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I take a week off every seventh week. I also pay my employees to take off every seventh week.
I call this Small Scale Sabbaticals.
I was working 18-hour days, seven days a week with no end in sight, and I was heading towards burn out. I knew some people took off a year every seven years as a “sabbatical” and I knew we took off a day every seven days each week, but why was there nothing in between?
I decided to try it and I decided to prioritize it with my team. I started doing it in 2014 and haven’t look back. It’s been incredible. We feel healthier every time, we feel rested, we’re excited to get back to work, and I truly believe we are more productive as a whole. I certainly know we all do better work.
I’ve been sharing my journey of taking Small Scale Sabbaticals for some time now. You may be wondering how you could possibly do this yourself. Maybe you’re thinking, “How could I possibly take off even a day—much less a whole week?!”
How can you take a sabbatical when you can’t afford to?
The answer is: you’ll never be able to afford to. That’s right. You will never reach a moment in your life where you look at your schedule and the next week is just completely blank.
It won’t happen because we fill time automatically by habit. The only way is to drive a wedge into your schedule and carve out the time.
In this episode, we talk about the money, the how, the scheduling, the potential guilt, and the practicalities of actually being able to take off time with something like a sabbatical.
Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
- You think you can’t afford to take time off, but in reality you can’t afford burnout.
- It’s never too early to take a sabbatical if you’re burnt out.
- The three kinds of sabbaticals: rest sabbaticals, project sabbaticals, and travel sabbaticals.
- There is always too much work to do.
- Create margin and schedule it out. Do this before you can “afford” to because you’ll never reach a point where you can “afford” to. You have to carve out time proactively. It starts with you.
- You’re going to have to say no a lot.
- A lot of people who make it out of their day job and start doing their own thing don’t actually live the life they want to live.
- Things take as much time as you give them.
- Push through the second sabbatical, because the third is where it’s going to click for you.
- The best way to not feel guilty about taking a break is to write down the things you want to accomplish each day beforehand. When you finish a day feeling accomplished, you won’t feel guilty about taking a break afterward.
- It’s going to take time, but your audience can get on board with you taking sabbaticals.
- 04:38 Sean: We’ve been doing this sabbatical thing for a while. I call it Small Scale Sabbaticals, because I had heard of people taking off a year every seventh year. I’m just looking at my situation, and I’m working a lot. I’m not going outside a lot. 18 hour days are normal to me, and I’m working seven days a week. I still work like that a lot now, but back in 2014, I was doing this all the time. It was very regular for me, and I’m an all-on or an all-off kind of a guy.
You’re Heading Towards Burnout
- 05:16 I know a lot of the listeners know about our sabbatical concept, but I’m just giving a brief overview here. I realized that I was heading towards burnout, and a lot of our listeners are heading towards burnout. If you’re doing the hustle, if you’re working the kind of hours I work as intense as I work, you, too, are heading towards burnout. That’s the reality of it. Fortunately, I came to my senses and I did not burn out. I was was heading towards it, but I didn’t get there because I implemented what I call Small Scale Sabbaticals.
- 05:51 Every seventh week, I take off a week. I work for six weeks, and then I take off the seventh week. Ever since September of 2014, we’ve been doing this consistently. It’s been the most incredible thing. I can’t imagine life without taking sabbaticals. It’s such a normal thing. It’s as normal as weekends to most people, and a lot of the listeners have been taking note of this and they’ve wanted to try it themselves. They think, “That sounds great. I would love to take time off.” The most common objection we get is people saying, “I can’t afford to take off a whole week every seven weeks. That’s way too much.”
- 06:34 That’s what this episode is about today. It’s about taking off a week every seven weeks even if you can’t afford to. I thought I couldn’t afford time off. I really did. What I couldn’t afford was burnout.
You think you can’t afford to take time off, but in reality, you can’t afford burnout.
- 06:51 Someone was asking, “Why seven weeks? Why not six or eight? Is there a significance in the 7th week?” Moataz says, “I’m sure there is an efficiency aspect to your reasoning, but how did you come up with the 7th week? Are there other schedules that can work?” I don’t know that there’s necessarily something magical about it. There are seven days in a week, and we usually take off a day. I had heard of this sabbatical concept, typically for college professors, where they will take off a year and go study or write a book or something like that.
- 07:25 I thought, “We’ve got this week of seven days and this sabbatical concept of every seven years. Why don’t we have something in the middle? Why isn’t there something in between? Why don’t we have a Small Scale Sabbatical?” That’s where it came from. I was looking at the models we already have and adjusting them.
- 07:46 Ben: I like that there doesn’t necessarily have to be a rule about how frequently or how seldom this happens, but if you’re focused on the right frequency, you’re missing the point. The point is that you’re purposefully and proactively setting aside time to rest so that, when you are working, you can work more efficiently and you’re not in danger of burning out.
- 08:16 Trying to work, meet deadlines, and do creative work when you’re feeling burnout is like the story I told one time about running uphill with a backpack on and a guy grabbed me from behind. We were racing to the apartment complex office for cookies that they put out every day. I wanted that cookie, but it didn’t matter. I was weighed down by my books, and then the guy grabbed me from behind. Total cheap shot. That’s what it feels like, trying to work when you’re feeling burned out. The sabbatical is the way you avoid that.
