing that I wish I was?
  6. What do I need to stop doing?

I tend to ask these questions in that order, but I often skip around, too. Answering one can lend a lot of insight into how to answer another.

However you spend your time on your own sabbatical, you’re doing it right as long as you’re doing something different.

What If I Can’t Take Time Off?

Taking a sabbatical sounds good to nearly anyone until you realize you don’t live in a utopian dream world. You have a job, family, other responsibilities that mean you can’t just disappear for a month to daydream about what you want your life to look like.

Hope is not lost! It’s totally possible to work the important parts of a sabbatical into an imperfect schedule. There are lots of ways to do it and the way that’s right for you depends on a number of variables, but the most important part is this:

Clear an hour each day to do nothing but relax and / or think about what you want to change.

This is closer to how I take my annual sabbatical, too. I don’t actually disappear into the woods for a month (though it’s on my list of things to try!). My life is busy just like yours and I manage several different businesses that can’t be completely neglected for a month.

So, I simply make it a point to put at least one hour on my schedule each day devoted to answering those questions from the previous section. I often spend more time than this, but having the hour scheduled ensures I do at least that much.

But finding even an hour each day can be tough. This is the thing about a sabbatical, though. If you want it to work, you must have the courage to set some things that feel important aside. Remember: you’re setting them aside so you can return to them later and make them even better.

There are two ways to do this:

  1. Set aside the most important thing you do. The most important thing you do probably takes a lot of your time, so eliminating it for a month should clear plenty of space. Not doing the thing you’re trying to improve while you’re trying to improve it makes the process a lot more enjoyable, too.
  2. Set aside several unimportant things. This is also an acceptable solution and it has a side benefit. When your sabbatical is up, you just might realize you don’t need to do those unimportant things at all anymore. Ta-da! More time for a future sabbatical!

Whatever method you choose, use your time wisely. Don’t try to sneak work into it. If you promise yourself an hour each day, use that hour even if it means laying on your back in the living room listening to records or going for long, meandering walks. It’s all part of the process.

I’ll be spending this October making what we make for our enterprise customers better. I hope you’ll spend some time this month making whatever you make better, too. If you get bored on your sabbatical. Come chat with me on Twitter.