I’ll be honest with you: I have a hard time slowing down.
As an entrepreneur, the work is never done. There is always more that can be done and there is always something left to do.
Where does work end and play begin? This line is even more challenging to define when your job is what you love to do.
What do you do in the evenings?
- Create art?
- Make videos?
What if those same things you enjoy are also what supports you? It’s especially hard for others to recognize this from an outside perspective. When what you enjoy doing and what supports you financially are the same thing, others may perceive you to be working when you’re actually just having fun!
Not only that, but because work and play overlap so much, that means your free time hobbies also indirectly benefit and support your business! It’s crazy!
This is my situation.
I’m very fortunate to love what I do. It also presents some challenges.
First, it mandates we define workaholism in a way that still holds when you love what you do vocationally. Here is how I’ve come to define it:
Workaholism: When what you’re doing detracts from something else you should be doing.
That could be family, that could be personal health, that could be anything. Only you know and only those close to you know.
For me, I tend to go all out. I’m a very disciplined person and I apply myself fully to everything I pursue. This tenacity is no doubt a significant factor in my success, but it’s also a characteristic that must be kept in check.
I mentioned I have a hard time slowing down. I like to commit fully. It’s this way of thinking that led to my conceptualization of Small Scale Sabbaticals.
Small Scale Sabbaticals
You know how we typically take a break at least one day every week? Many teachers also take off every 7th year. Well I thought, what if I took a week off every 7th week?
This idea initially scared me because it sounded so unproductive. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it would work to my benefit. Having every 7th week off would allow me to slow down, take a step back, and plan the work I do in the other 6 weeks.
Not only would it prevent burnout (which I believe was inevitable at my usual pace), but also result in nearly the same amount of productivity. The remaining weeks would be all the more fruitful because of the much-needed clarity I would attain from the break.
This means not only would I get just about the same amount of work done, but I would also be a healthier person in all aspects.
What I especially liked about the idea of Small Scale Sabbaticals is that it aligns with my hyper-focused approach. I’m all in on something or not at all.
Instead of trying to slow down during my highly effective times of work, I will simply have 7th week milestones where I go all in on the break. Just like I’m focused with my work, for a whole week I will apply just as much focus to my break.
This concept aligns really well with my personality.
Planting the Seed
May of this year is when I originally explored the idea of Small Scale Sabbaticals in one of my podcast episodes. I didn’t actually start doing it in practice until nearly half a year later.
Even though I only discussed it conceptually in that particular podcast episode, I believe that’s what planted the seed for me.
Eventually, that seed took and I publicly declared my intentions to start practicing Small Scale Sabbaticals.
We had a Colorado trip already planned with some close friends and I decided that the timing was perfect to coincide with my first Sabbatical Week.
Of course, not all of my future Sabbatical Weeks will be trips like this, but this one certainly brought a very welcome change in scenery.
In San Antonio, we have two seasons: brown and not-as-brown. Essentially, 49 weeks of hot and 3 weeks of not-as-hot.
Enter Telluride, Colorado. At an elevation of 8,750ft, this small town is almost completely surrounded by 13,000ft peaks. We arrived in late September and saw the remaining green trees gradually turn to yellow during our week-long stay.
Of the already yellow trees, some were already beginning to turn to the next hue from the top down. Just a little spot at the very tip of the yellow tree would be changing to red, giving the appearance of towering, unlit matches.
The air was also much thinner, but somehow refreshing in its clarity—especially compared to the drenched humidity of our southwest Texas air.
I was surprised at how easily we got out of breath climbing the 8 half levels of our adjoined condos.
While the Sabbatical Week is intended to be a break, I don’t intend to sit around and watch Netflix all day. It’s a purposeful break from my regular commitments with the focus on relaxing as well as pursuing secondary passions.
Certainly first and foremost is resting. When I work, I work hard, so during this time I want to make an effort to rest hard. How hard I actually ended up resting surprised me, but I’ll get to that more in a moment.
I write a lot. Usually several thousand words a day. Whether it’s for my upcoming book, outlines for my podcast or videos, show notes, newsletters, or blog posts, I’m racking up some serious word count.
Why write on the Sabbatical then?
Well, the purpose is two-fold. First, I enjoy writing and I enjoy the clarity I get from writing, so it’s not something I want to stop while I’m on Sabbatical.
Secondly, I want to write about the Sabbatical itself while I’m actually in it. There are no minimum requirements on the writing, just that I want to capture my experience as I’m having it.
While the vast majority of what I write is ultimately published in one form or another, I’ve also found therapeutic relief in the act of writing as a way of better understanding how I think.
Writing with no intent to publish is rather freeing. The practice helps me be a more articulate person in general and it helps keep my mind clear. When we don’t write our thoughts, part of our mental capacity is used to store them. Writing our thoughts not only archives them, but it keeps our brain from being ill-used as a rudimentary storage device. This enables your brain to be more effectively employed as processing power.
I harp enough on the benefits of writing, so that’s enough for now.
I’m already naturally-inclined toward the long term, but stepping back and giving myself a chance to breath helps me reset. When I’m not caught up in the doing and execution of my work, I can take the time to ensure the work I’m doing is taking me in the right direction.
Where do I want to go? What do I want to accomplish? How are the projects I have planned for the next year bringing me closer to my 5 and 10-year goals?