Using Sabbaticals to Prevent Burnout
- 09:13 Sean: I think a lot of people see a sabbatical as a luxury. I understand that. It’s not a very common way of working. Most people get two weeks off every year, but that’s not thriving—it’s just survival. You have so many people living for these two weeks, and they’re holding their breath for the rest of the year. They’re miserable. They’re trudging through it. They get home in the evening, and they’re so glad to be done with their work. They want to do other things, but they’re just kind of tired.
- 10:02 They end up just sitting on the couch and thinking, “I want to do these other things, but I’m exhausted. I’m doing this job, and I don’t really want to be doing this job, but I have to do this job. What else am I going to do? What’s the point of trying to do other projects, travel, or try and build a side business? Tomorrow, I’m just going to have to wake up and do it all over again.”
- 10:27 Ben: It’s hard to get over the mindset of thinking that sabbaticals are a luxury. People who make really good money and get to dictate their schedules are the ones who get to do that, but right now, I’m in “need to have” mode. Only the things I need to have, I’m going to implement. When you experience it, when you take the leap and you try it out, you really see how much of a necessity it becomes. There’s no rule that says that this is exactly how you should do it, but a lot of people do the weekend thing, too. Even if you work for a great company that gives you six weeks of vacation in a year, you have the idea of working for five days and then taking a weekend to let lose and relax.
- 11:37 I’ve found that that totally throws me off. It takes me out of my rhythm, and I have to reestablish that on Mondays. That’s why everybody hates Mondays. Since I stared making a sabbatical part of my life, now Mondays are exciting. I do some work on Sundays, but I scale back a little bit on the weekends because we have kids and they’re home. The rhythm for me is probably different from the rhythm that you have, but I’m exited about doing my work on Mondays. I’m excited about getting things going, because I know that I’ve got this section of time coming up. I don’t have to wait a long time for it. I don’t feel like I have to work through all this stuff to get to that.
- 12:30 Sean: Daniel is wondering, “When is it too early to start taking sabbaticals? I just started blogging weekly last December and I’m feeling a little burn out from writing. I miss working on lettering projects.”
It’s never too early to take a sabbatical if you’re burnt out.
- 12:47 That’s when you know. If you feel like you’re about to burn out, then you are about to burn out. Your body is telling you. If that’s the case, it’s not too early. You can’t afford to burn out. People think they can’t afford to take sabbaticals, but you can’t afford to burn out. It’s like running across a street with heavy traffic going both ways and saying, “I can’t afford to be late to my meeting.” No. You can’t afford to break every bone in your body and be in traction for six months and no longer be able to work in your business. That’s what you can’t afford to do, but you’re thinking, “I can’t afford to miss this meeting.”
- 13:30 Karma says, “I don’t know. I’ve been working 15 to 17 hours per day, six days a week, for years, and I haven’t burned out yet. I don’t see it in sight yet, either.” There’s no way he’s been doing 17 hour days, six days a week, for years. I’m talking about working. Maybe you’re doing 17 hour days. You wake up, you get your coffee, you drive to work, and you start work two hours later. Then you get home and you’re with your family, and you say, “Wow, I’ve been up for 17 hours. Looks like I’m going to get seven hours of sleep tonight.” If you’re working 17 hours, you’re sleeping three or less.
- 14:13 You have to shower. You have to brush your teeth. You have to eat food. You have to commute, get groceries, take your kids to soccer… There are a lot of things. I mean actually working in a day. If you are actually working 17 hours a day, seven days a week, for years, you will burn out. You can’t afford to do that. You cannot afford to burn out. The whole sabbatical concept came from people who are like me, who are all-on mode, who are all-in for every project they’re working. You’re working as hard as you can. You’re not just showing up to the job for 8, 10, or 12 hours. You’re all in. There’s no breaks, play time, fun, games, or movies.
- 15:08 You’re just working. If you’re doing that, you’re going to burn out. I recognize that in myself, and that’s why I came up with this concept. It was a way to protect myself from burning out.
What Are Small Scale Sabbaticals?
- 15:25 Garrett is wondering in the chat, “What do I do on my sabbatical? I can’t sit still for a week. It’s just not in me. If I decide to take up a hobby, say music, how do I avoid that becoming another box if I’m supposed to be focusing on my other 6 weeks as, say, a game designer?” When you do not do sabbaticals, when you don’t take off a week every seventh week, you don’t know life any other way. If you can’t continue going for 50 weeks out of a year, you’re going to be fired. You literally can’t even think about what it would be like to take a week off every seven weeks.
- 16:19 We convince ourselves that we can’t even imagine not having something going on for a week. I understand that. For me, if I get in that mode, I’m thinking, “There is no way I can sit still for an entire week. There are so many things I want to do.” There are a couple of parts to this. When you start taking a sabbatical, you adjust to it. Your body adjusts to it. It’s as if you’re working seven days a week and you never take off weekends. You say, “How can I take off weekends? There’s so much work to do.” Most of us do take off weekends, it’s just how society works. It makes it relatively easy for us.
- 17:05 There are business hours and things like that, so nobody really questions why we’re not working seven days a week instead of five. Everyone has the weekend. It’s a part of normal society. Even though there’s so much work, we take these little breaks. For one or two days on the weekend, we just say, “We’re not going to do work.” Anything that needs to be done, we push it over to Monday and schedule it then. That’s essentially what the sabbatical week becomes like. It becomes a week where you say, “I’ve got a sabbatical week coming up,” like you would say, “I’ve got a Saturday coming up,” so if anyone wants to do anything, if a client wants to work with you, you say, “Alright, we’ll schedule the project for this date in the future.”
If a project normally takes three weeks to complete and a sabbatical is coming up, build that in and say that it takes four or five weeks.
