Sabbath Year – After Ten Months – Killing Inertia

Our lives are often driven by inertia – the force that keeps something moving in the same direction it has been. Sometimes this is for better, but often it is for the worst. This force makes it hard for us to change directions, even if our underlying values or priorities change and the direction our life is heading no longer makes a lot of sense.

I’ve found that taking a sabbatical has been a huge inertia killer. In the best ways. Sometimes also in the hardest ways.

The Effort To Change

Change always requires work. There are times we keep heading in the same direction not because that is right, but because the effort required to do something different seems overwhelming. If the work required to change course is more than the work required to keep going the same direction, that makes a bit of sense. For a lot of people it seems easier to stay in a job or career they don’t like than to go through the effort to switch companies or careers.

This is often a shortsighted fallacy. It will require a ton of effort to change careers, but that work is finite, it will be over eventually. It will require some heavy upfront but then things will get better. Staying on a path you don’t enjoy might seem easier in the short term, but its effect will last much longer, and eventually surpass the total effort you would have put in to fix things now.

Would you be willing to add 100 extra units of effort over the next two months if it saved you 1 unit of effort per week for the next 10 years? This is a tradeoff decision that involves, time-value, confidence and prediction factors. It is the type of equation that most people frequently get wrong.

If you stop moving altogether, however, the calculus changes. All of a sudden it would take a lot of work to get the engine going again, regardless of the direction you decide to head in. That equalizes the playing field a bit. The right direction might now only require as much work as the old direction.

If you are going to have to add 100 units of work to the next two months, would you rather point it towards the option that saves you one unit of work per week or the one that doesn’t do that? All of a sudden this is an easy decision, even for people that aren’t good at spotting their own time and confidence biases.

Our Sabbath Year and Inertia

I’ve recently expressed how stopping working and moving made our sabbath year very difficult and added work that took away from rest. That was one of the negative affects of our plan.

The counter argument is that by moving, we have killed our previous location-inertia and thus we’ve made it easier for ourselves to make a good decision, instead of defaulting to the way things had been.

Specifically, most of what we own is packed up in a storage unit right now. No matter where we decide to live next, we’re going to have to put all of that stuff in a truck and bring it to a new house. It is a little bit easier if that house is closer to where the stuff is stored, but most of the hard work of moving is done once it is in boxes and on a truck. That means that we feel more free to decide if we want to return to the place that we have been moving, or move to a new place. The work required to either is pretty big, so we might as well do what we actually want.

This is a big decision. One that we haven’t yet reached a family agreement on. One that I haven’t even reached internal agreement on. Sometimes, as my wife and I get to talking about it at night, watching the hours pass away, I just want to stop it and decide nothing. This is inertia too. Sometimes a decision is so difficult that it isn’t the work required to change, but the work required to even decide that keeps us in place. Sometimes neither option is selected but the process simply drags out long enough that the current default ends up maintaining its place. Maybe for months. Maybe for years. Maybe for decades. Maybe it never changes.

Our sabbath year design has helped fight that type of indecision inertia by creating a deadline.

We are now ten months into a twelve month sabbatical, so we feel some urgency to come to a decision in the next two months. That is, after-all, what we said we would do. That deadline is close enough that we have to continue to make progress, but we’ve had enough time that it doesn’t feel like it will be rushed or ill informed.

Adding to the urgency is that we are intentionally in a temporary living situation. As we feel the pressures of that situation, it pushes us towards a decision even more. We know this chapter will come to an end eventually, so we might as well be in control of the timing. Thankfully there is also enough flexibility that it doesn’t feel like we need to make a really bad decision just to line up the timing.

Other Inertia Types

I focused most of this post on how our sabbath year has killed our location based inertia and helped us come towards a better decision about where to live. This happens to be the decision we’re wrestling with most right now, but I want to emphasize that this isn’t the only type of inertia being killed.

A quick brainstorm helps me realize that the way we took our sabbath year has also killed inertia related to; our family-roles, our church, our external friendships, my job (including company, industry & role-type), our hobbies, our habits, many of our expenses, the stores we shop at and our daily routines. Is there anything I haven’t covered?

