Yearly Focus

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.