- 18:03 Ben: I had a situation recently where I was going to be working on a project that scaled several weeks, enough to where there were actually two sabbaticals. If you communicate upfront and you set the expectation and let them know, “I’m going to be out for this week and for that week,” you don’t have to explain what a sabbatical is and why you’re doing that. All you have to do is say, “I’m going to be on vacation this week and that week,” and most of the time, that’s good enough.
- 18:39 Sean: Since we are getting into it now, I actually wouldn’t even tell the client. All you need to communicate to the client is expectations for how long the project will take and when you’ll be communicating with them. If there’s a period in the middle where you’ll be executing and doing the work, where you aren’t doing project discovery or getting any more information with them, you can just say, “I will follow up at this date in the future.” You don’t have to say, “I’m taking a vacation,” or, “I’m taking sabbaticals.”
- 19:11 Ben: It depends on the kind of work you do. If you’re doing work where it’s not necessary for you to have communication with the client during that time, then you don’t even have to mention it. If you know that there’s a chance that there may be some communication during your sabbatical, it’s a good idea to communicate that and say, “I’m not going to be available this week,” and then remind them before you go into that week.
- 19:40 Sean: Just communicate with them. Set expectations. Garrett is wondering what to do on his sabbatical, and I break it into three types of sabbaticals. This is just the trend I’ve noticed over the past year to two years of doing this.
I have rest sabbaticals, project sabbaticals, and travel sabbaticals.
- 20:07 Traveling is fun. Going on a trip is fun, but it’s not the same type of resting and relaxing as staying at home and not having all of your normal work. It can still be kind of exhausting to travel, but at least it’s a step down from normal work. I do mix it in from time to time. I really think you do need these exclusive down time weeks, these rest sabbaticals.
- 20:38 Ben: What if you got to where you were doing five weeks on and two weeks off? One week was a project sabbatical or something where you’re still working on something, but it’s not necessarily related to your primary thing.
- 20:52 Sean: I do take project sabbaticals. I’ll take a sabbatical and say, “This week I’m going to record an album,” or, “This week I’m going to produce some electronic music,” or, “This week I’m going to focus on my art.” The main point is getting rid of any of your obligations, anything you have to do. This is a mistake I’ve made a lot with sabbaticals, thinking, “That’s a free week,” so weeks in advance when people say, “Do you want to do this or that?” I’ll look on my calendar, see the open week, and I schedule things for it. This is what we do.
Choose Margin & Schedule It
- 21:32 We’ve talked about the importance of creating margin in your schedule (Related: e231 Reduce Stress and Do Better Work by Creating Margin). We don’t like seeing gaps in our schedule. We see it as time to be filled. It’s really tempting to fill that gap if you don’t have the sabbatical blocked out and you haven’t made a pact with yourself not to schedule things during that week. It just seems like extra time. Without fail, every time I get to that week, I regret the things that I scheduled. In the past, I’ve thought, “Yeah, I can do that.”
- 22:05 I’m in work mode. I’m in hustle mode. I think, “There’s plenty of time on the sabbatical,” but by the time I get there, after six weeks of intense work, I don’t want to do all of that stuff. The new rule I’ve made for myself is that I can only schedule things for the sabbatical on the sabbatical. I’m talking about something extra-curricular, not like going on a trip or something, like interview requests or whatever. I can only accept that when I’m on the sabbatical, because that’s when I’ll truly be in a state where I can accept or reject it without regretting.
- 22:43 If I do it in advance, I get there and all I want to do is nothing. On Wednesday of my sabbatical, I don’t want to do an interview. I want to get to that day and say, “This is nice. I could do an interview today,” and just do it if I wanted to.
- 23:03 Ben: The freedom is something you don’t really think about either, as a part of the equation. That’s the feeling of getting to decide in the moment. So much of our time is structured. Even if we’re the ones determining what we’re doing, whether we’re building our business or working with clients, we set these things in motion, and then it’s all laid out for us. It’s so nice to have some time where you can decide in any given moment what you can be doing. I could say, “I’m going to record an album this week,” but if I wake up and I don’t feel like it, I don’t have to.
- 23:54 Sean: The freedom thing is really big. Having the freedom to choose whether or not to do something is big, and that’s why I don’t like scheduling things for the sabbatical in advance. Then, it becomes an obligation.
You’ll Never Be Able to Afford to Take a Sabbatical
- 24:06 At this point, a lot of people think, “That’s great. It must be nice. I wish I could afford to take a sabbatical,” and here’s the thing. You’re never going to afford to take a sabbatical. That’s shocking to say for some people. That’s not very nice, but it’s true. There are always things to do.
You may struggle to take a sabbatical because there is always too much work to do.
- 24:34 I run my own business. I understand, trust me. I understand that there is a never-ending mountain of things to do. Because of that, we will, by default, fill our schedule, because there are so many things to do. You will never get to the point where next week, you suddenly go, “Huh. There are no emails. There are no client projects. There is no boss, no job to go into, and no one calling me. My to do list is totally cleared. Someone took care of all of it for me, even my long term projects. This is wonderful. I think I can finally take a sabbatical.”
- 25:19 Ben: I’m really close to giving up on the idea that I could ever get to a point, regardless of how much money I was making or how many systems I had in place, where I could be more in control of how many things I’m doing at a given moment and reach the end of my task list in a given week.
- 25:46 Sean: On one hand, Ben, you said that you don’t think you’ll reach a point that you’re more in control over the number of things you do, and then you talked about the task list. I do think you’ll always have projects and things to do, but you could always increase the control.