This isn’t a highly-structured process, it’s simply using some of the space I’ve carved out to reflect on my goals, aspirations, and values.
Last but not least, one of my big goals for the Sabbatical is pursuing one of my secondary passions: creating music.
I really enjoy composing (whether it’s piano or electronic music), but I don’t often set aside the time to pursue it. I used to play the piano a lot more in the past and I find myself missing it. I might dabble a little each day, but it’s still not as much as I’d like.
I used to compose regularly. Before I got into design, lettering, and business, I focused a lot on music. Now, it seems that whenever I sit down with the purpose to record, I end up getting frustrated. If I’m truly honest and objective, what I’m composing is actually very good—it’s just not up to my standards. I end up discarding many “imperfect” compositions and recordings.
I know that we go through seasons of passions, and my neglect of music has led to this frustration. It’s a combination of not resolving issues with perfectionism and simply being out of practice. I can’t expect to abandon music for long stretches of time and still be able to show up and produce flawless creations on a whim.
Where will I find time with such a busy schedule? I’ll never find time. I can only every make the time. That’s what the Sabbatical is for. I realize that if I’m not intentional about making time for my secondary passions, life will pass me by and I may never get the chance.
I hoped that my first Sabbatical would prove fruitful in the writing area. I saw myself kicking my feet up inside the condo with a view of the mountains outside the window and getting a lot of writing for my book in.
I also brought along a bunch of books that I’d never even cracked open. I thought surely I’d have nothing better to do than finally dig into those. I don’t buy books all the time, but I have a number that remain unread, collecting dust. I enthusiastically packed them with high hopes they would be devoured.
Since apparently I would have endless amounts of creative energy (are you getting that this is all leading to a big letdown yet?), I also figured I would have plenty of time to do a ton of lettering.
My focus has been shifting away from lettering as I focus more on business in both my writing and podcasting, but I still enjoy using lettering as a form of art and voice. I lately haven’t dedicated much time to it lately, but my hopes were that I’d be able to do at least several pieces during the week.
That’s probably the best word to describe my ambitions in light of the actual results. I was very surprised by the amount of just plain relaxing I did. Just doing absolutely nothing.
I think my body was just waiting for the permission to slow down. Something about being out in the mountains and trees slows you down. I found myself adapting to the calm pace of nature itself.
Also, a lot of my time was spent walking and hiking. According to the health app on my iPhone, I averaged between 4 and 5 miles a day while we were in Telluride. That’s time I didn’t consider when planning this trip.
I did manage to do a single piece of lettering while I was there. It was just a lot less than I expected.
I shouldn’t be surprised by now, but it’s clear that I tend to over-schedule myself. In my normal day I keep myself at capacity, and I’m now realizing that expectation subconsciously carried over to my Sabbatical.
I had hopes of producing some electronic music, but that did not pan out. However, I did bring my kalimba and I did manage to get a few songs recorded.
Free music download
Here’s the full version of my kalimba track.
Credit to my brother, Cory McCabe, for the incredible photo of the stars. Just pause a moment and take that in. Wow.
Here’s what I’ve learned from this time off and how I plan to approach my next Sabbatical.
Allocate More Time to Relaxation
It felt really good to slow down. I’m writing this to remind myself. It was the opposite of unproductive—it was recharging.
Second, I obviously overcommitted mentally in terms of my hopes for creative output. For my next Sabbatical, I aim to lower my expectations and anticipate resting more.
Location Makes a Difference
It’s worth noting that this particular Sabbatical was an anomaly because of our trip. Typically, I will remain at home for my future weeks off. That means much less time will be spent traveling, hiking, being with friends, and doing other activities.
A lot of people have a hard time being productive when they are home. For me, it’s the opposite. I predict that I will be even more productive if I am home and possibly need to reign that back a bit, but I’ll have to wait and see how being home affects the break.
Embrace the Tempo of Nature
I’m used to keeping a fast pace and maximized output, but I need to remember the purpose is to slow down. Yes, the Sabbatical is for pursuing my secondary passions, and yes that will sometimes result in creation, but I don’t need to maximize that output.
I need to allow myself the breathing room to explore and let any production flourish naturally in the space I create for it.
Email Is a Beast
On this trip, I barely managed email. I paid a few bills and marked some unimportant messages as read, but other than that I didn’t touch it—and I paid the price.
It’s now been a week since I returned from Sabbatical, and my inbox is still in really bad shape. This is coming from a hardcore Inbox Zero guy. I have a system that works, but when you leave it untouched for a week, it’s bad news.
While I wasn’t going to let email distract me from the beauty of Colorado, I actually do plan to continue doing email during my normal Sabbaticals. I’ll never have time to write thoughtful email responses unless I make time.
Building relationships with my readers is important to me. I try to carve out moments of my day to write considered email replies, but obviously I can’t get to everything. One of my goals is to use this slower time to invest in people.
Clarity Is Huge
It’s simply not possible to get true perspective when you’re in the thick of things. I’m writing this for myself to remember: the only way to truly take an objective look at my direction and evaluate if I’m going the right way is to step back.
The most valuable thing is not doing. Even if I do not create during this time, the not doing is actually productive, for it’s in the absence of busyness that I find clarity in my purpose.