Some of those items will return to a state similar to before. To some degree that is to be expected, it isn’t as though we’ve had no control over them and we’ve actually gotten a few soft-resets when we moved, got married and had kids.

But some of those aspects will end up being different.

Regardless of whether a particular item changed or not, because we took the effort to kill the inertia on them and in many cases do a bit of broad exploring, the decision to ramp them back up is more intentional. Thus, I feel a lot more confident in them and what our life will look like for the next six years.

That is really valuable. Maybe even valuable enough to give up a year’s worth of income and take on the stress of changing everything about our lives temporarily.

Sabbath Year – After Nine Months – Sabbath While Working

I have now been back at work for about two months and wanted to take this month’s update to reflect on what it is like to be working while trying to take a sabbath year.

Last year when I set out to define what our sabbath year would look like – I knew that there were a few major details about the latter half of the year that were yet to be determined. As I speculated on how things might play out, I knew where the risks lied. I wrote:

“I am fine with returning to work, but would likely look to set up the first six months in a way that was conducive to the sabbath year principles – either fewer hours, less strenuous projects or staying in familiar territory rather than taking on bold new ventures. This will be an area I will have to pay close attention to.”

As I predicted, there has been a lot of pressure, internal and external, to take on a role that has bold goals and long hours. I ended up returning to a newly created role that is very different than anything I had done before. The role is full time, an because the role involves talking directly with our customers, my hours are dictated by when they are available – which means there isn’t a ton of flexibility.

That said, I do feel this role is conducive to the sabbath year for a number of reasons. First, it allows us the flexibility to decide where we live now and when + where we will move to next. That was one of the major topics of reflection we had set aside for the year. Second, the role is at a company I have been at for a long time, so there isn’t much of a learning curve. This means I was able to start adding value right from the start without having to spend a ton of time digesting new information and learnings the ins and outs of how to get things done within a new organization. In addition, the role is still ramping up which means it isn’t yet as difficult as many roles I’ve had in the past. I’ve actually found this is pretty common with new roles because it takes some time for an organization to fully understand a new role and to fully load it. Where as longstanding roles often take on all sorts of adjacent work that no one else owns, a new role isn’t yet burdened by that inertia.

With all of that considered, I would maintain the position I wrote last month that the best working conditions for a sabbath year would be “to keep as much the same as possible, but to perhaps scale back their working hours by 25-50%”. I would say that regarding my job, I kept ~50% of things the same and scaled back by 10-20% from my previous peaks. Not perfect, but better than many potential outcomes.

Attempting to work, raise four kids, train for a marathon, complete this year’s focus items and also to have a restful sabbath year has been difficult. It mostly means I have cut out many other things I used to do. Really, everything else that isn’t those things. Actually, even some of those items are getting less attention than they should. Progress on my 2018 focus items and on the broad searching I was supposed to be doing during the last three month period of the sabbath year was reduced to a minimum.

I shouldn’t have been training for a marathon. There are also a few other odds and ends projects I took on that weren’t urgent. As I reflect it is clear that working isn’t the big blocker, working just means I need to cut out anything that isn’t leading my family or the sabbath year.

Now is a good chance to reset.

At this point we are in the final three months of our sabbath year. This last period was designed to be focused around reentry – starting to look at what is next and what we need to do to prepare ourselves for that.

Sabbath Year – After Eight Months – Trying The Other Side

I have now been back at an office job for about one month. After seven months of experiencing a sabbath where my wife and I were both at home, we’re getting to experience a different way of doing a sabbath year. It will end up being a nice A/B test for our first iteration. By experiencing both ways, we’ll get to see what we like about them and hopefully be able to plan a better version in six years.

Some Background

When we first started planned our sabbath year, we had to decide what it would look like. Would I continue working, scale back my hours some, take a less stressful role or stop working all together? I think all can be appropriate and have talked to people that have tried similar rest periods using each of the above methods.