- 26:09 Ben: I’ll have to mull it over some more. My experience feels like there is always more to do than I have time to accomplish, and I don’t know if that’s a problem of me committing to too many things, or if that’s just the nature of things in general. That’s why I say that I should just give up hoping for that, because then I’ll feel much better. I’ll know that I’m not going to get it all done anyway, not with an attitude of, “So screw it,” but also not feeling so frustrated and overwhelmed. I’m just going to keep chipping away at this thing. If I believe that I could get to the end of it or I could scale back, it’s almost like I’m chasing this carrot, and I’m never going to take a sabbatical because I’m thinking, “I’ve just got to get there.”
- 27:18 Sean: I totally get what you’re saying now. I thought, at first, you had said that you won’t ever had more control over how many things you do at once. You’re just saying that you’re never going to get to the end of the list. No matter how much money you have or how many things you accomplish, there’s always going to be more. There’s always going to be something ahead. There’s always going to be something left to do, even when we die.
You’re going to leave things unfinished when you die, so what are you going to finish until then?
- 27:52 That’s literally all you can do. I just want people to realize that, regardless of the money, you’re never going to get to a point where you think, “You know what? I can afford to take a sabbatical.” I say “afford” in every sense of the word, not just monetarily, but time-wise, project-wise, attention-wise, people-wise. You will never get to that point. You have to proactively create it. You have to carve out that margin. Create margin and schedule it out before you can afford to, because that’s the only way.
- 28:34 You have to literally drive a wedge into your schedule. A wedge is pointed on one end, and it gets wider and wider. You pierce your schedule and you expand from that point. Drive a wedge into your schedule and create that margin. Create it where there was no margin. That means that you have to look so far ahead on your schedule that you find a place where nothing is scheduled, even if that means saying, “I’ll start a sabbatical in two years, because nothing is scheduled in two years.” Or, you start sooner, and you’re going to have to cut something out.
- 29:10 I guess I’m not going to go to band practice. I guess I’m not going to enroll my kids in this extra program. I guess I’m not going to start another podcast. I guess I’m not going to try and write a third book. You’re going to have to say no to something.
- 29:30 Ben: I think we also have this fear that we are so necessary, not only to our businesses, but to the people around us who depend on us doing our work, that if we take a week off, everything is going to fall apart. I promise you, people are going to be okay. Maybe things don’t get done as quickly. Maybe somebody feels a little bit frustrated, annoyed, or whatever. It may take annoying some people or making some people think, “Why is he/she doing that?” to make this a consistent thing, but you’ll get on the other side of that.
- 30:14 Here’s what’s going to happen. All of your projects are going to be where you left them. It’s like I tell my kids when they’re potty training, “I know you don’t want to stop playing with those trucks right now, but you need to go take a potty break. It’s going to happen, and it’s either going to happen where it should…” Go do your business. Go take your break, and when you get back, your trucks are still going to be there.
- 30:56 Sean: Are your parents the type that leave your childhood room exactly as it was, or do they say, “Sweet, new project room!”
- 31:09 Ben: My stepmom made me paint my room pink so she could use it as a sewing room. She made me do it. I had the bigger room, and when I graduated, I was still able to live at home for a while because I wasn’t going to school too far away. When I graduated high school, they moved me into the smaller room. They made my brother and I switch. He just rearranged the whole thing, and I was in the smaller room. I finally got to a point where it was comfortable, and then they made me paint it when I moved out.
- 32:21 Sean: My parents have a lot of kids. I’m the oldest of 13, so they still have very young kids, and there isn’t some untouched room that I used to grow up in or anything. They’ve certainly moved on, so we’re a bad example. My point was that things are going to be there when you come back. Obviously, not for us, but for a lot of people, they go back to their parents’ house and there’s their old room. It’s the same thing when you take a sabbatical. You come back, and there’s all your work.
Things Take as Long as You Give Them
- 33:39 I was someone who would procrastinate all the time, especially on school. Three weeks to do a paper? Night before. Challenge accepted. I would stay up all night and get a 78%. Coasting. I thought, “I can apply that energy elsewhere. On fun things.” Things take as long as the amount of time you give them, and that’s just how it works. You want to make a course in six months? You’ll make it in six months. If you have a payroll of $30,000 and a bunch of employees, you’ll make it in 50 days. That’s just how it is.
- 34:29 You will do the work in the amount of time that you have. When it comes down to it, you simply will do it. You really have a week’s worth of work every week, supposedly, although it’s probably not that much, and you get it done in six days, or, for most people, five days. That’s all a sabbatical is. You take seven weeks worth of work and you do it in six weeks. It’s not that hard. You’re goofing off on Facebook every day anyway. You’re checking your notifications and snapping a new addition to your story. We all do it, Ben. It’s not anything personal.
- 35:17 Ben: I take my snaps really seriously, and maybe there are better uses of my time, but I’m trying to put beauty into the world.
- 35:42 Sean: Everyone can do seven weeks worth of work in six weeks. I really think you can. It’s just a matter of working harder, getting greater focus, and getting greater efficiency. You absolutely can do it. Things are going to take as long as you give them.
If you create this margin, you will find a way to make things work and you will be able to live around it.
