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Tips For Turning Your Vacation Into A Mini-Sabbatical

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The term "sabbatical" was originally used in relation to Sabbath, a day of rest. Then, in reference to a sabbatical year, which is a release from normal teaching duties every seventh year for a professor to conduct research.

In business, a sabbatical isn' t as common, possibly because it' s defined by external measures (i.e., taking several months off from traditional duties), which don' t mesh with our dominant business culture, or with every business owners' vision, schedule or desires.

The good news? You can define "sabbatical" any way you want, and reap all of the benefits. Take for example, your next vacation. Typically, vacations are times and places we go to relax, restock our energies and have fun. Vacations are also bracketed by increased workloads, sometimes building stress upon your return that wastes away the motivational and energy reserves you just stocked.

The more effective approach would be to turn your vacation into a sabbatical. The wording is crucial. Most people - including employees - see a business owner' s vacations as "time off for the boss," during which, if needed, they can still reach him or her with a question. A sabbatical, on the other hand, connotes a time devoted to other missions and passions. It is assumed (correctly!) that people on sabbatical are not to be reached. Also, there is a common understanding that someone on sabbatical requires a transition period before and after the sabbatical to ensure that they share new knowledge, understand any new processes, and bring all team players up-to-date.

Why should you turn your next vacation into a sabbatical?

  • You make mindful decisions about what you' ll do on your vacation, and why.
  • You set clear expectations with your employees regarding what you need from them while you' re "on sabbatical."
  • You draw distinct boundaries for what you will and will not do during your sabbatical.
  • You will return more invigorated and more purposeful.

Tips for taking a week-long sabbatical (formerly known as a vacation)

Use the term sabbatical: Reinforce with yourself, your employees and your traveling partners that this is in fact a sabbatical. The power of this word-shift (from vacation to sabbatical) cannot be underestimated. Using the term "sabbatical" will put your mindset in the right place and help others understand what you' re doing.

Be clear about your goals and intentions: Answer the question, "In the ideal, if I were ' given' a sabbatical, I would? " Connect with your ideal vision of what you would do, how you would act, and what you would learn or accomplish during a sabbatical. Then, plan your time off to accommodate those wishes. So, for instance, if on an ideal sabbatical you would learn a new language, why not take a trip to a foreign country, listen to language tapes on the flight and spend at least half of your time in local restaurants and shops speaking with the proprietors? All examples aside, remember, without clear goals, you' ll never attain them.

Prepare your business: Plan and delegate as needed to solidify your confidence that employees can run the business effectively while you' re away from the office, and boost employees' knowledge of what they need to do to run the business. You might even schedule a few "dry runs" beforehand, during which you' re out for a day or two. Ask key employees to provide summary-reports via email or fax on the last workday of your sabbatical (not before!), so that the reports await you when you return, allowing you to come up to speed on all issues before heading back into the office.

Prepare your self: Determine what you need to do to shift your thinking from vacation to sabbatical. Without this mindset management, it' ll be difficult to achieve the goals that you' ve set. What practices or bad habits keep you too entrenched in your business, and how might you evolve those during your sabbatical? Which of your colleagues or mentors have taken a sabbatical, and what can you learn from them (whether they call it that or not)?

Don' t take on the world: Sometimes our enthusiasm can get the best of us. Review your sabbatical goals and intentions a few times to make sure you haven' t overloaded what should be a rejuvenating experience. The last thing you want to do is return from your sabbatical exhausted. Keep in mind what' s most important to you about this sabbatical, and agree to the goals that directly support that vision.

Try something different: Sabbaticals are opportunities to explore other interests, try something new and stretch your boundaries. Put at least one "normally I would never" to-do on your action list. There' s a good chance that you' ll be delighted with yourself!

Keep a journal: Whether in a notebook, through photographs or a tape-recorded "discussion," keep notes on what you did, which practices worked well in achieving what goals, what you liked best about the sabbatical, and what learnings you can share with colleagues, employees and clients. This record can serve as an adjunct to your business vision and a wonderful refresher to review when you want to take an hour-long sabbatical during the workday.

This information provides food for thought rather than counsel specifically designed to meet the needs of your organization. Please use it mindfully.

The most effective interpersonal or organizational communication plan should be tailored to your unique needs, so don't hesitate to get assistance from a qualified adviser.

Read the rest in this series:
Can A Small-Business Owner Take A Sabbatical?
10 Tips for Avoiding Burnout and Inviting Balance

Jamie Walters is the founder and Chief Vision & Strategy Officer at Ivy Sea, Inc. in San Francisco, CA.


This article-series is an adaptation created for inc.com, based on content featured in the book Big Vision, Small Business: The Four Keys to Success and Satisfaction as a Lifestyle Entrepreneur (Ivy Sea Publishing, August 2001), by Jamie Walters.

Copyright © 1997-2001 IvySea Online Communication, San Francisco. All rights reserved. Limited duplication or distribution allowed with prior permission from and credit to IvySea Online Communication.

Last updated: Jun 19, 2001




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