In our case, because we had three young children, and a fourth on the way (now here), we decided it would be best for me to stop working altogether, if possible. That would allow my wife and I to split the workload at home and give us the best chance at both having some opportunity to rest.

As we began to pursue that plan, we were presented with an opportunity by my employer at the time to take a six month unpaid leave of absence, rather than outright quitting. After a bit of talking at home we realized that we liked that generous offer for a number of reasons. First, it would reduce the logistical work of actually taking time off – including the effort needed to switch insurance providers and the time required to find a new job. Second, it helped reduce the risk of a big undertaking like this. Third, it made dealing with stock grants a bit neater – a problem in start up world that can get messy for longtime employees of rapidly growing companies. Finally, it meant that if for some reason I hated not working, it would be easy to come back earlier than planned.

Six months ended up turning into seven months because it took us a little longer than planned to iron out the details of my new role. Had I returned to the same role, or even another previously established role, it would have been faster. But we ended up creating a new team in the company that I stepped in as the leader of – that meant figuring out some details around how that team would be measured, what our goals would be and how compensation would work. That took a few weeks of back and forth to find an arrangement everyone was happy with.

Early Observations

Before I write about my observations of trying to sabbath while working, I have to note that in many ways we’re comparing apples and oranges here. We’re in a new city, living in a new house, have an additional newborn child at home and I’m in a different type of role than I’ve ever been in before. So things are notably different in every way than they were before or during the first part of our sabbath year.

All of that said, here are some things I notice:

1. The closer your current situation is to what you are used to, the less each day will drain you. Having gone through all sorts of transition during this year as I stopped working, we moved around and my wife had a baby, I noticed how much time it took for us to get back into a rhythm each time. The closer the change was to something we were used to, the easier it was. Me being at work is something we were very used to and so we’ve settled into it quite well.

2. Working an office job is much easier for me, and thus more restful, than being at home with 4 young kids. Even right now where a project has me making hundreds of cold calls per day, being at the office is much less stressful for me than being at home. This means that overall things are more restful for me, but it also means that I come home recharged and better able to handle the evening routines. Strangely enough my wife also said that having me not in the house is easier for her because there is only one cook in the kitchen (metaphorically and sometimes literally) so it is easier for her to plan things and know when she needs to be involved (all the time). It probably also helps that I’m much more hands on in the mornings and evenings since that is all of the time I get with the kids now as opposed to before when I had all day to see them, so was less eager during those windows.

3. Having a work schedule makes it easier to schedule other things. One thing we struggled with during our leave was finding quiet time for each of us away from the kids. Part of the trouble is we just wouldn’t plan and most days would turn into a bit of a blob where we were all home playing and neither parent was carving out time to get away. Now that I’m working again I have meetings scheduled and so we have to talk about my schedule, which makes it a bit easier to plan other things we want to do.

4. There is less overhead to getting personal work done if you’re already getting work done. Another part of the struggle with finding time to think about deeper topics during the first part of our sabbath year is the overhead it required. If I wanted an hour to work, I really needed to book an hour and a half of time – some time before hand to get my things together, transport time, time to get settled in at the coffee shop or library and then return time afterwards. If I’m already at my desk, in my office, where it is quiet – adding an extra hour of personal work only costs us an extra hour – a 33% savings from before. I’ve actually been using my lunch break really effectively for this. I had a number of TED talks I’d flagged that were related to topics I was thinking through and watching them while I eat is a great way to get through that material with little impact to our schedule.

5. I feel much better spending money now that money is coming in again. I had us on a pretty strict budget in order to be able to last through a year with no income. Our luxury spending was way down. Now that money is coming in again, we’re ratcheting it up a bit in ways that are helping us rest, such as more childcare, ordering in meals periodically to save time cooking and fun purchases that entertain the kids.

At this point, if I had to make a recommendation to someone about to take a sabbath year, it would be to keep as much the same as possible, but to perhaps scale back their working hours by 25-50%. That combined with some trimming back of other project or activities seems to be enough to carve room to rest while still providing enough structure to avoid everything going haywire.