- 36:09 You will be able to get your client work done. You will be able to fulfill all of your abilities and obligations, and you’re going to be a healthier person. You’re just going to feel better. You’re going to get to rest every seven weeks. You’re going to feel recharged. You’re going to be able to travel. You’re going to be able to work on projects, those side passions where you think, “Sean is always trying to get me to focus on one thing, but I like three things. When is he going to get it?” I do get it, and I’m saying no to a lot of my passions because I really want to be successful.
- 36:47 That’s the thing about sabbaticals. It’s time you can use to pursue those secondary passions. You can keep those alive. You can play music. You can paint. You can make comics. Whatever the thing is that you enjoy doing but isn’t what you need to be focusing on right now or isn’t for this season or what you have to do to make money, you can do that during sabbaticals.
Take Sabbaticals Completely Off
- 37:10 Ben: I’m seriously considering trying to do an extra week. Five weeks on and two weeks off.
- 37:39 Sean: We had some similar questions, so there’s been this deeper fire that’s been waiting to come up. The sabbatical has to be all off. I get to define it because I made it up. Other people can make their own versions, but if they want to do this version, I’m telling you where it comes from. Six weeks of intense work, hustle, focus, efficiency, eliminating the distractions, and the seventh week is all off. No obligations. Nothing on the schedule. No interviews. Nothing you have to do. All off, everything off. Here’s where the fire is coming from.
- 38:3 Tom said, “How does one handle a sabbatical with retainer clients? Continue normal work but don’t accept any new clients during that one week off?” No. You don’t continue normal work. There is no work. If you have retainer clients, get rid of retainer clients and go to ValueBasedPricing.com, because we’re doing some training there. You can’t be doing normal work. People were also asking, “I’m still overlapping right now, is it still worthwhile me taking sabbaticals from my business? I’d still be attending my day job, but I’d have more of a ‘normal’ life during a sabbatical week… Free time in the evenings etc.”
- 39:10 Honestly, I’d say no. The point of the sabbatical is to be all off. Don’t try and do some crazy version of the sabbatical. Try and do one pure sabbatical, where you have zero obligations. Ben, instead of five weeks on and two weeks off, get the one week completely off. Put all of your energy into getting the most fulfilling, restful, recharging one week off you’ve ever had. Don’t say that you’re not doing some things—everything off, completely off, 100% off.
- 39:53 Ben: I don’t want to mislead people at all, and I don’t want to give them bad ideas.
- 40:03 Sean: I don’t like this five week, two week thing, where one’s a project and one’s a rest. It’s confusing. The whole concept is that we’re trying to get people to figure out how to get to the point where they’re taking time off. I know I’m being mean. Some people are thinking, “That’s great. Ben’s taking off two weeks, Sean’s taking off one, and I can’t even take off an afternoon.” I want to help that person.
Handling Client Work During Sabbaticals
- 41:07 Wouter is asking, “How do you handle client work during sabbaticals? I know I shouldn’t ignore them, but what’s the right way to go about it?” You’re working with clients, and you’re thinking, “I don’t know how I can take off this time. How am I going to let them know? What about the clients who want to start during a sabbatical? Do I have to explain what a sabbatical is?” Basically, just schedule around it.
You have this recurring week that you take off every seventh week and you schedule client work around it.
- 41:39 It’s just as if there’s a government holiday. It’s just as if you had your one vacation a year planned then. It’s just as if it was a weekend and they had a two day job and they wanted you to do it Saturday and Sunday. You say, “I can start at this time. This is how long the project will take, and I’ll be done at that time.” It’s just communicating.
- 42:10 Ben: Daniela is saying, “I need the how. I get the concept, but I don’t get the how.” It’s a matter of putting it on your schedule. Wherever you are, stop what you’re doing and find your calendar. Pick a week, and say, “This is the week I’m going to start doing a sabbatical.” Do you have other things scheduled that week? Reschedule them. Move all of that stuff. Clear it all off until you’ve got an empty week. In that week, but a big block that says, “Sabbatical.” That’s how you get started.
- 42:46 That’s how, when a client wants to start a project and the week before they say, “Can you start next week,” you say, “You know what, there’s something in my schedule next week, so I can’t start then. Let’s start after that.” Hopefully you’re scheduling even farther than that, but that’s how you do it. You’ve got to put it on your calendar. It’s got to take up physical space, and you’ve got to think about it the same way you think of anything else that takes up space on your calendar.
- 43:17 Sean: It’s just as if a family member died, and you had to fly out and be with your family for the week. People don’t get it. They think sabbaticals are a luxury. Not burning out is not a luxury. You not physically burning out from working so hard and so much all day, every day, all week, all month, all year, is not a luxury. You can’t think of it as, “Well, if I don’t totally run myself into the ground, that would be a nice thing.” No. You have to have that. You have to have well being and sustainability. You have to pace yourself and prevent that thing from happening at all.
- 44:13 It’s fine if someone listening to this says, “I don’t think I can ever take sabbaticals, and I don’t want to do that. I’m happy working five days and taking two off and getting two weeks of vacation a year.” It’s totally fine if you want that. The people I’m really trying to reach right now are the people who are bought into the hustle mentality of working hard when you’re working. You put in a hefty, focused 14 hours today, not six and eight of distractions. All in.
- 45:01 This sabbatical concept is for someone who works really hard, who wants to take the time off. You’re never going to get to that point unless, like Ben said, you put it on the calendar. It will only ever happen when you stop this episode, open up your calendar app, and you say, “I have a project right now that’s ending in two weeks. This third week, I’m going to take a sabbatical week,” and you put a whole week-long block right there, and you say, “Repeat every seven weeks.” That’s the only way you get to it.
