How to Mimic a Sabbatical When Leaving Your Job Isn’t an Option

We can't all afford time off—but we can all channel the mindset.

Maybe you’re feeling drained from your 60 hour workweeks or having a major life crisis and are convinced you are in the wrong profession. Perhaps a newsfeed full of high school acquaintances traveling the world is creating some major wanderlust.

Whatever the reason, you are dying to take a sabbatical.

Hand in your two weeks, pack your bags, and get the hell out of dodge for a major dose of perspective and a bounty of new experiences.

It sounds amazing—but for many of us it’s just not realistic, at least not in the near future. Family commitments, student loans and mortgages all keep us tied down to our desk chair.

But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t channel that sabbatical mindset and achieve some of the goals you would set during a time away from work, without actually abandoning your desk for good.

“Learning how to balance work and the opportunities of a semi-sabbatical can result in reaching personal goals as well as developing the skills needed to carve time out in a busy schedule to take care of what is most important,” said Kathleen Lisson, a meditation and mindfulness teacher at IPSB college in San Diego. “The semi-sabbatical taker can reap the rewards from both of those gifts for years to come.”

It can be done, but how? Jam-packed schedules and pressing work deadlines make it seem impossible to come up for air. Take a deep breath and start with these three simple steps to getting in sabbatical mode, without making drastic changes to your daily routine.

Your 3-Step Plan for Channeling a Sabbatical Mindset (Without Actually Taking One)

Identify What Is So Appealing About a Sabbatical

First, identify why exactly you think you need to take one—or why the experience sounds so appealing to you.

“Figure out what it is in particular about a sabbatical that meets your needs—is it the time to experiment? Spend time with family? Be in control of your schedule?—and figure out how to bring that to your regular life,” said Rachel Kazez, LCSW, founder of All Along, LLC.”

Honing in on the core reason (whether it be a personal need or a career goal) fueling your desire to take a sabbatical is the first step in implementing a successful semi-sabbatical in your day-to day, said Lisson. How do you hone in on that reason?

“My meditation students use a 3-4 minute technique on the first day of class,” Lisson said. “The speaker sits comfortably facing the listener. The listener asks ‘what can you gain from a semi-sabbatical?’ The speaker answers while the listener is silent and supportive. Once the speaker is finished talking, the listener says ‘Thank you. What can you gain from a semi-sabbatical?’ and the process of asking and answering continues for the next few minutes. Though it may feel uncomfortable to the speaker, when he/she is given the space and time to talk, deeper reasons may come to light.”

You can also perform the same exercise solo by utilizing a journal.

“Start by writing the prompt ‘What can I gain from a semi-sabbatical’ on the page and set a timer for 3-4 minutes. The trick to this technique is that the writer should not stop writing the entire time, even if he/she has to write the same sentence over and over while thinking,” said Lisson. “While in the moment it may feel ineffective, the process of continuous writing may allow deeper truths and needs to be revealed.”

Make that Objective Actionable

Once you’ve identified the defining objectives behind your desired sabbatical, it’s time to turn them into concrete actions.

“Transform those objectives into actions by setting SMART goals,” said Lisson. “Make sure goals are stated in the present tense and are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. For instance, ‘I am reading one book a week to inspire my creativity in July, August and September.’

Easier when you have an extended period of time away from work? Of course. Still possible when you have to work that 9 to 5? Definitely.

Narrow It Down to One Skill or Goal

In order to make this goal list a little less daunting—and more manageable with a jam-packed schedule—consider narrowing it down to one specific goal or skillset. 

“For example, if you wish you could explore a new hobby, decide to spend four weeks really focusing on it, letting your family or friends know that it will be your focus, and you could even take two hours of PTO once a week or wake up an hour earlier daily for even more time to hone in,” said Kazez.

Wayne Pritchard, managing director of Wilderness Explorer, is a real-life case study of the success that can from focusing in on learning one skillset.

After 25 years in the eco-tourism business, Pritchard was burnt-out and bored with the monotony of his job: “I reached the point where a change was essential. The big question was: did I need a change in career or did I simply need space to take a step back and reflect. Sure, the second option is always ideal, but not one that I could afford; so a working sabbatical became the only option.”

Convinced that his current skillset was very job-specific (and wouldn’t translate to another industry), he set the goal of focusing on one skill and becoming an expert in that area.

“I convinced myself that this would present the perfect opportunity of doing something I enjoyed, whilst still keep myself in the ‘game’ just in case I had to return [to my previous job],” said Pritchard. “I decided that my area of focus would be in the online space, and I would focus on online marketing of eco-tourism related experiences.”

The success he found was unexpected, but ultimately catapulted him into a new career: “It sparked an interest which became an obsession, almost. I realized that I found much satisfaction in creating content, designing and developing websites, and learnt an enormous amount about the online space, a discipline which is horribly lacking in sector from which I came,” he said. “It then dawned on me that these new-found skills were suited to any business and before long I was building a new business.”

Four Practices to Add to Your Daily Routine

In order to work towards these goals—exploring a new hobby, learning a new skill, or becoming an expert on a specific topic as Pritchard did—effectively navigating your free time becomes key. 

“Add practices into daily life that encourage effective use of spare time to achieve these goals,” said Lisson. Is down time somewhat of a rarity in your life? Consider these four ways to free up more time in your schedule:

Go on a media fast. “This tip works two ways, by both finding extra time in each day and offering insight into how automatic social media interaction has become,” said Lisson. “Schedule a block of time every day where TV, computers and smartphones are turned completely off.”

Focus on one task at a time. “Multi-tasking is ineffective, as anyone who ever jumped on the internet to check their email ‘really quick’ and found themselves surfing news websites a half hour later can attest,” said Lisson. “If other tasks come to mind while working on something, write them down on a to-do list and refocus on the current project.”

Slow down to the body’s rhythm. “Busy-ness is rampant in America. It seems everyone has an overflowing in-box, pile of unread books on their nightstand and an endless to-do list,” said Lisson. “Find a way to step away from the flurry of thoughts and into the peace of stillness by beginning a meditation practice. After a few minutes of silently watching the breath, obligations will still be waiting, but there may be an increased ability to focus on handling them with a new sense of calm and peace.”

Take a mini-break during the work day. “I’m a big believer in work sabbaticals. I run a global consultancy, often getting up early to take calls in Europe and the Middle East only to have late nights with the West Coast. But I love what I do and I have the energy to keep going because I take breaks and integrate work and fun into my daily routines,” said said Noa Gafni, entrepreneur and CEO of Impact Squared. “Once a week, I take myself out for a decadent lunch (dessert and all)—giving me a break from work, letting me focus on my food and having the space to think. When I can, I also go to yoga in the middle of the day. There’s something fun about taking a 2 p.m. yoga class that makes me feel like I have all the time in the world. I don’t end up working less than any other entrepreneur. It’s these small breaks that feel like a true treat (and not just a productivity hack) which make it easier for me to commit to the long hours.”



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