The Good (Sabbatical) Life: Tips For a Stress-Free Sabbatical

What if someone told you you could have a month off? Now what if I told you that month would be paid time off? Sounds like a dream right?

It’s a reality here at SHIFT. I can personally attest to this as I just took my very first sabbatical in September. And let me tell you – it was pretttttty, pretttttty good.

The idea of a sabbatical was a foreign concept to me. It felt like a trick. “You mean I’ll just go away for a month … everyone will handle everything … and I’ll come back as if nothing happened?”

It was a bit overwhelming to think about. Yet it is 1,000% worth it. I pulled together a few quick tips from my experience that will hopefully help anyone else out there who is about to embark on the same blissful work-free journey.

  1. Don’t wait for the perfect moment to take your sabbatical. There won’t be one. This was actually the best advice I received, courtesy of my boss. At SHIFT, you can take a sabbatical after you’ve been here for five years. I waited until year 9 to take advantage of it – simply because I kept telling myself we were too busy. There’s never going to be a perfect time. Trust in your team. If you’ve set them up for success, things will be just fine. I would recommend picking your sabbatical dates at least 90 days in advance so you have time to prepare yourself & your squad.
  2. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Take the time to think about your day-to-day responsibilities. Who will be taking them over? What information will they need to do so successfully? I wanted to make sure everything was as organized as possible; I didn’t want anyone to feel left hanging with no guidance. I set up a grid of my responsibilities which included deadlines, details & process, relevant links, and who would be assigned to take over. I shared this with the team a few weeks before I left so they had time to digest it & ask questions. While it required a decent chunk of work up front, it allowed me to go into sabbatical knowing that they had all the resources they needed. The added benefit? There’s a smaller chance you’ll be pinged during break if you’ve provided all the necessary information.
  3. Do. Not. Check. Email. Log off completely. Uninstall work-related apps if you have to. Don’t be tempted to check any of them. This is your break. Your personal time. Enjoy it for you. You earned it! I encouraged my team to text or call me if an emergency came up, but by removing the apps, there was no extra temptation to peek in and see how things were going.
  4. Balance travel & downtime. My sabbatical was travel-heavy. In a span of four weeks I managed to squeeze in Palm Springs, Pennsylvania, Hilton Head and Lake Tahoe. I had an absolute blast in all of them, but some of my favorite moments were when I had free days relaxing at home in San Diego. In hindsight, I might have mixed in a few more of those. There’s nothing like waking up at your own pace, sipping on coffee, reading a book and having absolutely zero things to do that day.
  5. Treat your first week back as a clean slate — as if it was your first day on the job. I went through the thousands of emails I had upon my return, but I restricted myself to skimming most of it. (I’ve actually heard some individuals remove themselves from email aliases while they’re out to really make for a smooth return. I wasn’t that brave.) Any projects/deliverables that were in progress, I let my team wrap up. I jumped in on anything fresh moving forward. This allows you to get back to work without automatically feeling like you’re years behind. Schedule touch bases with your team members to catch up on what you missed. I would also recommend having your team share a list of items that were completed or freshly started while you were out. That way you have an easy guide to refer to.

… and then, before you know it, your sabbatical will be over! A month seems like you’ll have all the time in the world, but it will go by in a blink. I do want to take a moment to give a shout out to my team for making the entire experience seamless for me.

For my fellow sabbatical takers out there – what other tips do you have?

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