But Seriously, Let’s Talk About Money
- 45:54 You do have to have money. You do need to work hard. You do need to save. And you do need to have the resources to take a week off. It sounds like a lot when you haven’t ever done it, because the mode you’re in is, “I work every business day, and I get a couple days off on the weekend. I get a couple of weeks off every year.” A week off sounds so huge when you get two weeks of vacation off a year. When you start doing it, you realize that a week is not a lot of time. We’re talking about every seven weeks, which is barely a week every two months.
- 46:38 It’s really not a lot of time, and when you think in terms of bills, it’s one seventh of your time. Basically, it’s one week where you’re not making money out of almost two months. Can you take the seven weeks worth of work and do it in six weeks? That’s the question. If you are in a day job, don’t take a partial sabbatical off of your evening hustle. That’s just going to make you become complacent. You still have your day job. You still come home, and then you’re just going to not work on your business? That’s not going to be the kind of recharge that you need. Most people go to a day job, work 40 hours a week, and they come home.
- 47:27 They’re like, “Alright, I did my work.” The people listening to this show, who are doing the Overlap Technique, have a day job and they’re trying to build something. They’re hustling on top of a full time job. If you “take a break” from the night and weekend hustle, you’ll fall back on what is still full time work, and that’s not going to feel like a sabbatical. It won’t feel recharging or relaxing. Right now, you’ve got to work hard and get out of the day job situation.
- 48:00 You’ve got to save money from the day job, you’ve got to hustle on the client work, you’ve got to build yourself a runway, and you’ve got to overlap out of that. Unless your job is willing to give you a week off, in 99% of the cases, it’s not possible to take a sabbatical at a day job.
- 48:23 Ben: You could be in danger of burning out if you’re working a day job but you’re also trying to build something on the side. Even though you can’t take a week off from your job, wouldn’t it be prudent to give yourself a regular period of rest from the hustle of trying to build whatever it is on the side? So you don’t burn out in the process?
- 48:46 Sean: Maybe so. I just wouldn’t call it a sabbatical.
Take a break from the hustle on top of your day job if you need it, but it’s not a sabbatical.
- 48:53 Ben: It’s definitely not the same thing, but I think the same concept can apply. What you’re trying to avoid is burning out.
- 49:02 Sean: That’s fair. If you recognize that you’re about to burn out, you do need to take corrective measures. If you think the evening hustle is leading you toward burnout and you can feel that, you need to preempt it by some kind of regular break, like Ben is saying. Just, in this concept, I wouldn’t call it a sabbatical.
- 49:28 Ben: For a lot of people, we get into these patterns where the time we spend becomes equal to the money that is going out. The money could be going out to our bills, to something we’re saving for, to something we’re investing in long term, or whatever, but we have this idea that whatever is coming in needs to be designated and given a place. We say, “Okay, this belongs to this and this belongs to that.” We end up locking ourselves in, and sometimes this happens with lifestyle. You’re making $60,000 a year but your expenses are only $50,000, so because you’ve got that extra $10,000, you think, “Now we can afford to also do this.”
- 50:23 It becomes a part of your lifestyle. Then it feels like you’re locked into it. One of the practical questions could be, not necessarily, “Can I make more money?” or, “Can I do this amount of work in a lesser amount of time?” It could be, “Can I build sufficient runway by scaling back my lifestyle, by cutting some things out that don’t need to be there?” Automatically, because you cut those things out, you can afford to take a week off every seventh week. You don’t need those extra things.
- 51:03 Sean: If you’re in a day job, you can’t take a true sabbatical unless your employer is totally on board with giving you a week off every seven weeks. You’re going to have to be the one who runs your own schedule and does that, because this isn’t the way most people operate. Prioritize getting to a place where you can control your schedule. When you can control your schedule, if you’re in a day job right now, you’ll think that it’s super easy to take a sabbatical. Like everyone else who’s running their own business right now, listening to this episode, they can tell you that it’s not easy to take this time.
Live the Life You Want
- 51:46 If you’re in a day job right now and you’re frustrated, because you’re not quite making enough where you can go do your own thing yet, you can’t do it sustainably, and you’re still trying to get traction, realize that it’s not the worst position to be in. If you’re listening to this episode and hearing about this sabbatical concept, you can start to preconceive how you’ll be able to define the kind of life you want to have.
A lot of people who make it out of their day job and start doing their own thing don’t actually live the life they want to live.
- 52:25 They’ve fallen into something that happens to work, and they’re constantly battling Scarcity Mindset and things they’re afraid could go wrong, so they get cemented. Yes, they work for themselves, and yes, there are perks to that, but they haven’t designed the life they want to live. If you’re not there yet, listening to this episode and thinking about these things, thinking about the future and how you can carve this time out for yourself to rest, pursue secondary passions, or travel, or have the kind of time you want to do the things that you want, that’s a good place to be.
- 53:01 A lot of people have already taken the leap and have already done their thing, and they still feel just as trapped as you do. At least you have a consistent paycheck every two weeks. They’re afraid that if they stop doing everything they’re doing, exactly as they’re doing it, in this system, everything falls apart and they have nothing left.
- 53:23 Ben: When I was talking about people who get trapped in their lifestyle, I was talking about people who are working for themselves, too. You do get to a place, hopefully, where you’re making regular income. Maybe you’ve got regular clients or your work is pretty consistent, but it’s a mindset thing. If you think of the value of your time as equal to what you can afford as a part of your lifestyle, if those two things have a correlation, it’s going to be really hard for you to break out of that and see the possibility of having extra time.
