Time off is important to restore your mind, body, and soul. We don’t practice that very well in native land (the United States), but it’s still vital to find a rythm for it. The idea of sabbatical goes far back–thousands of years. It’s found in the Bible, and in the very structure of our seven-day week. To me, that’s enough to reveal how much rest–lying fallow–is so important to a productive and healthy life.
I’ve seen and heard of a wide variety of ways to do sabbaticals and over the years have struggled to practice them well. I was first drawn to idea of taking an intentional creative sabbatical ever since I heard of Stefan Sagemeister’s practice of taking an entire year off with his design team. From the standpoint of my own life, it sounded like an impossibly glorious luxury, but I knew that I could draw lessons from it. I saw his team experimenting and enjoying and finding new life, and I knew I needed that in my regular freelance life.
You see, I’m not only a freelancer, but I’m also a pastor’s wife. We’ve worked hard to have healthy boundaries, but our lives are still structured so that evenings and weekends are often taken up with our chosen work. There’s the rhythm of the church schedule, the rhythm of my own work, and then the rhythm of the children’s education on top of that. Because our life is full of responsibility that pulls us in many directions, taking a sabbatical requires a great deal of intentionality and planning to set aside a time.
And then I came across Sean McCabe’s practice of doing a sabbatical every seven weeks. That felt more attractive and do-able, since a six-week chunk of work is a timeframe where a lot gets done and you don’t lose momentum. But the seven-week rhythm didn’t match up with anything else going on in my life; it felt arbitrary and forced. I wanted the sabbatical to feel meaningful and the activities going on in the rest of my life to support rather than detract from it.
So then I started to examine our actual schedule and my own actual season of work. I put natural breaks in for special church-related activities. I put natural breaks in for the kids’ weeks off so I could be an intentional and rested parent. And then I put in little breaks for me–long weekends off (I find I need 4 days to truly untangle a bit), or a 10 day break right after what I know will be an intense season (again, it’s my personal preference that 7 days is too short & 14 days is too long).
So right now, for 2017, I have 66 days scheduled for sabbatical. This is wildly different from how I tried to do it in 2016, which was a new iteration on how I had attempted it in 2014. All that to say, my sabbatical rhythm is a work in progress, and I’ll admit that in the past very few of them have been actually successful.
Those 66 schedule days don’t include “natural” days off; this schedule is meant to focus on dedicated and intentional creative rest. My sabbatical schedule is meant to be flexible; I’ve been known to bend the rules depending on whether or not a great opportunity arises, or if a family need comes down the pike. I prefer to start out with more time blocked off for rest than feels really comfortable to me, because I know from experience that the rest is more likely to be pushed into smaller and smaller spaces; it’s better to start out with too much than too little.
But the space and rules for the sabbatical must also be in place for it to be effective. Since I freelance from home, this has been the most difficult part of crafting the sabbatical. I have to quantify for myself the things I do differently, since I don’t necessarily get to travel to another physical location that helps to signal me that things are different.
So these are a few of the questions I have to ask myself in order to craft a good sabbatical: How much do I allow myself to be on the computer? What are the rules surrounding my e-mail and social media responsiveness or availability? What artmaking or related activities are encouraged or discouraged? What relaxing, restorative, or inspirational thing am I going to carve out extra time to do, and what are the logistics in doing so?
And while the principles of a sabbatical are good to have in place, I know I need to make room for my craving for variety; having the same style of sabbatical every time would probably feel repetitive and frustrating. So for this year, I’m trying to mix things up by creating two kinds of sabbaticals–the 4-day weekend and the 10-day mini-vacation style sabbatical.
I also know that I’ll need some structure within those frameworks. I want it to be relaxing, but not so loose that I spend the whole time doing laundry and staring out into space. I want to have activities and inspiring things to do, but not so much that I don’t get to truly rest.
As I said before, my sabbatical rhythm is a work in progress. Each time I’ve re-structured them, I learn more about myself and my creative needs and the nature of my business. I look forward to another journey of productivity and rest in 2017, and hope that you find your own sabbatical rhythm that works for you, too.