Am I jealous? No, of course not. Resentful is probably a better word. Not that I dislike my job, but the idea of taking three months off to focus on just-for-me time, well, that’s hard to stop fantasizing about. In fact, I already have it planned: the German lessons; the family rafting trip; the Executive Strategy conference; the monastery retreat; the writing seminar; the culinary tour of Spain—I would keep very, very busy working just on me.
Although sabbaticals are a defining element of academic life, they are practically unheard of in the corporate world. Yet I keep hoping they will catch on, since I have noticed a handful of culturally hip companies are paving the way by offering corporate sabbaticals as a means of retaining superstar employees and spurring innovation.
Bill Gates may have kicked off this trend when he announced his bi-annual “Think Week” to carve out some time to read technical papers and figure out What’s Next. Then there’s Google, with its legendary “20% time,” when engineers can work on whatever they want. And creative designer Stefan Sagmeister sets a new sabbatical bar by closing down his studio every seven years for one entire year—One Year!—dedicated to “creative rejuvenation.”
Creative rejuvenation. Spiritual revival. Professional development. Don’t sabbaticals sound nice? Yeah, except that’s Google we’re talking about. And Bill Gates, for crying out loud! These people practically run the world, so of course they can get away with blowing off real work for months at a time. Meanwhile the rest of us are simply grateful to be gainfully employed these days with a couple weeks of paid vacation.
But that doesn’t mean that you must deprive yourself from nurturing your depleted soul. How can you expect to be productive and creative, to lead effectively and to drive your enterprise forward if you neglect the simple act of taking care of yourself? It turns out that often the best ideas and moments of insight come when our minds are wandering, thinking about something else, or nothing at all. So it is absolutely critical to your leadership that you create some white space to get lost in from time to time.
Although a three-month break may be out of the question, there are plenty of options for creating your own unique micro-sabbatical to keep you charged up, tuned in and spiritually engaged. It’s just a matter of deciding what works for you, and then doing it.
Here are six micro-sabbatical ideas that can serve you well, without costing you your job.
- Take a day off. How about an entire day just for You-Time! And, really, who’s stopping you? Most of our vacation days get sucked up with family-time or household errands. Instead, plan out a day of nothing but fun. Indulge in your creative hobby, or dabble in something new that you’ve always wondered about. It might circuitously lead to your next great idea at work.
- Schedule time for nothing. Wouldn’t it be great if you saw that your next appointment was a “Chill Sesh?” Blocking out time to let your mind wander may ironically lead you to connecting some dots that were missed in the harried activity of the day. You are more likely to have that moment of clarity when your brain is off the hook from meetings, emails and telephone calls. Use the time to take a walk, slip on the i-pod headphones, or just shut your eyes for a few minutes.
- Start a practice of daily meditation. You will become much more productive when you start your day with a sense of focused calm. Spending 30 minutes in the quiet of mindful thought can ease your anxiety, reduce stress, and open the mental windows to higher spiritual thoughts. Don’t expect meditation to be easy. It’s a discipline that requires practice, patience and silence. But the lift you receive may turn out to be the daily sabbatical space that you can not live without.
- Retreat to nature. A few days secluded in the wilderness can provide the ideal escape from the grind to reflect on life in a completely relaxed, unstructured setting. For many, the wide open space of mountains, forest or sea can bring a much-needed respite from the clash and clang of suburban life, providing a fresh perspective that is impossible to capture in the office. Bring some inspirational books, and write in your journal. I dare you to go all by yourself, and see what happens.
- Get physical. The circulation of your blood and muscles might be just the thing to get your mind disengaged, in order to re-engage. Some of my best ideas have come while on the treadmill in the middle of the work day. Why? Because the intense physical workout takes the focus off of work,and puts me into another rhythm altogether. Brisk exercise is a great way to break up the pace of the day and trick your mind into problem-solving mode.
- Take in a seminar. Although many companies are cutting back on “non-essential” travel expenses such as professional education, there are still plenty of opportunities to get out of the office and learn something new. There are excellent seminars offered right in your back yard through local chapters of national organizations. I have even found some for free. Don’t underestimate the value of getting out from the familiar setting to network with some new folks and hear an enlightening speaker. And while you’re sitting there, don’t be afraid to daydream. It may turn out to be the smartest thing you’ve done all year.