After 9 years of non-stop slogging and constantly being ‘switched on’, I decided to take a one-month sabbatical in December 2018.
Looking back, it was probably the best thing I have ever done. And now, I have quite possibly the highest levels of energy, clarity, happiness and health in 10 years.
MoneySmart had been through phenomenal growth especially over the last two years when the scaling up process really took a toll on me.
One of the most difficult phases of any transition is the “in-between” phase — the middle space where the former thing has ended but the new thing has not yet arrived.
Throughout the middle of 2018, it became clear to me that my energy levels were wearing thin and I was burning out. Personally, multi-hatting and constantly taking ownership over issues the organization was facing had begun to wear me down by a lot.
Many entrepreneurs and executives in fast-growing organizations feel this way — stuck.
In other words, not being able to relinquish control for fear of things descending into even more chaos.
I decided that December would be the best time for me to take a sabbatical given that it’s the month of the year where the least happens and everyone is winding down for the holiday season.
1. Have a sabbatical agenda
Prior to my sabbatical, I had been collating a list of things that I wanted to do and reflect on.
These were a few core areas:
- Health and Fitness
- Errands that I’ve not gotten around to
Reflection is a big part of gathering yourself. While it differs from person to person, my reflection was primarily around:
- Realizing the type of leader I want to be and the specific traits I’d like to develop.
- How I wanted to organize my time and what I wanted to spend my time on. Developing rules for how to handle/delegate things I didn’t want to spend my time on / weren’t the best use of my time.
- Reflecting on specific scenarios and situations that have stressed me in the last year. Grouping and deconstructing why I felt/reacted the way I did, and sticking to my ideal leadership identity in the first point, how I would have liked to react instead.
One key thing is to document your reflections and conclusions to your own questions where you can go back and refer to easily.
Reading is something I enjoy and initially, I had planned to read more business related books, but I realized that all that reading was preventing me from relaxing and focusing on myself instead of the business.
So, I managed to get 2 books in that seemed more for myself and I’d highly recommend them.
- Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness – Rick Hanson
- The Messy Middle: Finding Your Way Through the Hardest and Most Crucial Part of Any Bold Venture
- NLP: The Essential Guide to Neuro-Linguistic Programming – Tom Dotz, Tom Hoobyar, Susan Sanders
Recreation was something that I had almost completely neglected to consciously spend time doing.
For me, it was meditation, learning to fly a drone (turns out it’s not that hard), cycling and computer games. Whatever floats your boat, don’t forget that it’s key to have fun!
2. Have a schedule and routine
Once I had my agenda, I starting by visualizing what my ideal sabbatical day would look like and worked it into a routine.
For me, it was spending time with my son and wife in the morning. Hitting the gym in the late morning. Grabbing lunch and parking myself in a nice cafe to do some reading or reflect on one of my reflection items for most of the afternoon. Heading back home to spend some time with my son before he goes to sleep.
Routine is key to feeling balanced and like you made the most of your sabbatical time. Certain days were reserved for family outings.
I also managed to spend a few days in Phuket for a sabbatical trip. I managed to convince my wife to come along while being the caretaker of our son for the whole trip.
This allowed me to engage when I wanted to spend time with family and disengage when I wanted to be more introspective.
I would have gone on this trip alone if I had to, but it was really nice to have them around and it ended up being one of my best vacations. My vacation schedule is below.
3. Let go of (almost) everything and disconnect
Prior to going on sabbatical, I had given sufficient heads up to the company, along with direction on what key things needed to progress in my absence.
I also delegated most of the responsibilities to my leadership team with guidelines on what to do and what exceptions to clear with me.
I set an away status on slack and turned off all notifications on my phone and desktop, I also set an out of office message on email stating that I’d be away for an extended period and that if it was urgent to call/whatsapp me.
I found that not having work, got me sucked into social media and I decided a few days into my sabbatical to delete the facebook app from my phone and removed Instagram and linked in from my home screen.
If I had found myself compulsively checking emails, I would have probably deleted the email app from my phone as well.
Lo and behold, there were minimal issues that I needed to handle personally apart from a handful of ad hoc coffee meetings.
How long should a sabbatical be?
I think at least two to three weeks is probably the minimum period of time for you to feel like you had a good break.
Ideally, do it when key decisions have been made and the organization is in execution mode.
I was fortunate to have the support of my board and management team to be able to take this sabbatical.
The value I got out of taking time off and “spring cleaning” my life has given me a new lease of energy and focus in my work. I’m ready to lead and grow MoneySmart 2019 and beyond.
I’d highly encourage all entrepreneurs and executives to take a sabbatical if you feel drained, overwhelmed, or like you’re not making any progress or impact. Sometimes slowing down to navigate around the curve is necessary to speed up down the straight.
What experiences have you had with sabbaticals? What are the things that have held you back from taking one?
This post first appeared on LinkedIn.
Image Credits: ratch0013
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