- 54:04 Those two are completely separate things. I’m thinking about the person who says, “When I worked five days a week, 50 weeks per year, I made this much money, and this much money is equal to the amount of money I need to spend to maintain my lifestyle.” You’ve got to disconnect those things. The potential value of your time, the upside, is much bigger than you’re allowing yourself to think. We talk about that a lot on this podcast, about ways to increase the value of your time, and the fact that your time is more valuable. You have to disconnect it from your lifestyle in order to think that way.
Sabbaticals for Employees
- 55:02 Sean: We had some people in the chat saying, “I’m going to try and ask my employer if they’ll give me that time off.” If you have that flexibility and you can ask your employer for that time, go for it. As an employer, I believe in the concept so much. It wasn’t always like this. It was just me. In September of 2014, there weren’t eight of us. When I started hiring people, I was like, “How am I going to make sure they’re doing work while I’m doing my sabbatical?” Then I realized, “Wait a minute, do I believe in the concept or do I not?”
- 55:41 Because I do, I mandated sabbaticals for everyone on the team. I pay them to take a week off. I really believe in it. I believe that they are better workers, that they’re more healthy people, they’re more whole people, they enjoy their lives to a greater degree, and that’s all kinds of bonus to me. We have a hustle mentality where we say, “Alright, we know what we need to get done in these six weeks, and we’re going to get it done.”‘
- 56:09 We get seven weeks of work done in six weeks. Some people might be thinking, “Why not just get seven weeks worth of work done in six weeks and then work some more?” I thought that way, but eventually, you will hit burnout, and that’s what you can’t afford. It’s not that you can’t afford the time off, it’s that you can’t afford the burnout.
Guilt When Taking Time Off
- 56:33 When you’re taking time off, it’s easy to feel guilty about it. You think, “This is a luxury. There is stuff I should be doing. Why would I sit here on the couch and do nothing when everyone else in the world is working hard, there are all these projects, and people are waiting for me?” We feel guilty. Joe says, “I’m very unintentional with when I rest and work, as a result I feel guilty when I rest, and feel like I deserve a rest when I work.”
- 57:05 I’ve found that the first two sabbaticals are going to be the hardest. The first one is like, “Okay, I’m going to try this.” You think, “That was weird. I guess I can do anything.” You run around and feel like it’s awesome. During the second one, you think, “That was a fun game, that vacation, but there’s work to be done.” That second time is where you’re going to really feel the pull back to work and you’ll feel like you can’t do this. You need to press through that. It’s going to feel so strange, that second sabbatical. The first one will feel like a random trip.
- 57:48 Random things happen all the time. People go on random vacations. During the second one, you’ll start thinking, “What’s going on here?” It’s going to feel weird, not just before, but even when you’re on it. You’ll think, “There are so many things that need to be done. There’s so much work.” Force yourself to take it. That’s why I force my employees. On Lambo Goal, you hear Matt talking about how he thought about doing sabbaticals with his employees, but they said that they don’t want to do it. They all told him, “I can’t imagine being at home with my family for a whole week. Give me work to do!” He threw up his hands. That’s just it. People don’t know what to do with themselves. They can’t imagine it.
- 58:29 Ben: Sometimes work is less work than being at home with your family.
- 58:33 Sean: That’s a fair point. It may be the best favor you ever did them, though. If that’s true, they could use some more time with their family. Some people avoid their family. That’s why I mandate it and I force it. It’s super important.
Push through the second sabbatical, because the third is where it’s going to click for you.
- 59:04 The third sabbatical you take, you will actually be anticipating it. You’ll be looking forward to it. Your body will be adjusted to where you’ll be saying, “I need this rest. I’ve been working hard,” and that’s where it will start to feel natural. Push through, because eventually it will feel right. At first, it doesn’t feel like a natural thing. The best way to not feel guilty about taking a break or stopping work is to write the things you want to accomplish in advance. You need to know on a daily basis, weekly basis, and on a six or seven week cycle, what you want to accomplish in advance.
- 59:53 Tomorrow, you need to know every single thing you need to get done in a realistic time frame. If you haven’t done this before, you’re going to be off. We talked about this in a previous episode—if you have not planned your day, you’re going to plan it with the wrong amount of time for things (Related: e257 Planning Your Day for Maximum Efficiency in Under 5 Minutes and Still Accounting for Unplanned Events). With sabbaticals, you’ll think, “I’m going to fly to France. I’m going to fly to New York. I’m going to come back. I’m going to record a guitar album. I’m going to paint something. I’m going to go out with friends.” You think there’s an infinite amount of time, but there isn’t.
- 1:00:30 There’s really a short amount of time. When you plan out your day, you’ll think, “I’ll do this from 9am to 10am and this from 10am to 11am and this from 11am to 12pm, and I’ll take a 30 minute lunch.” You didn’t plan for breaks, transitions, driving to lunch, things going wrong, or things taking longer than you expected. It’s going to take way longer than you think. It takes some practice doing this, but eventually you know how long things take, and then you’re able to plan them effectively. You plan out, “Tomorrow, I’m going to do three things. I’m going to hustle and do four things,” and you write them down.
- 1:01:05 You go into this day knowing what you need to accomplish, and you finish all of those things. At the end of your day, you say, “Yes, I did all four of these,” and you feel good. You feel accomplished, like you won this day. When you don’t go into your day like that, you’re batting away at these to do items that are never ending, a list that’s growing as you check things off. When you get to the end of the day, you’ve done 18 things, but you don’t even know. You get to 18 and you say, “There’s 80 more,” and you don’t feel good about it. The same concept applies to sabbaticals.
If you take a week off, you’re going to feel guilty for not doing work if you didn’t define the work you were going to do in the six weeks on.
If you define that work, you won’t feel guilty for taking time off.
- 1:02:08 Ben: As those thoughts come into your head, whatever the project or the task, capture that for a moment and say, “Maybe I feel bad for not doing this right now, and maybe I didn’t accomplish all of the things in the six weeks that I wrote down.” Maybe you get to the sabbatical week, and there are still several items on your to do list. Capture those things as they come into your mind and say, “I can do a better job on this thing because I’m taking this break. This project is going to be better because I’m taking this break. I’m going to be able to be more creative, present, and focused when I get back to work on these things, because I’m taking this break.”
- 1:03:02 It may not feel natural to say that at first, but the more you say that and tell yourself that story, the more it will sound like the truth, which it is. The truth is, when you take a break and give yourself time to rest, the time you’re working is better off for it. All of the projects are better off for it.
How to Set Audience Expectations for a Sabbatical
- 1:03:26 Sean: What’s the pattern here? Tell me what the next number is: 1, 2, 3, 4. What’s the next number? We don’t know. If you thought it was 5, actually the pattern is 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, and it repeats. That’s the pattern. When you zoom out, the pattern can be different than you expected at a microscopic level. You may expect one thing, but when you zoom out, you may see that the pattern may be something bigger overall. This plays into the topic of dealing with your audience when you’re on sabbatical. “Okay Sean, you talk about being consistent with posting and publishing every week. What if I’m doing daily? It would seem really weird to be putting out all this content and suddenly there’s nothing.”
- 1:04:37 Effectively, the pattern becomes, “I post every Wednesday,” and you tell people that. Week one, there’s a post on Wednesday. Week two, there’s a post on Wednesday. That repeats for six weeks. The seventh week, there’s nothing. Maybe you talk about sabbaticals, but you don’t have to. John asked, “How do you work in sabbaticals? For you, it’s easy because sabbaticals are part of what you talk about, but I don’t talk about sabbaticals in my business.” Sabbaticals aren’t a part of what I talk about. They’re part of what I talk about because they’re something that I do. I talk about it because I talk about things that help our work and make us whole people who are able to make more money, so that makes it a relevant topic.
- 1:05:25 Even if I was in a different industry, I can still say that I’m not working or that I’m taking a sabbatical. I can still even talk about taking a sabbatical as a developer or as an engineer. You can do it in any industry, so you can talk about it in any industry. You could have a blog post every seven weeks where you talk more about this sabbatical concept, or you can just say, “I’m on sabbatical,” and that’s it. The point is that the pattern, overall, is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, break, even with daily content. Every day for week one, week two, week three, week four, week five, week six, and then nothing.
- 1:06:08 When you zoom out, the pattern can be greater. This is a lot of time that’s expiring, so you can’t expect your audience to totally get it. You might have some fall off the first sabbatical you take. “I guess he stopped posting daily. He’s been doing it for a year, but he stopped, so I’m going to unfollow.” Okay, if the first 51 weeks weren’t enough value for them and they unfollow, that’s fine. The vast majority of your audience is going to stick with you. It may take a year of taking seven to eight sabbaticals for them to realize what you’re doing and to get on board.
- 1:06:39 “Oh, okay, I get it. He has this kind of rhythm to this output,” or, “She’s taking a break every once in a while. I get it.” Even though we started in 2014 and it’s 2016, there are still people in my audience that don’t quite get sabbaticals, even though we talk about it a lot.
It’s going to take time, but your audience can get on board and they might even be very supportive.
- 1:07:06 You have to remember that your audience takes your work for granted. If you ask them point blank, “Do you care about me and my health and my well being?” They’ll say, “Sure, I want you to be alive.” Otherwise, they think they want to open up their feed and see work from you, and they’re not really thinking about it. Tell the story and say, “Guys, I was headed towards burnout. Next week, I was going to be done. I was going to stop. All of this music/art/designs/photos/apps was going to be done.” They take it for granted.
- 1:07:51 You say, “I didn’t want to be done. I want to keep helping you and sharing my story. I want to keep doing this, so I had to implement something that protected me and kept me from burning out. So, every seven weeks, I’m going to take a break, and I’m going to come back recharged and refreshed and ready to go. I intend to keep going at it forever.”
- 1:08:15 Ben: When you tell it as a story and you let people know what’s really going on in your life, there’s the added bonus of them connecting with you as a real person. We’ve talked about the importance of that, too. It’s the reason why Sean is on Snapchat now. Not everything is a polished production, and the value of your work increases when the person enjoying the work feels connected to the person who created it, even if it’s the most beautiful, polished, high-quality thing someone has ever seen.
- 1:08:51 Telling your story and giving them a window into your real life and what actually goes into you putting that work out, the rest you need to take in order to make that possible, makes that connection stronger.
- 1:09:08 Sean: John says, “So would you just advocate bringing it up at the end of the sixth video and say, ‘There won’t actually be an episode next week, as it’s a break. We’ll be back on such and such date.'” Yeah, that’s exactly what I would do. Keep people informed. Let them know.
- 1:09:25 Ben: It’s hard when you have a buffer and you’re putting out stuff ahead of time. You have to think ahead. That’s why it’s really important to have an editorial calendar or something like that.